Gastronomic update

We have all heard of the Fountains of Rome and the Bridges of Paris – how about the Drainpipes of Soho?

These ancient features of the urban landscape take on a new vibrancy when the tacky overpriced restaurant next door closes. And in Soho right now the closures are many. The three recent departures shown below are all just a few yards from one another.

They are, from top down: A) Cecconi’s (residents never did work out how to pronounce it); B) whatever this one was before (I’ve reported the sidewalk obstruction to the government Efficiency Unit’s TellMe@1823, but of course no action); and C) the dismally named Smokey Joe’s BBQ Shack…


As B) shows, and all will find out, in Soho no-one remembers you were ever there within minutes of your signage coming down.

The fate of Smokey Joe’s is a tribute to the vengeful wrath of the Gods of Cuisine. It couldn’t have been open more than a year or two. And it warms the heart to see the failure of such a corny, shallow, tawdry concept-theme, even by the standards of the neighbourhood’s depressing cookie-cutter concept-themes. (Yes, it had a massive flat-screen TV showing sports, how did you guess?)

As well as being unclear about how to pronounce the restaurants’ pretentious names, the local inhabitants have no real idea what the food is like in them. All we need to know is that the rents are so high that a large chunk of the money you pay for a meal goes to the landlord, so why bother? Value for money is an economic impossibility – even when tiny tables are crammed so close together that diners’ elbows clash. So for example, at Soho Spice (to the left of B) above) the menu says you pay HK$92 for pad thai, and after mineral water and service charge I would guess it comes to HK$150, and the food looks like a deformed crab fighting with a bunch of bean shoots and losing…


(I guess the food-porn photo features something other than the pad thai, by the way.)

Just minutes away, the secret old place we keep to ourselves serves up a pile of tasty Singapore noodles (seen here with the black pepper beef spaghetti) plus a huge free glass of ice lemon tea for HK$36, with trendy square plates, a fish tank, authentic 70s retro ambience and tons of space to relax…


In fairness, these are the afternoon Tea Set prices; add 10 bucks or so in the evening when they get seriously exotic with such classic quasi-Macanese-Euro-Canto delights as baked coconut chicken. This is the original ‘fusion’.

Presumably, the three recent departures from the one small stretch of Soho shown above were all due to rent hikes. It’s hard to believe that landlords are still trying to squeeze more out of tenants when the whole wretched luxury-exclusive-Burberry-tourism thing seems to have peaked. It’s even harder to believe that tenants are dumb enough to pay, assuming they are.

It will be interesting to see what businesses, if any, take the newly shuttered spaces. Most likely they will be yet more clichéd concept-themed restaurants lining up for the slaughter – though purveyors of grotesque furniture for the trashy nouveau riche have been setting up in the neighbourhood recently. This one is round the corner…


…and unwittingly portends Hong Kong’s tragic decline into the ranks of soulless, tawdry, loser cities.

This interior furnishings trend suggests that more of the internationally mobile elite moneyed braindead are moving into the area, which in turn suggests continued demand for fake high-class cuisine, thus more indistinguishable, pokey, overpriced, oh-so-high-class eating places before long.

In the meantime, the drainpipes positively glow.

This just in: the HK government Efficiency Unit as envisaged by Quentin Tarantino…


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16 Responses to Gastronomic update

  1. Nimby says:

    You failed to note and praise the HK government Efficiency Unit for efficiently burning through it’s budget by both hiring off-spring of Lufsig/CCP supporters and by setting up the Adobe Flash intensive website (perhaps vis one of Charles Mok’s many fingered pie shops) which will now need to be fixed for security risks (by another Mok pie shop?).

    If there is no more money from those obstructionist pro-dems in the legislature, how can you expect the Efficiency unit to pay for taxis, and of course the obligatory lunch somewhere far away, to discuss with the recalcitrant landlord cum friend of Lufsig just when he might deem to replace the boarding with a line of sidewalk blocking chairs for the cue loving, selfie stick welding taitai hopefuls?

    We really do need the innovation Innovation and Technology Bureau; the methods of corruption in Hong Kong have become so stale and predictable. Pouring concrete on the government’s tab, or appointing a land barron to take the ESF private are just a few classic example of the lack of innovation in our local corruption schemes.

