Update from Hemlock: Worst Restaurant in Soho Competition 2011 winner announced in record time!

A fine morning for a stroll around the nether regions of the neighbourhood with friend and venerable food critic Yummy Chow, organizer of the annual Worst Restaurant in Soho Competition.

Oh, how we long for the days when at this dry time of year, every eight hours, round the clock, a truck with a big yellow oval-shaped tank would crawl along these narrow lanes, spraying water continuously and sweeping away the wrong sort of person. Then it all changed. They renamed the area Soho and hired Nepalese street cleaners armed with toothbrushes. It took a while for the herd to work out that heading South of Hollywood Road meant going up rather than down hill from the strip of art galleries and antiques stores. But once it sunk in and the tourist guidebooks started mentioning the place, it was indeed downhill all the way.

The largely indistinguishable plastic restaurants that now infest the zone attract hordes of unquestioning customers. On a Friday or Saturday night the district is awash with people who apparently like being jammed together on tiny tables, paying high prices for indifferent food in phony template surroundings run by cynical accountants trying to wring every penny in profit from the high-rent, low floor-area hovels before the landlord comes along and gives the tourniquet to the tenant’s testicles another twist. The management would cut corners on ingredients even if they didn’t have to do it to survive. Food is just what they happen to peddle; they could just as easily be hawking piles of equally fake DVDs.

Yummy takes me to a spot near the Mid-Levels Escalator on Elgin Street and points across the road to a recent renovation. She talks me through the process by which yet another soulless ‘themed’ venture comes into being. The story starts with the brazenly titled Dining Concepts group’s closure of its cramped Ocean Grill outlet at number 49, which Time Out, hardly the most exacting setter of culinary benchmarks in the world, gave a dismal two stars out of five.

Day 1 Tear the plywood fake maritime furnishings out. It is important to leave the detritus lying on the sidewalk so passers-by are forced to walk in the road…

Day 2,3 (left) You surround the premises with a plasterboard wall (it is important to keep the sidewalk barred to passers-by) and install basic cookie-cutter plywood trimmings while discussing with investors what exciting new concept the new joint will have.  Day 4 (right) You finalize concept and wait for builders to come and install ambiance…

Day 5 Builders turn up with extruded plastic imitation artifacts of a bygone era/exotic location made in Shenzhen. It is important to position the truck in such a way that all vehicular and pedestrian traffic through the street is immobilized just next to the alley where the government lays rat poison…

Day 6 Put up the new ‘signage’ to reveal the aforementioned exciting theme: the oh-so original French bistro…

The next step is to put a page for the new profit centre saying ‘Coming Soon’ on your website with excruciatingly irritating music. You can also arrange a nice review for the eatery (yes we know it’s not open yet) on the old Ocean Grill page on some obscure on-line restaurant guide.

Et voila! Welcome to Bouchon Bistrot Français (with emphasis on the first word):

“a dining adventure with the tastes of Paris … unique atmosphere … cosy [tables too small to open a Le Monde on] … great cuisine and wines in the true French style … Hors d’oeuvres, La Charcuterie, Salades, Soupes, Cocottes, Assiettes and Garnitures … ‘Specialites Maison’ daily.”

At last! A French restaurant that serves up garnitures!

I turn to Yummy. “Hang on – there’s already a place called Bouchon round here. Le Tire Bouchon. Quite well known, and if I recall, pretty good food. Owned and run by real humans.”

Yummy nods grimly. “Yeah, founded in 1986 with a real French chef,” she tells me. “Not what it was, perhaps, but it still had a good reputation.”

Have the Dining Concepts management chosen the name in the hope of misleading people who have heard of its long-established semi-namesake just a minute’s walk away in Graham Street? What a disgraceful and scurrilous thought. They will no doubt be horrified when they discover they have accidentally copied a revered competitor, and they’ll have to call their new project something else, like Ye Olde Brasserie.

Yummy, after looking slightly glum for a moment, suddenly perks up. “Well that’s it!” she announces with a triumphant grin. “This year’s Worst Restaurant in Soho Competition winner! Already decided!”

“Are you sure?” I ask. “I mean, they haven’t served a single meal yet. Shouldn’t you actually try it first? I mean, at least have a big steaming plate of garnitures.”

La gourmande sans merci spins round with her back to the still-unopened eatery, grips me by both shoulders and stares at me in mock shock. “My dear,” she blurts out laughing, “do you seriously think I need to?”

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13 Responses to Update from Hemlock: Worst Restaurant in Soho Competition 2011 winner announced in record time!

  1. Laurence says:

    Whilst I agree that they are certainly making use of the reputation of Le Tire Bouchon I think you will find that LTB closed 18 months ago. It became part of the Epicurean group and then closed. The space is now the new Globe.

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    In the space of the old Globe is the new ‘Vinod’s Delicious Pappadum Palace’ which used to be in the old ‘Wheelbarrow Inn’ which was once located in the recently opened ‘Ron Barcardi’s Tapas Closet’ (seats 3), formerly the ‘Oirish Bog’ which…….

  3. Berni Inn says:

    The Question remains though.

    Do Hong Kong people deserve better?

    Of course not.

  4. Sir Crispin says:

    “It is important to position the truck in such a way that all vehicular and pedestrian traffic through the street is immobilized…”

    Typical local drivers who care not a whit for anyone else, in their ignorant bliss of self-possessed importance.

