The economic downturn, combined with the effects of Sars, has led to the closure of one of Hong Kong's most famous culinary icons and the near closure of a second. Au Trou Normand, in Tsim Sha Tsui, was founded by Bernard Vigneau, a French chef at the Peninsula Hotel, in 1964. Since then, it amassed a long list of French regulars as well as locals with an appreciation of good French cuisine and wine who frequently filled the 60 seats at the restaurant. The 27-year-old Ocean Palace Restaurant and Nightclub, also in Tsim Sha Tsui, sits at the other end of the spectrum. It serves traditional Cantonese food and has seen singers such as Anita Mui Yim-fong, Faye Wong and the late Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing perform to as many as 2,500 people at one time. But due partly to Sars, business was down 30 per cent at Au Trou Normand, which had to pay rent of $122,000 a month, and down 70 per cent at Ocean Palace, where the rent comes in at a colossal $860,000 a month, excluding additional charges. David Yick Hok-wing, director of Au Trou Normand, says: 'We needed at least a 30 per cent reduction in rent to break even as we expect the economic situation to stay bad for a while, but the landlord only offered 15 per cent. 'He thought we would be able to afford it as we still had our regulars, but he lost the gamble. We couldn't afford it and had to close down. The space is still empty now.' However, in order to cater for its regulars, it merged with its sister restaurant, Kirin Plaza, which is also owned by Mr Yick and serves European and Japanese food. Although in a different location, customers can still enjoy a piece of the former Au Trou Normand because many of the decorations have been kept and are used in a room especially reserved for the famous cuisine. Ocean Palace had similar bad luck with its landlord. With business in the doldrums in April and May, for the first time in history, it missed its rent payments. Meanwhile it hoped the landlord would be compassionate and consider reducing the rent. That was not to be. Unwilling to give a further concession after a 10 per cent reduction with the new lease in March, Wharf Realty sued the restaurant for $4.5 million for outstanding rent and other charges. Reluctant to layoff any of the 235 staff, many of whom had been working there since it opened, deputy managing director Sunny Cheung Wing-sun gave staff 15 days of unpaid leave to try to make up some of the $250,000 losses it was suffering every month. In an 11th-hour reprieve, Ocean Palace avoided imminent closure after a new generous investor, Chiu Chi-fai, jumped in at the last minute. The extra funds, together with Mr Cheung's own investments, kept the restaurant afloat. Marketing manager Daisy Lee said: 'We are paying by partial payments now. Mr Chiu and Mr Cheung have both invested a lot to keep this restaurant going, and for that we are all very thankful. 'Hopefully we will recover by December when tourism should be back in full swing and companies will be holding Christmas and annual parties.' Mr Yick also remains positive. 'We will try to reopen if we can find a new location at a fair price. For that reason, we have kept as much of the original kitchen staff with us, even if it means we are over staffed.'