Kennedy Town has been gentrifying rapidly because of the influx of people fleeing high rents in Central and the Mid-Levels in recent years and in anticipation of the new MTR extension. This has been accompanied by new bars and restaurants to such an extent it has been called the new Soho or Lan Kwai Fong. These outlets are owned by both Western and Chinese investors. But the changes have not been welcomed by everyone.
District Councillor Chan Hok-fung, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, appears to be gaining reputation as something of a scourge for some bar owners.
The Quay West bar sitting on a prime waterfront site last week lost its licence at a hearing of the Liquor Licensing Board. There were no objections from the police or the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. But Chan objected, saying residents of the building in which the bar was located were opposed to the bar. He said he sent out 350 letters, and of the responses he got, six were objections while the rest offered no comment.
The letter, which appears to have only been sent out in Chinese, came with a printed message: "I personally think the Quay West bar has led to deterioration in the serenity and environmental sanitation. It is also destroying our building's quiet living environment. Therefore, I request the application for licence renewal be rejected." This varies quite markedly from a letter he sent out soliciting views on the licensing applications of Chinese-owned establishments. They went out in both English and Chinese and adopted a more open-ended format.
Chan also told the hearing a drunken customer from the bar had fallen into the harbour, a claim the police dismissed as untrue. The board has yet to give a reason for withdrawing the licence, but the owners say they intend to appeal.
Chan told Lai See that he was not against Western bars and restaurants in the area, "only those that were noisy and did not obey the requirements of their licence". He has said people frequently stood outside the bar drinking on what is an unusually wide pavement in Hong Kong.
He has told previous board hearings that Quay West threatens to change the character of the area, although this had started well before the bar opened early last year.
Chan's opposition has puzzled observers in that he is a member of a Harbourfront Commission task force charged with revamping Kennedy Town. He has talked of developing an ocean terminal in the area, a shopping centre, hotel facilities and the extension of leisure facilities along that part of the harbour front. Chan told Lai See he was not against Western-owned businesses participating in these changes, but some have yet to be convinced.
It is every chef's dream to be awarded three Michelin stars, and there are only four restaurants in Hong Kong that can boast this distinction. But as Chef Umberto Bombana at 81/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana admits, it is both a blessing and a curse. "Once you've got it, people always expect you to produce exceptional food - it's real pressure."
The Michelin Red Guide for 2014 comes out next month, and if his restaurant retains its three stars, it will be its third consecutive year.
Is it such a big deal dropping a star? "It would be a disaster," he says seriously. How to get to three stars? "We have what we think is a great philosophy to please our guests," he says. "I think if you cook with love, people appreciate it. To cook well, first of all, you have to use your technique, but you also need passion to get the most out of the ingredients."
Bombana named the restaurant after the film directed by Federico Fellini, which was released the week he was born. "[The film] expressed Italy at one of its best moments in the 1960s." He hopes the same can be said for his restaurant.
It is the only Italian restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars outside Italy.
Every year at the white truffle season, Bombana hosts a truffle auction for charity. This year, it coincided with the 14th world Alba white truffle auction with an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong bidding €90,000 (HK$938,000) for a 950-gram white truffle. Altogether, the auction raised HK$2.4 million, which went to Mother's Choice.
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