Victim of Pandemic, Hong Kong Floating Restaurant Towed Away

The massive floating restaurant designed like a Chinese imperial palace on Aberdeen Harbor was known for its Cantonese cuisine and seafood dishes.

It received over 30 million guests since its establishment in 1976.

But Jumbo Floating Restaurant was forced to close in 2020 due to the pandemic, and all staff were laid off.

Parent company Aberdeen Harbour Restaurant Enterprises said it had become a financial burden to shareholders, as millions of Hong Kong dollars were spent on inspection and maintenance of the floating restaurant every year even though the restaurant was not in operation.

“We do not foresee that (Jumbo Floating Restaurant) can resume business in the immediate future,” the company said. It said potential deals to keep the restaurant open were thwarted by the high operating costs.

Tugboats towed the restaurant away but it wasn’t clear where it will berth next.

The company planned to move it to a lower-cost site where maintenance could still be conducted.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had previously rejected suggestions to bail out the restaurant, despite calls from lawmakers to preserve the iconic landmark.

Lam said last month that the government had no plans to invest taxpayers’ money into the restaurant as the government was “not good” at running such premises, despite calls from lawmakers to preserve the restaurant.

Some Hong Kong residents recalled the heyday of Jumbo Kingdom, and expressed disappointment in seeing the restaurant go.

Hong Kong Jumbo Floating Restaurant
Hong Kong’s iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant is towed away in Hong Kong on June 14, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)

“The glory days of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant were in the 1990s, flocks of Japanese tourists would visit the restaurants, the streets were full of parked vehicles as visitors arrived in droves,” says Wong Chi-wah, a boat operator near Aberdeen Harbor.

There were about a dozen of floating restaurants at the Aberdeen Harbor back in the 1950s, it was the most glorious period for the floating restaurant business.

After a few decades, only three of the floating restaurants remained, including the Jumbo Floating Restaurant.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant that we know today consists of two boats that are adjacent to each other—a bigger boat named “Jumbo Floating Restaurant” and a smaller one called “Tai Pak Floating Restaurant”.

The “Tai Pak” was first built in the 1950s, and was taken over by Jumbo’s parent company in the 1980s.

A 71-year-old resident Encore Sin, says that Hong Kong is losing something unique.

“If the restaurant leaves today, there is definitely a sense of loss, not just for people who live around this area but for the whole of Hong Kong. Over the past few decades, I’ve been to many places around the world to take photographs, but where else in the world are there such floating restaurants? I don’t think there are any left,” says Sin.

Sin visited floating restaurants since he was a kid, he recalled his father bringing guests to the restaurant whenever they visited Aberdeen Harbor.

He says it was a luxury to dine there as most people could not afford a meal there.

“The chefs were true masters. The dishes they cook, like the stir fry crab with spring onion, or even a simple fried rice was exceptional,” said Sin.

Law Lok-yin, Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Metropolitan University, who specializes in Hong Kong history and culture says, the floating restaurants used to be a place for businessmen to socialize: “Early twenty century, the businessmen in Hong Kong, they enjoy to have their business dinner in the floating restaurants in Shau Kei Wan, managed by the fishermen. Therefore it became a practice for businessmen in Hong Kong for the commercial meetings, and for different community gathering.”

The restaurant was famed for its lavish banquet meals, with dishes such as roasted suckling pig, lobster, and double-boiled bird’s nest, a Chinese delicacy.