Life goes on

Not a week goes by without one of Soho’s tacky, cookie-cutter concept-theme restaurants closing. Most are instantly forgotten and replaced by new plastic, trendy, derivatives run by accountants with a death wish. Others, whose owners must enjoy being ravaged by Life-soholandlords, reopen on an adjoining street. People who eat in these places are suckers, seemingly unaware (or not caring) that the extreme rents make decent-value-for-money food economically impossible.

One of a tiny handful of exceptions was Life Café, which will close its doors before the weekend is over. It was one of the few Soho places to have actual character: a sort of 60s-70s, beanbags, solid-wood, menu-on-blackboard, eco-yoga thing, over three floors including a rooftop. It was the only place with a recognizable owner everyone could put a name to – Lamma hippy-businessman Bobsy. The food clearly came first. Not contrived, food-as-punishment vegetarian, but very tasty and enjoyable fare that happened not to include (or need) meat or processed ingredients.

The Standard reports that Life’s closure is due to high rents. The current boss Moosa Alissa produces some corporate PR-speak about how the restaurant business requires ‘continuous growth in scale and revenue’ for survival, which is not realistically possible and explains the constant churn of outlets in Soho. Maybe a tawdry Korean-tourist-friendly Caliburger (‘branches in Dubai, Saudi, Kuwait’) will move into the space. They could use the slogan, ‘A taste of the after Life’.

In a wistful obituary for his creation, Bobsy recalls pioneering gluten-free and quinoa in Hong Kong. We now know, of course, that avoidance of gluten is a silly fad, and that quinoa is basically barley for people with a massive grudge against poor Bolivians. Yet while high rents may be forcing restaurants out of business, parts of Hong Kong are being invaded by sterile and unappetizing-looking organic health food stores (including the Just Green chain, co-run by ‘continuous growth’ Moosa).

One of the unexpected side-effects of gentrification in Hong Kong Island seems to be this explosion of inane food fads. Alongside Coke and lime soda, little Thai places have for decades sold coconuts, from which you drink with a straw if you like that slightly gloopy soapy taste. Now, all of a sudden over the last year, we have been swamped with pricy Coconut Water in dazzling cans and cartons, promising no end of miraculous benefits. Which are, of course, baloney.

A quick stroll around Western reveals dozens of new natural healthy faddy stores springing up out of nowhere, offering bizarre teas, obscure seeds, outlandish oils, a peculiar thing about apple vinegar, and – courtesy of wise men from the Himalayas – kombucha. And who needs coconut water when you can have…


…birch tree sap? Because leaving the stuff inside birch trees where it belongs doesn’t create a big enough carbon footprint, presumably. (Shouldn’t the slogan have a comma? ‘Drink pure birch tree, sap’.)

And then we’ve got the noble and ancient Inca civilization’s great gift to mankind’s nutritional needs, the potato. I mean…


…yes, our friend quinoa. This is special, stupendously expensive, hand-crafted, artisanal quinoa. And when not appropriating Peruvian culture and heritage with misspelling and cardboard cutouts of llamas (as not found on Lamma), they also sell maca powder, because – how on earth did we ever get by before that came along?

Nonsensical pseudo-science food fashions aside, don’t forget: high-rents, mark-ups, value for money… The way things are going, these places will be driving all the real-estate agencies and expat housewives’ nail-pampering salons off the streets within a year, and all the Caliburgers.

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9 Responses to Life goes on

  1. Enid Ronay says:

    The good news in the high-class suburbs like Stanley is that we at last have a HK$ 138 hamburger restaurant next to McDonalds. There’s something existential about this. Turn left for cheap, turn right to flaunt. We are the sum of our decisions. Upstairs in the Plaza we have expensive gadget shit versus just walking by. Never forget that we all do have choices in Hong Kong, except when it comes to the essentials like government, electricity, water and transport.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    This morning, a gent (NET type) in the supermarket check out line was buying 2 boxes of “Jiffy” pizza crust powder. I never knew such a thing existed but it sounds delicious. Has any of you gastronauts had experience with this fine product ?

  3. skreader says:

    Birch sap can be fermented to make alcoholic birch beer

    Or boiled down to make a syrup

    But drinking it raw? Sounds worse than drinking sugar maple sap (eww.).

  4. Cassowary says:

    I’ll trade your insufferable hipster food fads for my epidemic of pharmacies and Sichuan spicy noodle joints. I’m not sure why, out of all possible Chinese foods, everyone seems so eager to sell Sichuan spicy noodles to the Mainland tourists. I suspect it’s because it’s easy to assemble and enough spices will cover all manner of substandard ingredients.

    Insofar as anything in my neighbourhood can be described as “artisanal”, it’s a small cluster of hobby leatherworking shops. There was a leatherworking DIY craze a few years ago, and the few who survived the bubble’s collapse figured out that you can make more money selling supplies to hobbyists than trying to sell amateurishly made purses to Hong Kong’s brand-conscious public.

  5. Red Dragon says:

    Let us not forget, when we reflect on the explosion in hand-crafted goat’s milk and peasant-picked wild privet leaf infusions, that one meaning of “artisanal”, particularly in the French language, is the derogatory, “makeshift”.

    I don’t know about you, but whenever I see this pretentious shite on offer, I make a point of not buying it.

  6. Sir Crispin Bentley-Smythe IV says:

    Soylent Green, made from HK landlords? I’d be up for that.

  7. Knownot says:

    Oh, how we loved the Lamma llama,
    Pride of every Lamma farmer.
    Never knew a sweeter creature,
    Kind by nature, fair of feature.
    A pure humanitarian,
    A natural vegetarian.
    No-one wiser, no-one calmer
    Than the learned Lamma llama.

    Then one day a silly chap
    Made fermented birch tree sap
    And gave some to the Lamma llama
    Thinking it would never harm a
    (Latin) lama glama.

    But just a tiny little sip
    Sent it on a crazy trip.
    “I’m fed up with this boring island!
    Let me go back to the high land!”
    It darted there and darted here
    And then it bolted off the pier
    And soon was swimming out of view
    On the way to gay Peru!
    And oh, what sorrow, oh, what clamour
    Then was heard on tearful Lamma!

  8. Joe Blow says:

    “gay Peru” ? What’s this ?

  9. Fred Parris and the Satins says:

    As Sonny said to Cher: “And the beat goes on…”

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