Chee Kei: Comfort Food, Uncomfortable Restaurant Environment

To upgrade and modernise the dilapidated Mong Kok, the commercial skyscraper complex and shopping mall – Langham Place was built and opened in 2005. Meant to be a nucleus for renewal for the surrounding area, it is only apt that it is bursting with vitality and is often extremely busy. Restaurants in Langham Place are often thronged with people, making it tough to get some seat if you are hanging out with friends. Chee Kei (池記) is no different.

Famous for its wonton noodle, Chee Kei aims to keep Hong Kong tradition alive by providing an elevated authentic experience of Cantonese food. Its lasting popularity with the locals is matched with recognition from HK Michelin Guide. The bustle of the mall fuses with the reputation of the restaurant and it is no wonder that Chee Kei in Langham Place is always packed with diners seeking comfort in the familiar balance between a meaty, flavourful wonton filling delicately wrapped and served in a bowl of aromatic, warm broth.

Although food is quick to come and its quality satisfactory, the restaurant is noisy and its backless chairs uncomfortable. While Michelin bestowed recognition on its wonton noodle, Michelin food critics did not seem to have taken the acoustic environment and comfort into consideration. The din makes people eat faster, leave sooner and get the queue moving. It begs the question: would noise be one of the desirable factors that the restaurant want to retain? But when a fully occupied restaurant is steeped in noise of loud chatting and the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other, does comfort food offer you much comfort any more?

Festival Walk: Can Accessibility Backfire? 

Situated at Kowloon Tong, Festival Walk is highly accessible. Apart from being directly linked to Kowloon Tong Station, the mall has a direct rail connection to Mainland China and a pedestrian link to the City University of Hong Kong. For other means of transportation, it offers 830 car park spaces plus direct access to buses and taxis. Hence, Festival Walk plays the dual role of shopping paradise and transit hotspot. In view of the traffic and vehicle noise that may engender, two layers of glass door are in place to mitigate sound. Such enclosure methods are common and often seen, is there any novel means to achieve the same goal or to transform the unwanted sounds into sounds that are more appealing?

The popularity of Festival Walk owes much to its accessibility which facilitates or even maximizes customer flow. To tempt people to stay and linger, a variety of exhibitions take place regularly, topics ranging from car show, preview of the latest phone model, jewellery, cosmetics to even virtual reality by setting up a pop-up VR game station. No doubt such activities draw attention and enliven the sonic environment of the mall. Combining ease of access and regular exhibitions, the mall should be a constant stream of activities and movements. While accessibility brings customers and cash flow, the mall may be more prone to unwanted sound and indoor noise. Festival Walk is a high-end mall which houses many expensive brands. How will its role as a transit hotspot alter its soundscape which should represent its relatively lofty status?

Wang Jia Sha: Food Experience Compromised by a Noisy Environment

Being highly accessible, Festival Walk entertains great customer flow and a constant stream of activities and movements of shoppers. Vying with more than 20 eating places under the same roof, the Shanghainese restaurant Wang Jia Sha (王家沙) manages to have its fair share of customers.

Claiming to be “the master of Shanghainese dim sum” and serve “authentic Shanghainese dim sum”, the brand provides an array of Shanghainese cuisine with an extensive list of dim sum. Despite having made a lot of effort in appearance and décor and despite its fine quality of food, it is being in a food court-style section of the mall and it is unpleasantly loud. Children’s clamours are more than audible, coupled with the sounds of china plates, spoons and other utensils clicking each other. You can hear everyone else chattering and clattering. A private conversation may not be a good idea because while you can hear everything being said to you, you may not really hear and catch the words and form a meaningful sentence. Even when customers order, waiters and waitresses have to lean towards them to hear what is being said. Gestures are thus created for diners to express what they want, such as asking for more tea or to pay the bill, so as to rely on hearing less and on the visual more.

Given that it is loud like a wet market, it is difficult to imagine diners would want to take it slow and enjoy the delicacies with languish and relish. Do you think a restaurant’s food experience should marry its auditory experience?

Hsin Kwong Restaurant: Everything You Can Expect

Guangdong dim sum restaurant, Hsin Kwong Restaurant (新光酒樓), is one of the many Chinese restaurant brands in Hong Kong. Having been in business for more than three decades, it has evolved over time by diversifying its specialties from traditional Guangdong cuisine, Peking duck, hotpot, to seafood, while providing mahjong playing as well as birthday and wedding banquet services.

Hsin Kwong Restaurant in Kwai Chung offers traditional Guangdong cuisine including dim sum. Diners’ chatting, the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other reverberate in the busy restaurant which is everything you can expect from a standard Chinese restaurant. What is now missing from the soundscape is the sound of dim sum trolleys. Dim sum trolleys are carts filled with dishes of dim sum. “Dim Sum Jeje” (Dim Sum Auntie or in Chinese: 點心姐姐) wheels the trolley around and announces what dishes the trolley is carrying for diners to make the order when the cart whizzes by. Dim sum trolleys are rarely seen today because it costs more to have workers operating them and restaurateurs need to accommodate more space for trolleys to manoeuvre. Many Chinese establishments serving dim sum, including Hsin Kwong Restaurants, have replaced their trolleys with simpler ordering systems and dim sum trolleys are no longer in use. The sound of dim sum trolleys rolling past, Dim Sum Auntie sonorously announcing trolley dishes and diners crying out orders in response no longer enrich the lively soundscape of Hsin Kwong Restaurant.

A McDonald’s of Relative Quiet

McDonald’s is a brand that needs no introduction. The world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s serves approximately 68 million customers daily in 120 countries across approximately 36,900 outlets. The fast food brand mainly sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken products, and french fries, very much to the liking of people of different ages.

