Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Tai Pak Floating Restaurant, Aberdeen

The Tai Pak floating restaurant was once one of those must-see places in Hong Kong. I suspect a combination of the novelty, the decoration and the fact that it featured in a few Hollywood films that were shot on location in Hong Kong. I've sifted through many films now whilst doing research for my film locations blog and I can confirm that a large majority of films have featured Aberdeen Harbour and its famous floating restaurants at some point.

The place was once hugely popular with locals and visitors alike and has attracted a fair number of high profile patrons over the years including John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II. The film star, William Holden, was also a big fan of the place and I wonder if this was because of the fact it featured in his two HK-made films, or perhaps he was a fan before and persuaded the film makers to include them? In case you are wondering, the films were The World of Suzie Wong and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing filmed in the mid- to late-50's.

According to comments posted on my old blog (I've included some below), the original restaurant was opened in 1952 by four people including Yuen Tim Yung and Chan Chow. Sometime in the 1960's the original restaurant was towed over to Castle Peak (today, known as Tuen Mun) and served the western New Territories for several years before eventually reclamation and the expansion of the area meant there was no room left for it (the bay was reclaimed on a massive scale). The Aberdeen restaurant was upgraded to a much larger version (105 ft long) and is basically the same one you can see today (see below picture) with the pointed roofing.




At the start of the 70's - 1971 to be precise - Stanley Ho started constructing the Jumbo restaurant, obviously the popularity of the Tai Pak seems to have caught his attention, however, this initial foray into floating eateries ended in complete disaster when on 30th Oct of that year the Jumbo caught fire and was destroyed along with 34 people who were caught up in the inferno. I have vague memories of seeing footage of the Jumbo on fire but have no idea where it was. For some reason a James Bond film rang a bell but after reviewing them all I seem to be mistaken. Anyone who can answer this little mystery is welcome to leave a comment. Burning boat aside, you can catch a glimpse of what became of the old Jumbo courtesy of Enter the Dragon.

In 1972, not long after the Jumbo fire, the remaining owner of the restaurant - Mr Yuen - passed away and his family decided to sell the place to Stanley Ho. When the rebuilt version of the Jumbo eventually opened in 1976, the Tai Pak was incorporated into what became, and has remained, the Jumbo Kingdom. The two restaurants are now linked via a bridge and you can choose to dine at either once you make the short (free) shuttle trip over to the platforms. Actually, the Jumbo is huge in comparison. The Tai Pak has seating for 400 people whereas the Jumbo, with its multiple levels, can seat over 2000! I think in the face of this potential competition, the former owners of the Tai Pak made the right decision to sell back in 1972.

Anyway, here are some of the old comments preserved for posterity.

From J Yuen:
My father Yuen, Tim Yung was the owner of Tai Pak Floating Restaurant. He designed for all the interior and exterior decorations. He passed away in 1972 and sold the restaurant to Stanley Ho. I missed the restaurant so much and I spent my happiest time there. The food was so delicious.. lobsters, abalones, crabs, scallops etc….all fresh.
Our family also owned the other Tai Pak Floating Restaurant in Castle Peak. However, this one was sold in 70′s as well and now is in Australia. Since my father passed away in 1972, no one in our family knew how to manage these restuarants. I was only 14 years old. I moved to US when I was 20. I remembered I went back to Aberdeen few times for dinner. The food was still good, the differences are now we have to pay the bill……hahaha, I still saw my father’s pictures were still hanging there with Elizabeth Taylor, William Holden, Queen Elizabeth etc….
From HM Chan:
My father Chan Chow was one of the four original founders of Tai Pak and he was the head chef there until we move to the US in 1974. As a kid, I had so many happy memories when I visited the restaurant – playing hide and seek and watching dragon boats racing….I believe the one in Castle Peak Bay may be...the old Tai Pak from Aberdeen. As I can remember, the Aberbeen Tai Pak had been replaced at least twice and renovated few times.

The current Aberdeen Tai Pak was a complete rebuild in late 60′s or early 70′s which was a much bigger boat than the original. These structures are basically built on floating platforms. The original Tai Pak was towed (I would think with everything intact) to the Castle Peak Bay when it was replaced by the new one.
From Angela:
I have fond memories of Tai Pak! My grandad was a captain (waiter) there for many years and he was presented a gold shield when he retired and my dad also trained as a chef there. I remember going there for family dinners on a frequent basis between the ages of 5-7 (at an age when you start remembering) I am now 32. I remember my cousins and I playing scissors, paper, stone on the stairs. I vaguely remember the decor, but I remember it to be amazing and unfortunately, I do not remember how the food tastes! Although I remember always fighting for the fried bird’s nest (not real bird’s nest) with scallop. I remember where you have to wait to get a boat to take you to the restaurant, I have pictures of myself and family at Tai Pak and my grandad even have a picture with the legendary footballer Pele there!
Thanks to everyone for their unique memories of this place.

5 comments:

  1. There's a 20-second video clip of the near-extinguished fire on YouTube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fndsfazDjzQ

    For some reason, it wouldn't play for me in either Chrome or Internet Explorer. If you have the same problem just download the ViewTube extension (http://isebaro.com/viewtube/?ln=en), grab the video, and it'll play fine in VLC Media Player.

    There are also a couple of stills here. The first one really shows the extent of the fire, with little left except the metal structure and collapsing roof:

    http://www.uwants.com/viewthread.php?tid=8952103###

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  2. Actually, I forgot to add a link to Doug's great collection of Tai Pak pictures on FLICKR but forgot. So here is a picture of the original restaurant: https://flic.kr/p/jgvWpo

    and here is the set he has featuring various versions and locations:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/58451159@N00/sets/72157639681923603/

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  3. Do you know the connection of the Soong Family with the Tai Pak restraunt in 1968? The daughter was Catherine Soong. Mr. Arthur Duff took us there and seemed to know the ownrs at that time.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Donald, I'm sure if someone remembers her then they will be able to leave a comment.
      Cheers
      Phil

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