A kingdom in jeopardy: Southern District Council’s quest to preserve Aberdeen’s famed floating restaurant

Part one of this Harbour Times exclusive series explores the unclear future of iconic floating restaurant Jumbo Kingdom, and the downfalls of Hong Kong’s policy on cultural conservation.

Photo: Front of Jumbo Kingdom Restaurant, Aberdeen, Hong Kong courtesy of Michal Osmenda. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).

Pestilence and protest have brought the popular floating restaurant Jumbo Kingdom to its knees. The restaurant stopped its services from 3 March and its two piers at Aberdeen Promenade and Shum Wan have been cordoned off with ‘no entry’ tape. 

The future of the once-proud landmark is now unclear.

Led by Wong Chuk Hang District Councillor Mr Kevin Tsui, the Southern District Council is trying to stop it from sinking. 

The restaurant was established in 1976, though its oldest structure, known as the Tai Pak restaurant, dates back to 1952 and later merged with the Jumbo Kingdom when it opened. In its golden age, the Kingdom saw visits from royalty, film stars and Hollywood crew. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Roger Moore (James Bond in Man With The Golden Gun, 1974), and local icon Nancy Kwan’s Suzie Wong (World Of Suzie Wong, 1960) have been among its distinguished guests. 

However, after the impact from months of protests at its doorstep and the ongoing pandemic, the Jumbo Kingdom has closed its doors. 

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprise, the subsidiary of Melco International Development Ltd that owns the complex, has not made any public statements regarding its future. The Jumbo Kingdom website simply says, “Due to the impact of the current situation, Jumbo Kingdom will suspend its services from 3 March until further notice.”

However, demolitions on the ground tell a different story. 

“There are actually multiple parts to the Jumbo complex,” says Pok Fu Lam District Councillor Mr Paul Zimmerman.

“There’s the floating kitchen itself, but there are also three pieces at Sham Wan and near the Aberdeen Fish Market. Next to the Sham Wan Pier, there’s also a small garden and a decorated taxi stand with a copper top.” 

“As soon as the restaurant’s hiatus started, the taxi stand was demolished very quickly. Melco ended their short term tenancy and returned the land to the government,” Mr Zimmerman added.

“They have cancelled their workers MPFs and demolished the nearby gardens,” said Mr Tsui.

“However, they’ve kept their tenancy for the pier. There has been little progress, because Melco does not want to release any information to the public. It seems they haven’t fully decided”. 

Jumbo Kingdom’s shuttered doors and shaky future. Photo courtesy of Cyril Ma.

Immediately, Mr Zimmerman and the District Council requested the Lands Department to delay requirements for Melco to continue demolishing their pierside structures.

Though the crisis was temporarily averted, the government was unwilling to step in on the issue of conservation. 

Ms Hilda Wong, a spokesperson for the Antiquities and Monuments Office, explained to Harbour Times that the AAB (Antiques Advisory Board) decided in 2013, and reaffirmed in 2018, that they would not carry out grading assessments on buildings built later than 1970. In addition, only land based buildings and structures will be graded.

As all of Jumbo’s structures, most of them floating, were built post-1970, there is no possibility of protection under the historic buildings grading system. 

Nonetheless, Mr Tsui believes that the Jumbo Kingdom is an important culture site not only in Aberdeen, but for the whole of Hong Kong. 

“I sometimes have foreign tourists who have never been to Hong Kong ask for directions to Jumbo”. 

“It’s not just a private business,” argued Mr Tsui “It’s part of Hong Kong’s history and is an international landmark.”

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the author

Cyril is a freelance writer from Hong Kong with an interest in local culture and identity. He obtained his degree in Music and Drama from the University of Birmingham with a dissertation on Hong Kong and Macau’s musical culture and identity. Outside of writing, Cyril is heavily involved in the local performance arts scene.