Hongkongers bid farewell to Jumbo Floating Restaurant on June 14 when the iconic restaurant that dominated Aberdeen’s cultural and culinary landscapes for over 40 years was towed away from the neighbourhood’s South Typhoon Shelter. At the height of its popularity, it was part of a trio of floating restaurants that made up the largest floating restaurant in the world.
The history of Jumbo Floating Restaurant
The restaurant was opened in 1976 by the late casino tycoon Stanley Ho. Its interiors took inspiration from ancient Chinese imperial palaces and had many features fondly remembered by patrons, such as a Ming Dynasty-style dragon throne and an intricate mural. It was 76 meters long and could seat 2,300 diners, who could only access it using a special boat. If patrons visited after sunset, their first glimpse of the seafood barge was of its exteriors lit up in Hong Kong’s trademark neon lights.
In later years, the more established Tai Pak Floating Restaurant and Sea Palace were acquired by Jumbo’s parent company and the three barges made up the Jumbo Kingdom. While Tai Pak is still moored at the Aberdeen South Typhoon Shelter, it is not open to customers. In 2000, Sea Palace was taken to Manila Bay, where it was rebranded as Jumbo Kingdom Manila, but closed in 2008.
A Hong Kong cultural icon
During its heyday, Jumbo Floating Restaurant had a reputation among locals as a family dim sum spot and a venue for lavish weddings. Tourists visited as it played host to international celebrities and has appeared in several movies and video games.
Queen Elizabeth II, Tom Cruise, and Chow Yun-fat are among several famous figures who visited this Hong Kong landmark. It served as a shoot location for Hong Kong movies such as The Protector, The God of Cookery, and Infernal Affairs. The restaurant was also featured in the Hollywood film Contagion, which was about a deadly pandemic.
How the pandemic sunk the restaurant?
Ironically, it was the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic that led to Jumbo Kingdom closing on March 3 of that year. The enterprise, though, had not been profitable since 2013 and there were calls for the Hong Kong government to come to its aid. In 2020, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced plans to revitalise the restaurant as part of the Invigorating Island South initiative. The restaurant owners even agreed to donate it to Ocean Park as part of this plan.
However, in late 2021, the theme park stated it could not find a third party to take over operations of the restaurants. In addition, the Antiquities Advisory Board ruled that ships do not come under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, which defines a monument as “a place, building, site or structure which is declared to be a monument, historical building or archaeological or palaeontological site or structure”. This means that Jumbo Kingdom is not entitled to protection under the ordinance as it does not cover ships.
In May 2022, the parent company of the floundering restaurant, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, announced that Jumbo Floating Restaurant would leave the city before its operating licence expired in June this year. Two tugboats moved the restaurant—sans Tai Pak and the recently sunk kitchen barge—out of Aberdeen to an undisclosed shipyard as nostalgic Hongkongers who gathered to say goodbye to a cultural icon looked on.
Header image credits : Leung Cho Pan via Canva