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Dim sum piled on a trolley at Lin Heung. The tea house in Central has closed its doors after 104 years in Hong Kong, a victim of pandemic disruptions its owners said. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Hong Kong dim sum parlour Lin Heung Tea House closes after 104 years; owners blame impact of pandemic disruptions

  • The dim sum restaurant, which has 104 years of history in Hong Kong, announced its two branches’ sudden closure on social media at midnight on Tuesday
  • The message thanked diners for their years of support, and said the hardships endured during the pandemic played a part in the decision to close

Lin Heung Tea House, a restaurant with a 104-year history in Hong Kong that served dim sum on trolleys and traditional Cantonese dishes, has closed its doors for the final time.

The restaurant in Central announced the closure in a social media post at midnight on Tuesday. The brand’s Tsuen Wan branch, Lin Heung Tsan, closed at the same time.

The short message, pinned to the top of parent company Hong Kong Lin Heung Group’s Facebook page and reposted to its Instagram channel, thanked customers for their years of support and expressed regret at having to say goodbye.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring of 2020, the owners had done their very best to keep the teahouse going, but ultimately it could not survive, the post said. They hope that they will be able to see everyone again one day, it added.

They also reminded guests that Lin Heung Kui, the Sheung Wan branch of the restaurant, which is under different ownership, is still operational.

Fans of Lin Heung around the world have expressed sadness over the restaurant’s demise, including award-winning food writer Fuchsia Dunlop. However, allegations have emerged from staff at the restaurant that their salaries have not been paid since April, calling into question the motivation for Lin Heung’s sudden closure.

Lin Heung, originally known as Guangzhou Cake Shop, opened in 1889 in Guangdong, southern China. In 1918, three branches opened around Hong Kong, and the Lin Heung on the corner of Wellington Street and Aberdeen Street was the last of them to survive, having moved there in 1996 from Queen’s Road Central.

Two close calls

Lin Heung was Hong Kong’s oldest teahouse, and had twice been saved from the threat of closure.

An assortment of dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House. Photo: Jonathan Wong

In 2018, a spokesperson for Lin Heung said the restaurant’s two-year lease would expire in the second quarter of 2019, and that the landlord, CSI Properties, had not yet renewed it. By Lunar New Year in 2019, it was widely known that the restaurant would close by the end of February that year after failing to renew the lease.

That’s when long-time staff of the restaurant pledged to take over the venue, and rename it Lin Heung Cafe. After “closing” on February 27, 2019, it was business as usual again two days later.

However, following the challenging period of social unrest in 2019 and then the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, the restaurant changed hands again – returning to the original owners, the Ngan family, in March of that year, and they reinstated the Lin Heung name.

Disappearing dim sum

Given its century-long history, Lin Heung was known for keeping many traditional dim sum on its menu - items that are becoming increasingly rare in newer, more upmarket restaurants, such as pork liver siu mai, steamed sausage rolls, and beef balls wrapped in caul fat.

Billboards entice diners to enter the Lin Heung Tea House in Wellington Street, Central. The restaurant has closed after 104 years in Hong Kong. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Visitors to Lin Heung will remember the large steel teapots expertly used to fill smaller teacups known as gai wan - handleless, lidded vessels that take some dexterity to pour and drink from.

The cacophonous restaurant, with its tightly packed tables between which traditional dim sum trolleys would roll, offered residents and tourists alike a quintessential Hong Kong experience.

As it joins the metaphorical graveyard of heritage venues including Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Mido Cafe, Hoi On Cafe and Happy Cake Shop, it leaves Hongkongers wondering what they may lose next.