The Sydney cafe where memories of old Hong Kong live on through milk tea, loud Cantopop, and ‘a bit of education’ about Cantonese food

“We really liked the idea of having our own food business, one that could show Hong Kong’s food, style and culture but with our own character,” Cheung says.

Before leaving Hong Kong for Sydney, Chan and Cheung noticed a renewed interest in old Hong Kong, and when they arrived in Australia, they realised they missed old-style Hong Kong food. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Hong Kong Bing Sutt opened in Burwood in 2016, occupying half of its current space before expanding into the unit next door a few years later, the newer half offering cart noodles.

Last year, they decided to connect the two spaces and undertook a renovation, resulting in its current iteration. They also opened a branch in Eastwood.

“Many things in the bing sutt tell our story,” says Chan.

The interior of Hong Kong Bing Sutt’s Burwood branch. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Their memories are embedded in the details of the design, such as the letterboxes with handwritten addresses that have meaning to the couple: the primary school where they met, their home address, their favourite shopping spot and more.

They’ve included their daughter’s name on the signage, and featured some of her paintings. Cheung custom-made and designed many of the elements in the space.

The pair worked together to design and recreate nostalgic Hong Kong elements: tins of Black & White brand evaporated milk stacked behind the counter, green mosaic tiles, loud Cantonese music, antique lamps, posters and photographs, steel shutter gates and neon signs.

An image showing the Hong Kong cityscape with a silhouette of Lion Rock, is just one of the nostalgic features at Hong Kong Bing Sutt. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

This labour of love allowed them not only to show­case the richness of Hong Kong’s history and culture, but also to weave their memories of life in their home city into the cafe.

“Loud music, sharing tables; that’s life in Hong Kong,” says Chan, as she offers me a piping hot cup of their signature lai cha, or milk tea, served in a Black & White branded teacup, a welcome respite from the cold outside.
Lai cha, a cha chaan teng staple, is just one of the things the couple took seriously when it came to developing the menu. Chan smiles when she sees how much I’m enjoying it.
At Hong Kong Bing Sutt, customers can take home bottles of Hong Kong-style milk tea – which Chan learned how to make from an expert. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

“I flew back to learn how to properly make milk tea,” she says. Cheung’s family had connections to an expert, who taught Chan which leaves to use to lend colour, which to use for strong flavour, and which to use for aftertaste.

“Milk tea is not only about having the right tea leaves; it can be affected by technique, timing and even the weather,” says Cheung.

Their milk tea is light and flavourful without being watery, with a sweetness that doesn’t overpower the strength of the tea.

Fish ball noodles is one of many classic Hong Kong dishes on the menu at Hong Kong Bing Sutt. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Around me, others are tucking into their meals: I spot daan zi (egg sandwiches), mini bo lo bao (pineapple buns), and spam and egg rice.

Cheung’s family recipes for beef brisket noodles and fish ball soup noodles are on the menu here, alongside an array of comfort food and drinks such as baked seafood, pork chop rice, cart noodles, hung dau bing (red bean ice), French toast with condensed milk and peanut butter, hak ngau (Coke floats), and dou fu faa ( tofu pudding), as well as seasonal specials such as claypot rice.

The pair recall how it took a great deal of trial and error to find the right suppliers to ensure the dishes they served were as authentic as possible.

Baked pork chop rice at Hong Kong Bing Sutt. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Cheung and Chan welcome a wide and diverse range of customers, some of them trying Hong Kong food for the first time.

“We’ve had people ask for pearls in their milk tea and to adjust it to 30 per cent sweetness, or for chilli and soy to put on the dou fu faa,” says Cheung with a little chuckle.

“Often people drink hung dau bing without mixing it, the same with iced lemon tea, which is why we pre-mix it before serving,” adds Chan. “It requires a bit of education sometimes, but we do feel people should know how Hong Kong food is traditionally enjoyed.

Apart from serving staples from their home city, Chan and Cheung also express a desire to educate people how traditional Hong Kong food is to be properly enjoyed. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

“I want people to find a corner of Hong Kong when they come here; and food plays an important part in that.”

It’s more than just the food that keeps people coming back; they have captured the essence of what it feels like to be in a busy, noisy Hong Kong restaurant, and it is this feeling that keeps their restaurants buzzing throughout the week.

The couple, who don’t travel back to Hong Kong often, understand all too well the difficulties of living away from home. Their two outposts are located in suburbs – Burwood and Eastwood – with a large Hong Kong and mainland Chinese population.

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In Burwood, Cantonese is the third most spoken language, after English and Mandarin.

The couple emphasise that it’s not just the customers who find comfort at Hong Kong Bing Sutt, it’s the staff, too, many of whom are students or in Australia on working holiday visas.

“My wife is kind of like their mum; she reminds them to call their parents, checks in on them, and we teach them skills and give them confidence,” says Cheung.

A bowl of cart noodles with tripe, meatballs and brisket at Hong Kong Bing Sutt. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Burwood was one of 12 local government areas where a curfew was imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, restricting movement from 9pm to 5am. It put a strain on a lot of businesses, Hong Kong Bing Sutt included.

Despite the restrictions, the couple endeavoured to do everything they could to support their staff, from dropping off meals to checking in on them, creating new takeaway meals to sustain the business and donating lunchboxes to the community.

“It was very difficult and scary, but we are just like a family here,” Cheung says. “We need to work hard to take care of our staff, too.”

The adage “tso sum but mong” or “don’t forget your original intention”, on the wall at Hong Kong Bing Sutt’s Eastwood branch. Photo: Hong Kong Bing Sutt

Both of the pair’s restaurants have a sing yu (idiom consisting of four characters) on a wall, chosen to uplift themselves, their staff and customers – in Burwood, it reads zi zuk seong look, a reminder to be content with what you have, no matter how simple, and in Eastwood, tso sum but mong, don’t forget your original intention.

For Cheung and Chan, owning a space where anyone who loves Hong Kong can feel at home is incredibly meaningful. Acknowledging that Hong Kong has changed in recent years, they say they hope that here at Hong Kong Bing Sutt, through food, design and language, memories of the city can live on.


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