HK dim sum institution's future uncertain

Lin Heung Tea House, one of Hong Kong's most famous restaurants, says the new owner of the building which houses the restaurant has not yet contacted it about renewing its lease, despite it expiring in March next year. That has sparked fears that Lin
Lin Heung Tea House, one of Hong Kong's most famous restaurants, says the new owner of the building which houses the restaurant has not yet contacted it about renewing its lease, despite it expiring in March next year. That has sparked fears that Lin Heung will be the latest Hong Kong culinary treasure to fall foul of the city's thirst for redevelopment.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Impatient diners crowd around carts of steaming dim sum steered by fierce "trolley aunties" at Lin Heung Tea House, one of Hong Kong's most famous restaurants, now fearing for its future.

Lin Heung's traditional homemade dishes, including cha siew bao (barbecue pork buns), har gow (shrimp dumplings) and ma lai go (sponge cake), have earned a loyal following from locals with a taste for nostalgia, and curious tourists.

The two-storey restaurant in the bustling Central district has multiple top listings in global travel guides and serves customers from 6am until 10pm, seven days a week.

Diners sit elbow to elbow at shared round tables, metal spittoons still tucked beside them, the walls hung with decorative bird cages and traditional Chinese numerals used for menu prices.

But the restaurant says the building's new owner has not yet contacted them about renewing their lease, despite it expiring early next year.

That has sparked fears that Lin Heung will be the latest Hong Kong culinary treasure to fall foul of the city's thirst for redevelopment.

The building's landlord, CSI Properties, said it could not comment.

Worried regulars say they are visiting the eatery as much as they can. A retiree, who gave his name as Mr Yip, says he is going more often to enjoy his favourite dish of pork liver siew mai and freshly made tea.

Dim sum is often paired with Chinese tea in a tradition known as "yum cha", literally "drink tea".

The city's housing market was crowned the most expensive in the world last year, according to United States-based Demographia, and developers clamour for prime real estate.

The selling off of older buildings, and spiralling rents, has spelled the end for several family-run neighbourhood favourites across the city.

Lin Heung is one of Hong Kong's oldest Cantonese restaurant businesses and is run by the Ngan family, who arrived from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and set it up in 1926. It now has three outlets in Hong Kong.

The Central venue on Wellington Street is its main restaurant and has been in the same spot for 22 years.

Restaurant spokesman Terence Lam said that the current lease would end in March next year and he hoped the eatery would not have to close.

"It's not only a business. It embodies the legacy of the past," he said. "It represents the hardship of our ancestors."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2018, with the headline 'HK dim sum institution's future uncertain'. Print Edition | Subscribe