  2. reductio says:

    “Having received so many calls and e-mails, we gather substantial volumes of data. The next step is to make sense of the data,” says the Efficiency Unit’s Assistant Director, W. F. Yuk. “Now, with SAS, we can obtain deep insights through uncovering the hidden relationship between words and sentences of complaints information, spot emerging trends and public concerns, and produce high-quality, visual interactive intelligence about complaints for the departments we serve.”

    That’s all clear then.

  3. Big Al says:

    The Efficiency Unit – gotta love ’em. I presume that the Assistant Director’s initials “W. F.” are short for “What the Fuck”. I’m pleased that SAS is helping him to “obtain deep insights” – it must be so much more efficient than actually going to the location in question and talking to the complainant (although why they need a British Army unit, or indeed a Scandinavian airline, to do this is beyond me).
    Oh, and one last thing while I’m having a go at the Efficiency Unit, on their Reservoir Dogs-esque website front page they forgot to add the word “Ourselves” after the word “Serve”. I guess this is an example of the “high-quality, visual interactive intelligence” so ably provided by SAS – can’t wait for the movie to come out …

  4. Big Al says:

    Another last thing: Interior furnishings. Can anyone enlighten me as to how “Aluminium” stays in business? It’s located on all three floors of a rather nice old building on Cochrane Street (imaging how many tacky over-priced restaurants you could fit in here!). I see it every time I head up the escalator on the way to The Globe but I NEVER see anyone inside, nor any changes to the display items, most of which seem to follow the “pretentious wank” school of design.

  5. PD says:

    Wasn’t it Yes Minister that demolished the idea of efficiency units?

    Although of course all the whitening cream and glasses and the Colin-Firth look alike perfectly convey their unrelenting, undaunted pursuit of time servers, buck passers and paper clip pushers.

    In other news: Graham Sheffield, Michael Lynch, Duncan Pescod: is it just me, or is there possibly the hint of the beginning of a trend?

  6. Recent surveys notwithstanding, I am not convinced that the words “Hong Kong government” and “efficiency” belong in the same sentence. The Efficiency Unit’s front page reads like the work of a junior management trainee who’s just returned from a seminar and can’t wait to impress his boss with every buzzword he’s picked up: change agent, catalyst, integrated, people-centred, partnership, Business Process Reengineering (wasn’t that last century’s fad?), citizen-centric (that’s a new one on me) – give the man an MBA!

  7. stinky foot says:

    There was a grotty hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Mala (or Bali House) that served up tamarind fish, gadogado and mutton curry for the cheapsters with beer that would set you back a quid or two. Always full of hungary locals. Big screen TV blaring and a retro toilet. The old guy sold out as rents and property prices were too much to resist as retirement beckoned. Now only high-price grotty but renovated eateries fail in a casino-like regularity.

    The ‘Efficiency Unit’ as many of the HKG departments, have no ‘on the ground’ experience. Sitting in an office and plotting sewer systems for example, that bear no resemblance to the topography or weather leads to inefficiency, wasted tax dollars, angry villagers and engineering embarrassments worthy of retro technologies (the lead pipe debacle is a case in point). A river of inefficiencies runs through it.

    Yet, some of the gaisee like in Wanzai still have fabulous food for reasonable prices and they are mobbed accordingly. Let’s hope the inefficiency brigade have to eat too.

  8. gweiloeye says:

    Gweiloeye’s crystal ball says that it sees the SCMP story below:

    Last Gweilo Public Servant Axed
    “It was a setup from the start” says former head of the Hong Kong government’s Efficiency Unit, “They have been trying for years to get me out……but I am sort of proud to be the last gweilo standing. Head of an Efficiency Unit in Hongkers was always going to be a hiding to nothing. That was their plan.” The newly appointed Head is quoted as saying “Now we do it Chinese style, we will hire 150 more staff so that we can be even more efficient. No, I will not repeat that in English”

  9. adam says:

    Disagree. Compared to many other parts of HK with similar concentrations of fancy western restaurants, e.g. Kennedy Town, The Peak, Elements, LKF Tower, Soho is actually cheaper and in my opinion quality better. It is the competition that keeps prices down. On average the prices and quality also compare well with Soho in London. The beautiful thing in Hong Kong is that, as Hemmers points out, one can get cheaper more local fare at less than half the price just a few minutes walk away. Much harder to do that in other cities.