  5. Phillipe Lambert says:

    No no no! This is missing the most vital part of the ruse. After you announce to the world this exciting new concept that will change the world forever and how you are the experts in this type of cuisine you must then start to look for the staff to work there.

    In order to be one of the key players in the HK scene, you must look for staff (especially a head chef) just days before the grand opening. It is also the law that the advert be placed in that rag HK Magazine where it will remain for month after month filling an otherwise vacant space in their classified section.

  6. Stephen says:

    But isn’t it just tourists and the newly arrived Mr & Mrs I. Banker who “dine” in these places ? That being the case let the ruse continue.

    BTW noticed that since Allan “we have many many fish born in Ocean Park” Semen closed California Tower that the 7 – 11 been doing a roaring trade and the towers hoarding makes a great place to park your cheap drink. Keep up the good work Al Semen…

  7. Brocco Li says:

    Now that people are getting used to buying cold beers at a very reasonable price from 7-11 (me included) will they ever again pay $70- for a pint, once Mr. Semen’s new erection is in place ?

    Indeed, will the yuppie crowd in Wyndham Street really want to return to all the new and exciting concept bars in LKF, that will undoubtedly spring up again ? Will they ?

  8. Plod says:

    Call Central nick (now next to the Macao Ferry in Sheung Wan!) or the 1823 hotline to complain about the street obstruction and the illegal parking. It really does work and you get the satisfaction of knowing it’s you that got the selfish buggers a ticket. Satisfaction guaranteed.

  9. Silvermine Dave says:

    The BBF has now got two reviews!

    Hit “nice review” above or go to:


    I am sure they will appreciate you comments.

  10. gunlaw says:

    The following applies to restaurants in HK amongst other businesses and note the consequences of failure to comply:


    Completion and return of schedules

    (1) Any person (not being a person to whom subsection (2) applies) to whom a schedule relating to a statistical inquiry is delivered under section 12 shall complete it or cause it to be completed to the best of his knowledge and belief by providing the information specified, in the manner and within the time indicated, in such schedule and shall thereafter return it in the manner and within the time specified therein.

    (2) If any person to whom a schedule is delivered under section 12 is unable either himself to complete it in the manner or within the time indicated therein, or to cause some other person so to complete it, he shall return the schedule in the manner and within the time specified therein and shall declare, either verbally or in writing, his inability to complete the schedule and the reasons for such inability.

    (3) Notwithstanding anything contained in subsection (1) or (2), any
    census officer charged with the delivery of any schedule for completion by any person for the purpose of any statistical inquiry may either at the request of such person or of his own motion, obtain verbally from such person the particulars required for completion of the schedule and complete the schedule in the manner required.

    (4) Where any specified person is-

    (a) resident outside Hong Kong;

    (b) a corporation incorporated outside Hong Kong;

    (c) unable to complete a schedule by reason of sickness, absence or other sufficient cause, the delivery of a schedule to the premises of any
    such specified person shall, for the purposes of this section, be a
    sufficient requirement to any manager or agent of the
    specified person, who is in possession of or has access to the
    information required therefor, to complete the schedule and to return it in the manner directed therein.

    (5) Where reasonable grounds exist for believing that any specified person has withheld or incorrectly given any information in his possession which, in the opinion of the Commissioner, is required for the purpose of the completion by such specified person of any schedule, and the Commissioner so directs, a census officer may, at any reasonable time and on production of the certificate issued to him under section 7 for examination by any person requiring evidence of his identity, enter any premises occupied by such specified person and may therein-

    (a) deliver or collect any schedule or make any inquiries necessary for the completion or checking thereof;

    (b) inspect, extract information from or make copies of any document for the purpose of completing any schedule;

    (c) check any information obtained or obtain any further information
    required in respect of any statistical inquiry; and may, in the light
    of any information so obtained, complete any schedule or add to or delete from any schedule any name or particular or otherwise correct
    any material particular therein: Provided that the powers conferred by this subsection shall not be exercisable in relation to any
    statistical inquiry except-

    (i) where a date is or dates are specified in the order relating to
    that statistical inquiry under section 9(2)(a)(iv) or, as the
    case may be, section 11(2)(b)(i), within 2 months after that
    date or the later of those dates; or

    (ii) where a period is so specified, within that period and the
    period of 12 months next thereafter.

    (6) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) commits an offence.

  11. Chopped Onions says:

    Copy of Thomas Kellers place in the US right down to the logo….http://www.bouchonbistro.com/

  12. Jordi says:

    I think you guys are so right!! Yummy is so of a real established food critic that even without trying she’s able to smell the bad concept… She actually should not go there. What an idea to try to open a restaurant I mean whoever try to open a restaurant must not event think to open it, no thought have been put together to do that. I mean they should open banks or other kind of businesses that will create more profit. I mean, it’s like bloggers that spend their days writing on restaurant they went for lunch while they enjoy Mc donald or other junks at night.
    This is how real people will express them-self. I find outrageous to see how much mess they created on that street, I mean the playenoywood around must not be for protection of the passant but just to enoied them, seriously that truck trying to park itself is really unbelievable, How someone parking his truck blocks the way!! Oh my .. really hates the whole thing.

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