Hong Kong’s oldest dim sum restaurant may have to close

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The Lin Heung Tea House. Photo: Google Maps

Hong Kong’s oldest dim sum restaurant has just over a year to find a new home, after opening for more than 128 years.

The boss of the Lin Heung Tea House, which is world-famous for its traditional Cantonese cuisine not easily found in modern Chinese eateries, is looking for a new location in Central after being told that the new landlord of Tsang Chiu Ho Building wants to reconstruct the old site – so the lease won’t be renewed after the spring of 2019.

It goes without saying that Lin Heung’s existing site, at the junction of Wellington Street and Aberdeen Street, would be much more profitable selling BBQ pork bun (cha siu bao) given the property bubble has seen more Chinese financial groups driving out global investment banks in Central amid escalating office rents.

But the looming change will be a huge loss for tourists and locals who look for the old style of Chinese cuisine.

Founded in Guangzhou back in 1889 at the end of the Qing dynasty, Lin Hueng – which means fragrant lotus – is the oldest teahouse in Hong Kong. Apart from the traditional dim sum like har gow and siu mai, Lin Heung made its name for its steamed chicken bun, plus siu mai made with liver and stuffed mud carp.

In its heyday, the two-story Chinese restaurant had three outlets, but now it is down to the main store in Central, at a site it occupied in 1980. The restaurant, which serves a maximum of 300 guests, is so busy that it often combines different groups of people at the same table.

The eatery has often been listed as a must-see site by Time, CNN and Tripadvisor, and was featured in the movie “In the Mood for Love”.

News about the Lin Heung restaurant’s uncertain future reached discussion forums after waiters told some favored customers that they may shut in the spring of 2019.

A Lin Heung spokesman confirmed that the current lease will expire in 2019 but said they hoped to find a nearby site to continue the business.

Lin Heung withstood the Wall Street stock crash in 1987, the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the global financial recession in 2008 – but it looks set to be ousted by the surging real estate market.

Hong Kong property has undergone a boom since 2009 – particularly over the last five years – thanks to strong demand for land from Chinese developers and investors, who regard the city as a safe haven for capital.

Developers from the mainland have bought up over half of the state’s land over the past year, forcing local developers to pay more for real estate.

One example is Henderson Land, one of the big three local developers, which paid US$3 billion for a government building at Murray Road – over HK$50,000 (US$6,399) per square foot, which made it the world’s most expensive commercial land plot.

So, Lin Heung is paying the price for Hong Kong’s prosperity.

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