Hong Kong ‘tycoons’ canteen’, Chinese restaurant Fook Lam Moon, celebrates 70 years in business
- Catering company Fook Kee was started in 1948, and the first Fook Lam Moon restaurant opened in Wan Chai in 1972
- To celebrate, the restaurant’s two branches are serving classic dishes from throughout its history
Fook Lam Moon, the Hong Kong restaurant known as the tycoons’ canteen, this year marks the 70th anniversary of founder Chui Fook-chuen launching his catering service.
To mark the platinum anniversary, Fook Lam Moon’s Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui branches are serving some of the dishes that made it famous through the decades, such as grilled chicken liver and pork – the Chinese name of which translates as “chicken gold coin” – bird’s nest congee with partridge, braised bamboo pith and pigeon eggs in crab roe, and wonton skin with fresh crab meat in soup.
From now until March, customers can try these and other dishes, which are either not on the menu or are not widely known to the restaurants’ customers. Chui’s granddaughter Janet Chui Shuk-wah hopes these nostalgic dishes will entice diners to visit both branches, as some of them will only be served in Wan Chai and others only in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The challenge of Fook Lam Moon is to remind diners to come back. Its restaurants are known for their fine-dining Cantonese dishes, and for items so labour-intensive they aren’t normally found on Chinese restaurant menus, but Chui admits there is a lot of competition for diners’ appetites in Hong Kong these days.
“Everyone wants to go to the latest restaurant that has opened, and there are so many of them,” she says. “That’s why we have to remind people that we are still here, even though many of us know who we are and what to expect from our restaurant,” she says.
Chui’s grandfather was 14 years old when he became an apprentice and then was hired as head chef to cook for the distinguished Ho Tung family, before finally setting up his catering business, called Fook Kee, 70 years ago.
The first Fook Lam Moon restaurant opened in Lockhart Road, Wan Chai in 1972 (it moved to its present location on nearby Johnston Road in 1989). It was followed by a second in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1977.
When her grandfather opened the restaurant, Chui explains, it was more like a private kitchen where diners were served banquet-style dishes. “The set menus had a few dish options, so customers had to choose a day in advance which ones they wanted.”
Fook Lam Moon gradually moved away from this format and offered an à la carte menu, and the restaurant became synonymous with high-end dishes featuring shark’s fin, bird’s nest and braised abalone.
Its well-heeled clientele – some of them centenarians – eat lunch at one of its restaurants every day. “The flavour of the food is to their liking; they say it’s so consistent, it’s like eating at home,” Chui says.
The restaurants’ success is due in part to the attention they put into sourcing ingredients. For example, when it comes to the signature braised abalone, the best dried ones come from Japan, and Fook Lam Moon ensures these are the only ones they use.
“Our head chefs in both Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui came to work for us in the 1980s and then left and then came back to us. They enjoy being here because at Fook Lam Moon they can use the best ingredients, which is very important to a chef,” she says.
After Chui’s grandfather died in 1977, his two sons ran Fook Lam Moon: “Brother Five” Chui Pui-kun on the business side, and “Brother Seven” Chui Pui-kwan, who was in charge of the kitchens.
However, tensions between the two siblings arose, and by 2009 their relationship was so fractious that Pui-kun filed a defamation lawsuit against his brother, and each petitioned for control of the other’s shares in the business.
They settled out of court at the end of that year, splitting up the family business. Pui-kun kept the two restaurants in Hong Kong, while Wai-kwan gained control of the Fook Lam Moon restaurants in China and four in Japan. The latter opened Seventh Son, a fine-dining Cantonese restaurant serving similar menu items to Fook Lam Moon, on Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai, in 2013.
Chui is Pui-kun’s daughter, and is head of public relations and marketing for Fook Lam Moon, while her older brother Duncan looks after the business side of the restaurants.
As the third generation, they are expanding the restaurant’s portfolio: they have a small retail space in the Wan Chai restaurant selling premium tea, dried mushrooms, ready-to-eat abalone, and seasonal items such as mooncakes, while in 2015 they opened a Fook Lam Moon branch in the Galaxy Macau that is now licenced to the hotel, and this year opened Guo Fu Lou, a fine-dining restaurant, in The Murray, a boutique hotel managed by Marco Polo Hotels, and Fooklore, in the Empire Hotel in Wan Chai.
“Guo Fu Lou and Fooklore are aimed at younger diners, and both don’t just have Cantonese dishes, but also Sichuan ones too,” says Chui.
For Fook Lam Moon to have kept the taste of its dishes consistent over 70 years is quite a feat. Chui says it’s down to the training of its chefs.
“Some people call us the ‘Shaolin Temple of Cantonese cuisine’,” she says, in reference to the number of top chefs in Hong Kong and the region who have worked at Fook Lam Moon.
Notable alumni include Chan Yan-tak, Chinese executive chef of the three-Michelin-star Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hong Kong hotel in Central; Lau Yiu-fai, Chinese chef at Yan Toh Heen in the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui; Paul Tsui Wai-fai at Hotel Icon in Tsim Sha Tsui East; and Tse Man of the Mandarin Oriental Taipei.
The challenge for Chui is to recruit chefs who can uphold Fook Lam Moon’s fine culinary tradition.
“It’s hard to recruit young people into the Chinese restaurant industry,” she says. “We have to encourage them because they have preconceptions that working in a Chinese restaurant is long hours, not a hygienic place, or is not as cool as working in a Western or Japanese restaurant.”
“They need to understand that, to be able to cook Chinese food well, they need to spend time to learn at the different stations, like chopping vegetables, making roast meats, stir-frying or dim sum – our chefs come in at 5am to make our dumplings fresh,” she explains.
Despite the difficulties, Chui says there are some young apprentices in the Fook Lam Moon kitchens, and she hopes that, with patience and time, they will rise through the ranks to uphold the restaurant’s brand and the traditional taste of its fare.
53-59 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2366 0286
Shop 3, Newman House, 35-45 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 0663