If you are a fan of Wong Kar-wai‘s film In the Mood for Love, you may remember the famous ‘restaurant scene’, in which the two protagonists find out that their spouses are having an affair. I watched that film for the first time when I was a student in Italy, and I immediately loved it. That was still the ‘Blockbuster’ era, when people used to borrow DVDs and then watch them at home with friends. I was preparing an exam, and I used to relax watching some films in the cold winter evenings. I was particularly interested in Asian films. I hadn’t started studying Chinese, yet, and I had no plans to go to Asia, but my fascination for that part of the world was growing. Wong Kar-wai’s film impressed me for its masterful style: the mysterious and delicate atmosphere, the dialogues, brief and full of allusions, and the way in which emotions were conveyed more through musical and visual techniques than through words.
Although I had watched the ‘restaurant scene’ many times, I’d never asked myself if the restaurant really existed or not. After all, In the Mood for Love was not shot in Hong Kong but in Thailand. That’s because Hong Kong has changed so much over the past decades that Wong Kar-wai found it impossible to recreate the Hong Kong of the 1970s on the original site.
One evening I and my Hong Kong language partner (here I will just call her K.), were walking in Causeway Bay. If I remember correctly, we had just spent the afternoon at Starbucks near Times Square. She asked me if I wanted to have dinner at Goldfinch, the restaurant where the famous scene of In the Mood for Love was shot. I asked where it was, and she said it was just around the corner.
I loved the idea and we walked to the front door, but we didn’t go inside. I was not very hungry, and neither was she. So we decided to eat somewhere else that evening and go to Goldfinch on a more special occasion. I think we went there one or two weeks before I (sadly) left Hong Kong. By the way, I would like to thank K., who was always very nice to me and who showed me a lot of nice places in Hong Kong. If I had not met her, my memory of Hong Kong wouldn’t be as great.
Goldfinch Restaurant was founded over forty years ago and it is one of the few remaining old-time restaurants in the centre of Hong Kong. Because in Wong Kar-wai’s film the two protagonists drink tee, I thought it was a traditional Cantonese restaurant. But in fact, Goldfinch is a Western-inspired steakhouse that belongs to the so-called “see yauh sai chan”, or “soy sauce Western” – a blend of Western food and eastern flavours.
In the 1960s, Hong Kong was a fast developing economy, and the new Cantonese middle class of the British colony was looking for different kinds of of food besides that of Chinese restaurants. Western cuisine was at that time both a novelty and a status symbol. Hong Kong did have some authentic Western restaurants, but their customers were mostly wealthy Western expatriates. The local Chinese community preferred something more suitable to their traditional taste. Restaurants invented blends such as borscht with soy sauce, or fried rice as a side dish.
A typical menu at Goldfinch consists of a soup, meat or fish, a dessert, and coffee or tea. While this may not sound like a sophisticated meal nowadays, to the Hong Kongers of the boom years this was the quintessence of fancy Western cuisine. And I have to say that the attempt to mix different styles has created something unique. I found my meal surprisingly tasty, and it wasn’t too expensive, either.
The restaurant also offers “In the Mood for Love” menus as a hommage to the film that made it famous. For instance, this is a set for two:
1. Today’s Soup, Bread and Butter
2. Mussels or Escargot (half dozen)
3. Steak with Grouper
4. Pork Chop with Grouper
5. Red Wine (two glasses)
6. Coffee or Tea
I would absolutely recommend this restaurant if you go to Hong Kong. If you want to experience the atmosphere of 1970s Hong Kong, if you are a fan of Wong Kar-wai’s film, or if you just want to have a nice dinner near Causeway Bay, this is a place worth going, at least once. And I must confess that if you go there with the right person, you may also be in the mood for love.
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