As it nears a whopping 85 years in business, iconic Cantonese restaurant Yung Kee has completed a major renovation of its Central location, giving it a new lease on life by, paradoxically, looking back into the past.
First founded as a dai pai dong in 1936 by patriarch Kam Shui-fai, Yung Kee has occupied its current venue on Wellington Street since 1964 with ownership of the restaurant being passed down through the Kam family through the generations. Today, third-generation owner Yvonne Kam runs the business, having overseen the launch of a contemporary spin-off, Yung’s Bistro, last year to attract a younger demographic to the brand.
True to this approach, the ambitious renovation was embarked upon to bring Yung Kee’s heritage, cultural and historical value back to the fore. Spearheaded by architectural firm CL3, the project encompasses two floors of the restaurant plus a light refresh of the ground floor, transforming each into their own distinct environment.
Paying homage to Yung Kee’s early history as a dai pai dong, the ground floor’s original booth seating has been revived and updated, while a communal banquet table and an “open” kitchen recall hallmarks of a typical cha chaan teng. The vintage reception counter, aquarium, and a statue of ancient Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi watching geese have all been retained, too.
Upstairs, the first floor has been redesigned to resemble a traditional teahouse, with stylistic inspiration from iconic flicks like In The Mood For Love and The World Of Suzie Wong. The red-dominant colour palette has been switched out for shades of coral pink and emerald green, and the carpet has also been removed to reveal decades-old floor tiles, originally sourced and handcrafted by Italian artisans—these have been painstakingly removed, expertly restored, and reinstated once again.
On the second floor, a “Grand Dining” concept evokes the banquet-style meals of yore. Here, a vibrant 1970s-inspired colour palette dominates in the fixtures as well as in the subtle kitsch of the modernist stained-glass chandelier lights; meanwhile, the resplendent Dragon and Phoenix Stage, one of the last of its kind in the city, provides a focal point for weddings and other important celebrations.
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