Lung Wah Hotel, Shatin
The Lung Wah Hotel is a veritable Shatin institution that has been around for an age. It’s an odd looking place resembling something like the lovechild from a one night stand between firestation and a Chinese temple – bright red plastered walls with ornate roof tiles – and it sits in a location that really makes it a bit of a pain to reach. That said, once you understand a little about its history, and indeed that of the surrounding area, its location makes more sense.
This place has been around since the early 1950′s and the restaurant website has a great rundown of its historical background here. What you need to remember is that when this place was in its heyday there was no Shatin New Town and it was only accessible by the very rural (but increasingly under pressure) Tai Po Road. What you had was a reasonably isolated location that provided a great stop off for anyone who was heading in an out of the NT via car or train (because don’t forget Shatin train station was here even if the town hadn’t been built yet) that provided eating and accommodation. It’s only real competition was the now long-gone Shatin Roadhouse, a diner that used to sit on the opposite side of the Tai Po Road (approximately where the Shatin Tsung Tsin School now sits).
Right in front of the Lung Wah and Roadhouse (essentially where the New Town sprawl starts on the eastern side of the present Tolo Highway) was the Shatin Sea – a stretch of sea that came down from Tolo Harbour to the North – making this stretch of road a rather picturesque one of small fishing villages, mud flats and unspoilt coastline. What we are left with today is a much reduced version of the Shatin Sea, renamed Shing Mun River, as reclamation has narrowed it to a man made furrow to make way for the massive expansion that transformed Shatin from small village into the largest population centre of the New Territories (close to 1 million people living in and around this area).
Of course the reclamation and inevitable development means that the Lung Wah no longer has a small leafy road passing its front door, it now has an 8 lane highway that allows cars to bypass it at 80kmph. But somehow the restaurant has managed to survive and continue operating despite the fact that you can only reach it now by walking and demand for its hotel services fell off a long time ago (leading to the closure of the accommodation).
You’ll note from the official gallery that the place used to have a large car park – for reasons mentioned before – but all this has now gone as the village it sits in, Sheung Wo Che, has also increased in size, just like every other village in Hong Kong. However, the basic structure of the place remains as it was when it was first built.
I can remember visiting this place with friends a while back (maybe 2008?) and noticing that the place was making a big fuss about Bruce Lee being one of its former patrons. To the point that there is a copy of the DVD cover from The Big Boss inside each menu! I must admit I was completely skeptical about it at first because I was under the impression that that film – Bruce’s breakthrough filmed in 1971 – was filmed in its entirety in Thailand (in Bangkok and Pak Chong to be precise). However, it turns out that Golden Harvest did shoot some pick up shots back in Hong Kong after filming had wrapped in Thailand and the film crew actually went up to the Beas River Country Club to film these scenes. It is very possible that Bruce and the crew stayed at the Lung Wah to shorten the journey into Sheung Shui for their filming (largely because at the time Bruce wasn’t living in HK full time).
However, it turns out that Bruce also used to go here when he was younger and thanks to the excellent TVB documentary Stairway to Dragon presented by Stephen Au and MC Jin, we saw some film of various famous people such as Robert Chua, Nancy Sit and Bowie Wu Fung sitting around what used to be Bruce’s favourite table (on the terrace) talking about how much he liked the ladies hehe (an interest he kept up until his last moments I suspect). Here is a clip from that episode.
Anyway, moving on, I have to say that the first time I went here with friends I was really impressed by the food. The pigeon (for which it is famous) was nice and the salt and pepper tofu was really good. Big portions tasty food, rather shambolic surroundings but I felt they added to the nostalgia of the place. So impressed I was that we took some visiting family there last year. Oh dear! When we went back in 2011 the portions had halved, but the price had gone up and the food just was really really disappointing. I really hope this was a temporary glitch in their operations because I want places like this to carry on.