HONG Kong emigrants run Chinese restaurants the world over. On arrival in a new country, establishing a Cantonese restaurant has proved to be one of the most popular routes to success. In Cape Town, South Africa, however, Larry Chung has won the loyalty of local residents with a restaurant serving Thai food. Sukhuthai, South Africa's first upmarket Thai restaurant, has them willingly opening their wallets for a taste of the East. Chung has consistently refused to bow to expectations and is the antithesis of the stereotype Chinese restaurateur. Remarkably sanguine about his success, he is relaxed and tanned, casually dressed in denims. Clearly in love with his adopted country, Chung greets everyone who passes with open candour. He seems to know them all. ''South Africa is so beautiful,'' he says. ''I've travelled all over the world but have never been anywhere which offers so much. ''Of course I work hard, but the leisure opportunities here are unequalled. I can dive in warm waters, fish, go hiking in the mountains and drink superb quality wines from the nearby vineyards for next to nothing.'' Having left Hong Kong to study in England at the age of 16, Chung has no desire to return. He is often in the territory on business or to visit his brother, but is incredulous at the way people live. ''There's too much noise and too many people. I sense hostility when I return,'' he says. ''Capetonians are the opposite. They are very relaxed about life, very friendly.'' With Oriental food still a novelty in South Africa, despite the growing number of Asian immigrants, many doubted Sukhuthai would last. Low-key decor and an unprepossessing location in the quiet Gardens district of the city added to the doubts. ''It's true. When we opened we created quite a splash,'' says Chung. ''People had no concept of Thai food. They still don't. I spend a lot of time explaining we serve Thai, not Taiwanese food.'' Having recently celebrated its first anniversary, Sukhuthai has decisively silenced the critics. Its chilli-packed fare, including beef and mussaman curries, continue to draw in the crowds. Along with city executives from neighbouring offices and wealthy holiday-makers from Durban and Johannesburg, regular clients include entertainment and leisure tycoon Sol Kerzner, the owner of Sun City. ''Those in the upper income bracket like us because they know a little about Thai cuisine,'' explains Chung. ''They've travelled the world.'' A Chinese restaurateur, Thai cuisine, South Africa? It's not as incongruous or financially risky as it may appear. Londoners are still enjoying the fruits of Mr Chung's first Thai venture, Simply Thai in Fulham, which he opened with his brother in 1988. Before that, there was a string of colourful jobs. A summer job in the bar of the Hilton hotel in London started it all off. ''That's when I fell in love with the business,'' says Chung. Then came a stint at Trader Vic's before a seven-year affair with the original Playboy Club in Park Lane. Chung became manager at 22, acquiring an ex-Bunny Girl wife along the way. After running a couple of nightclubs, Chung branched out on with England's first Chinese wine bar. Undeterred when it failed - ''the recession hit us hard'' - he opened Simply Thai. ''I first came to Cape Town on holiday in 1990. South African friends in London kept extolling its virtues. Despite the political problems, Chung sensed there was money to be made. ''There was no competition and the standard of Asian cuisine was low. It still is.'' One problem he has to face is the lack of locally available Thai ingredients. More than 80 per cent of the Sukhuthai kitchen's produce is imported. The two Thai chefs are also imported, having previously worked at the Avenue Hotel in Bangkok. According to Chung, quality ingredients are just one of the secrets of Sukhuthai's success. ''People everywhere are fascinated by Thai food. They're all looking for something different, something that's light, healthy and has freshness. And it's not just here. Look at the explosion of Thai restaurants in Hong Kong.''