LUK YU TEA HOUSE, HONG KONG
You can’t choose where you sit. A lady with a battered stainless steel tray strapped to her belly walks around shouting the food on offer. Dumplings, croquettes, bread… Business men talk and read the newspaper; the average age is 50 and over. You get the impression that people here have been coming here all their life: their fathers, their grandparents and generations prior to that.
Frozen in time, a man’s club from the 50’s, the decor hasn’t changed: the stainless steel tea pot, the ritual of washing your tea bowl in front of you, the hot kettle placed in every corner of the room, waiters in black and white attire. Black lacquered wood handrails, dark timber paneling adorning the walls, frosted glass encrusted with subtle Chinese landscape motifs… space of another time.
The Menu is a small square-ish sheet of thin paper printed in bright red ink. Once you choose your food (hidden inside the bamboo basket) your order is stamped in black. The noise is constant, like a powerful diesel engine – constant rumble: collective people all talking together, some moments of exclamation, then back to the rumble. The tables are covered with a white heavily starched thick cloth, with the fabric soon to be threadbare after years of repeated boiling - witness are the almost invisible fauna patterns braided into the cloth that only come to life when the light shines on them at a certain angle. This is an establishment where the tooth pick is de rigueur.
The waiter serves the double function of entertainer and general housekeeper. The ceiling coffers are decorated with appropriate moldings, the light fittings are all frosted producing a light that is not too bright and intricate joinery screens complete the stair case. The floor is a yellow mustard terrazzo with marked chequered patterns engraved into it. Importantly the staircases are a continuation of the floor, creating a vertical cascade effect when arriving and leaving. All the furniture is unquestionably and without exception black painted timber.
Customers, mostly men, are constantly swapping seats, 5 minutes with their mate and then back to their main table with what looks like a relative (uncle/brother in law). Meanwhile the black Chinese tea brews stronger by the minute, and occasionally it gets diluted by our friendly waiter with a fresh refill of hot water, only for the brewing to start again. In a glass case, just besides the staircase sits a statue of an old man: a scholar drinking tea, dressed in a single robe he looks pensively into the room, his expression undeniably one of moderate contempt for the gentile people before him… “don’t try and understand what is going on in the world you dunces, just sit back and take it all in your stride” or maybe this was the Confucius scholar speaking to me.
LUK YU TEA HOUSE
Eating House & Restaurant
24-26 Stanley Street
Photographs by Peter W. Ferretto