Oh, these old Chinese teahouses

August 10, 2022 11:36
Photo: RTHK

Bird cages. High ceiling. Old paintings. How many restaurants are selling pork roast siu mai for their loyal fans who want to get a taste of the Chinese tradition?

That was the feeling after the iconic Lin Heung Tea House shut its door on Wellington Street after 94 years.

For those who missed the lousy noise of having five strangers at a big table and the delicious traditional dim sum might need to walk farther to Lin Heung Kui in Sheung Wan, or pay much more to check out its neighbouring Luk Yu Teahouse but there are other problems as well.

But still Lin Heung closed its door without a proper farewell to its customers – and even its two dozen staff – as they only found out about the closure on the auspicious 8 August day although the staff was reported to be not receiving their pay for a few months.

So the closure is not unexpected, especially after Mido Cafe, probably the city’s oldest cha chaan teng, was closed last month after 72 years in Yau Ma Tei due to the pandemic.

Lin Heung has been relatively resilient because it is one of the most affordable restaurants in Central that aims to feed the neighbouring residents or kai fong.

The restaurant was closed briefly in 2019 when the founder Ngan family chose not to renew the lease and actually sold it to its staff. The teahouse was eventually renamed but remained at the same place, the business had not changed much. In 2020, ownership of the restaurant returned to the Ngan family.

Lin Heung is the name that usually pops up when one thinks of traditional dim sum such as pork liver siu mai and roast pork belly buns from trolley rather than ordering from menu or increasingly via mobile app.

For those who appreciate the unique Chinese cuisine, they have to accept its unique hospitality style.

A recent visit to Luk Yu last week was an example. A friend of mine who returned to Hong Kong for vacation wanted to find his old taste bud so I took him to the famous dim sum restaurant.

We happened to be 15 minutes early and asked to be seated but were unfortunately declined despite some apparently empty tables. One waiter suggested us to go upstairs but the floor waiter said we had no booking there. There were even more empty tables upstairs.

My friend suggested perhaps we should tip them for a table but I was unwilling to do so. At last, we were lucky to be seated after 10 minutes.

To be fair, the service level was largely improved especially minutes before we checked the bill. Later I came to understand some waiters somehow needed to reserve tables for their favourite customers who regularly tip them at least HK$100 although there is no certainty if they would come in on a specific day.

That is not the service I miss and deserve in these traditional Chinese teahouses.

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EJ Insight writer