A failed fine-dining restaurant might pale compared to the state of emergency most of the world finds itself in, but you have to feel for anyone who puts in hard work and dedication, only to be ruined by force majeure. A friend of mine, however, suggested it would actually be a good thing for some of these places to go under. “Hong Kong has too many restaurants,” the friend argues. “They’re overpriced, mediocre, gimmicky places barely getting by in good times. These businesses should be shuttered.” It’s an extremely Darwinian view of the dining scene – that survival of the fittest is good, and it’s nature that the weak and frail fall prey so the rest of the herd remains healthy and flourishing. Even if I don’t like someone’s culinary effort, I certainly don’t wish ill on them or want to see them go bankrupt. But from a macro perspective, there might be something to the idea that a raze of the forest spurs a fresh growth. I take a cursory look back at history. The SARS crisis in 2003 had a similarly devastating effect on businesses. Tourists stopped arriving, property fell into negative value, and the economy stalled. But two months after the WHO removed Hong Kong from its warning list, hotel occupancy bounced back from a low of 18 per cent average to 75 per cent. With rent at an all-time low, a lot of new blood rushed in. 2003 was when Wyndham Street turned into a nightlife hotbed. The Dining Concepts guys launched Bombay Dreams, which hit it big with its Bollywood Nights. In between those two, a couple of Italian guys started a wine bar/restaurant called DiVino. Amazingly, all these establishments are still there and now are practically institutions. A few months after, a new building called LKF Tower rose up. A young Finnish chef named Jaako Sorsa introduced the city to Scandinavian cuisine at Finds. Meanwhile, a scary triad-looking guy named Alvin Leung unleashed the unheard of idea called Chinese molecular gastronomy at a place named Bo Innovation. Can it be a coincidence all these iconic dining spaces all rose from the fertile ashes of Hong Kong after SARS? If you are not convinced, I submit further evidence from around the time after the 2008 financial crisis. The economy was again in the doldrums and the government tried to reignite it with policies that included a wine tax exemption. It immediately turned the city into a wine hub and soon events like Vinexpo came calling. 2008 also saw a tai tai then known as Bonnie Gokson (now spelt Bonnae), take a chance with a chic restaurant called Sevva. After the financial turmoil, Danny Yip decided to sell his company and return to cooking with a Chinese restaurant called The Chairman. The Mandarin Oriental also looked for a fresh start and hired a German named Uwe Opocensky. Dining Concepts was on another aggressive expansion plan and brought BLT Steak to Harbour City. The empty restaurants of today might be sad and depressing. But I like to think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And when it comes, I look forward to a flood of cool and remarkable concepts from exciting, fresh chefs. At least, this is what history tells us we can look forward to.