    I won’t miss Smokey Joe’s, but a lot of other restaurants with good food and loyal followings have moved or closed down because of rapacious landlords. That is the bad of Hong Kong.

    As an aside, I will also be sad to see the Graham St wet market gradually bull-dozed out of existence. Not only is it unique, part of the heritage and culture of Hong Kong, a tourist attraction, avowedly and unmistakably Chinese and very un-Western, it also provides cheaper, more varied and healthier food than the supermarkets, helps local entrepreneurs and provides a much more enjoyable shopping experience. Shameful that is being removed and replaced, soulless concrete blocks, more hotels and doubtless in time more restaurants of the type Hemmers despises.

  10. Nimby says:

    The Efficiency Unit is already hard at work something. As mentioned earlier, Former housing director Duncan Pescod has been named as the chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. In summary, a director responsible for the largest most critical failure in government policy, to the greatest benefit of both CY’s friends (and probably to the benefit of some nominee shell company in the Cayman Islands which has absolutely nothing to do with said director), is now in charge of the largest plot of land since Disney was handed the plum by Donald. Now that’s world class efficient corruption.

  11. reductio says:

    All this talk of Efficiency Units and associated verbiage brings back fond memories of ISO9000/1 (or whatever) certification. Remember that? All very nineties and noughties. It seems to have dropped off the government radar as it’s no longer trendy.

    @Big Al

    SAS is a fairly basic standard statistics software package. Basically they are just asking a computer to tote up the number of times the words “this”, “department”, “is”, “full”, “of” and “shit” occurs so they can draw some pretty graphs.

  12. Joe Blow says:

    Big hand for ‘adam’, the recently laid-off backpacker-turned-restaurant manager, for his spirited defence of Soho, the Midlevels themed dining area which is so-ho past its prime. And so-ho overpriced, tacky and a bit sad, really.

    You may remember -probably not- ‘adam’ from such fabulous ‘dining experiences’ like El Sombrero, Ye Olde Oirish Shithole (loved the shepherd pies – couldn’t tell them from real shit !), Calcutta Deluxe (‘diarrhrea special’ buffet – every Monday) and fine French dining experience Le Craperie.

    Not the best but, then, still better than LKF.

  13. Headache says:

    I remember meeting the gweilo former head of the efficiency unit. He responded to my look of bemusement with a well-practised “I take it as proof the government has a sense of humour.”

    Excellent banner art this week Hemmers, plus you inspired me to declare lunch open with Singapore noodles, so points all round.

  14. Cassowary says:

    Re: adam “Compared to many other parts of HK with similar concentrations of fancy western restaurants, e.g. Kennedy Town, The Peak, Elements, LKF Tower, Soho is actually cheaper and in my opinion quality better.”
    Well that’s your problem there. That’s like saying or Carslberg tastes slightly better than Bud Lite, or the bottom of your shoe is slightly less dirty than a dog’s arsehole.

  15. FOARP says:

    If Hong Kong still had a decent film industry, I would love to see what the might make out of the Efficiency Unit.

    I’m picturing an Infernal Affairs rip-off with Andy Lau going under-cover to bust inefficiency within government whilst Jay Chou gets himself into ‘The Unit’ to spy on behalf of CIA-funded umbrella-wielding inefficiency fanatics. The climax of the flick would be at the grand opening of the “One Belt, One Road Very-Useful-Bridge” the harmoniousness of which Chou tries to disrupt hacking the WhatsApp forum of the officials attending the event to force them to inexplicably get up and leave. Despite being stranded by the evil Chou in the distant New Territories, Lau (with the help of his Uncle Fat Suk, played by Eric Tsang) saves the day and rides off into the sunset with Regina Ip (played by ex-Twins starlet Gillian Chung).

  16. Nimby says:

    For archival purposes (i.e. I told you so first) Accountability in the Age of Flex Nets, the last chapter of Prof. Janie Wedel’s Shadow Elite, covers the pretty well the function of auditors and efficiency units, which is to drum up business for first the consulting firms and then later the outsourcing/contracting firms which provide the staff to run these organs on a hidden secondment, (that, and employ the family members of government power brokers to join their golf scholarships, wine consumption schools and hotel/resort testing teams).

    Peter Woo just skims the surface of this sort of corruption in his letter to the HKFP today.

    We’re getting more creative, copying London & Washington efficiency corruption.

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