How Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town failed as a hip dining hub, and why it’s a damning metaphor for ‘Asia’s World City’

To cater for their leisure, a stretch of Forbes Street was wholesale gentrified, with old auto-repair garages and shops replaced with a row of smart, stylish restaurants. With the street’s picturesque creeping banyan tree along the opposite wall, the area seemed so full of potential.

The interior of the now-closed Missy Ho’s in Kennedy Town, a Japanese izakaya-style restaurant.

The outlets that opened would be the envy of any stretch of Mid-Levels. Among them included a cool Japanese izakaya nook called Missy Ho’s, the comfy Thai and Southeast Asian eatery Café Siam, casual Italian trattoria Primavera, and a popular brunch hang-out K-Town Bar & Grill.

In the really early days, there was even a Wildfire Pizzabar. At the height of the Kennedy Town buzz, a French Michelin-star-restaurant chef chose to launch a laid-back Parisian bistro here. Anyone remember Picnic On Forbes by chef Philippe Orrico?
Philippe Orrico outside his now-closed Kennedy Town restaurant Picnic on Forbes. Photo: Edward Wong

Sadly, that all seems like ancient history now. The place is long gone, as is chef Orrico, who has moved to the Big Apple. The funny thing is, it wasn’t actually that long ago. Picnic On Forbes opened in 2016.

The dining options on Forbes Street were never ultra-luxurious nor super-expensive fine dining, but they did provide for a cosmopolitan demographic. These potential customers presumably had worldly tastes and enough means to afford a nicer standard of dining.

Visit this part of Kennedy Town today, you’ll find a completely different vibe on Forbes Street.

The interior of Picnic on Forbes. Photo: Edward Wong
Current commercial tenants consist of conveyor-belt sushi shop Genki Sushi, the fast-food fried-chicken franchise Jollibee, a Chinese barbecue restaurant slash cha chaan teng, and a tiny Nepalese momos takeaway shop. All the remaining spaces are either vacated or recently closed.

Forbes Street was supposed to be a SoHo West or another Lan Kwai Fong, but the market just isn’t there – or it all moved out during the Covid-19 pandemic.

To be fair, it’s not like the Western district doesn’t have nice places – on the other end of Davis Street the French wine bar Comptoir is still going strong, as is the Winstons coffee bar on the corner. Bistro du Vin on Cadogan Street is a very nice restaurant, and another branch of brunch and sourdough specialist Baked is soon launching on New Praya in a huge space by the water.

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These are individual spots of terrific sophisticated dining. The area’s centrepiece, though, never materialised.

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I can’t help thinking the street is a kind of a metaphor for Hong Kong as a whole.

The ambitious aspirations, that began with the promise of transport access and urban renewal, have had to face some stark economic realities. Instead of Michelin-star-calibre food, the residents are left with the lowest rung of culinary options. Perhaps only fried chicken and assembly-line sushi can survive in more disparate districts now.

Forbes Street in Kennedy Town isn’t the only ward to suffer such ignominious indignity. It’s also a struggle for restaurateurs in other satellite districts where dining choices tend to be limited to Chinese banquet restaurants, corporate franchises and fast-food chains.

Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s market forces at work. However, it does mean Asia’s World City is not so worldly any more.


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