Mixing art and dining, Hong Kong restaurant owners hope to rise from ashes of Ngau Tau Kok fire
Business operators in building near tragic blaze find new lease of life after being driven out by crackdown on illegal use of industrial spaces
A group of young artists in Hong Kong hope to mix dining and art as they reopen a restaurant across Victoria Harbour after a year-long hiatus.
Syut, which started in an industrial building in Ngau Tau Kok four years ago, was known for its industrial-themed interiors and delicately displayed food.
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In June 2016, a fire broke out at a storage facility inside the Amoycan Industrial Centre – another building in the same area – burning for more than 100 hours and claiming the lives of two firefighters.
According to one of Syut’s owners, Adonian Chan, officials targeted the restaurant following a drive to take action against tenants violating land use rules for industrial units.
In February last year, Syut vacated its old site and began a 10-month search for a new home.
“We’re on the blacklist, so we have to be careful with everything,” Chan, a 31-year-old graphic designer, said.
The search was difficult, and the owners settled on the new address in Shek Tong Tsui on Hong Kong Island only in December last year, before reopening in March, though the restaurant began serving customers in February.
The new location, however, comes at four times the rent but with only half the space compared with the one in Ngau Tau Kok.
“We had a 4,000 sq ft space in [Ngau Tau Kok] for the restaurant, practice space and a recording studio,” Chan said. “If we had the choice, we’d go back to an industrial unit.”
But such a move would surely “doom” the restaurant, he added.
The hope in the future is for the restaurant to incorporate elements of installation art in its dining experience.
Speaking to the Post after the restaurant reopened, Chan questioned the effectiveness of government actions in enforcing land use regulation in industrial buildings.
“After they dealt with us, the public forgot about [the fire], and the pressure eased. Actually there are more restaurants in industrial buildings than ever before.”
Chan added that a prominent live music venue in Kwun Tong, Hidden Agenda, was forced out last year. It is understood that the venue has reopened in Yau Tong, also in a commercial unit.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a member of the Legislative Council’s development panel, said lawmakers were set to discuss industrial building policies in June or July.
“The government should confront the issues,” he noted.
Tam earlier suggested that officials lift restrictions on the lower floors of the buildings and allow tenants to operate performance venues for music and art.
The lawmaker, representing Kowloon East, confirmed that some restaurants continued to operate inside them.
While some might put up signs saying they were open only to workers in such buildings, he said, it was understood that they served everyone.
Tam added that the current policies hampered the chances of young people starting their own businesses.
“You’ll never see the light of day. The more famous your establishment is, the more trouble will come.”