McDonald’s at The Westwood (西寶城) differs from the majority of its counterparts. The Westwood is a shopping mall in Shek Tong Tsui and one of the facilities of the Belcher’s, the tallest development in Western Mid-levels consisting of six residential buildings. The proximity to the Belcher’s facilitates residents’ access to the fast food shop and schoolchildren with nannies are often seen there. However, Western Mid-levels is not really a busy area and not many people frequent by. The spacious mall is generally calm and relatively peaceful. So is its McDonald’s. Background pop music is clearly audible, mingled with children’s voices and the sound of customers making enquiries. The open restaurant got no doors which allows sounds to diffuse. Furthermore, it got more seats in the mall outside the small shop. So if you want to have your food in a quieter environment, you have choices.

With most McDonald’s being crowded, McDonald’s at The Westwood stands out in its space and relative peace. Fast food is prepared, delivered and eaten fast. But relative quiet will still be welcomed by some customers.

Lee Theatre On Realising Sonic Unity

For everyone who wonders at where the name came from, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay was once one of the premier performing venues in Hong Kong. Demolished in the 1990s, the Beaux-Art theatre was replaced with an office building and a shopping centre, becoming what we see today.

Apart from its history, what is special about Lee Theatre is perhaps its design of one floor one store. Each floor is occupied entirely by one shop, making spacious consumption experiences possible and allowing each brand to develop its individuality. Not only can they put a multitude of products on display and demonstrate amply what it can offer to customers, they can ensure customers are immersed in an environment completely tailored to their effort to urge purchase. Without the immediate presence of any other shops or rival brands, the store can create unity in the environment and a congruent, brand-specific setting for customers to linger. The sonic environment would likewise be in agreement across different areas on the same floor. Without coming into contact with a different background music, the store’s own music dominates and becomes more effective by having no offset from other prominent sources.

Do you think Lee Theatre’s one floor one store is a clever design to achieve what is mentioned in Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls? Or do you want to see variety across a single floor?

A Spoon of Honeymoon Dessert at the Historic Western Market

Anyone having visited the streets of Sheung Wan has probably noticed an eye-catching building which has a red brick exterior with a handsome granite arch over its entrance. One of the oldest structures in Sheung Wan, the Edwardian-style building was the North Block of the original Western Market completed in 1906 and operating since the 19th century. Western Market was renovated in 1991 and converted into a shopping complex selling arts and crafts, and fabrics originally sold in the old alleys of Central.

Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) is one of the shops where weary shoppers can get a bite and rest their legs. Having more than 160 styles of hot and cold desserts on the menu from traditional Guangdong sweet soups to modern fusion treats, Honeymoon Dessert has something for everyone. What adds to the experience is the quiet in the daytime when customers in the shop are scarce. Every sound, such as the clanking of metal spoons, seems magnified and louder than it is during day. Playing music at the background to mask the sounds may be a good idea. You can only imagine how the dessert shop will be transformed at night when after dinner, people fill the space completely and overfill it by queueing outside. Clanking of metal spoons and animated chatting will be in full swing. Like a nocturnal animal, Honeymoon Dessert slumbers during day and comes alive at night.

Lan Fong Yuen: Speed over Peace

Popularity of Hong Kong-style diners, or cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) endures for decades in Hong Kong because they meet the locals’ relentless demand for fast service and an eclectic and affordable menu. Are cha chaan teng places you go to when you want to grab a quick lunch? If yes, you may probably have heard of Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). Opened since 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is one of oldest and most famous cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. It is said to be the inventor of the classic local beverage “silk stockings milk tea” (絲襪奶茶) and renowned for their delicious pork chop bun. As its business flourished, it expanded by having outlets, one of which is at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan.

Shun Tak Centre plays two roles: it is a mall and a transportation hub with ferry services to and from Macau and China. Therefore, eateries at Shun Tak take in a lot traveller daily who either want a bite before departure or are hungry after arrival. It must be particularly so for Lan Fong Yuen which has become a symbol of Hong Kong culture and regarded as a must-eat for tourists. Given the fact that commuters make the majority of diners at Shun Tak and commuters desire speed, eateries at Shun Tak would inevitably be fast-paced. How would an environment being fast-paced affect its soundscape? In Lan Fong Yuen, it was noisy and the sonic environment is dominated by the voices of waiters taking order and customers chatting about gambling in casino or businessmen busy talking with his clients. The waiters’ tone might sound authoritative and rude to some customers, which may impart tension to the restaurant soundscape. Given the amount of sounds going on incessantly, you may not want to stay for a little longer after finishing your meal.

Cha chaan teng thrives on its high efficiency and it is the place to go for people who have a hectic day or lifestyle who want food fast and almost instant. Diners do not usually expect a pleasant environment where nice chats and some relaxing can take place. If the place is too noisy for you to want to stay longer, it is probably what they want because customers keep coming in and diners had better not loiter.

TamJai SamGor: Spice It Up!

Think of food heavily flavoured or fragrant with spice. What sound would you associate with spicy food? Specifically, what sound would you associate with the popular rice noodle chain TamJai SamGor (譚仔三哥).

TamJai’s dominantly red décor give us a hint about what it specializes at: spicy mixian. Mixian (米線) is a type of rice noodle from the Yunnan Province of China. Most noted for its “Hot & Numbing Soup Mixian”, the mixian specialist offers up to nine different degrees of spiciness to choose from for those who want to challenge their taste buds. A successful brand, TamJai SamGor in Citywalk 2 is moderately busy. Although the voices of waitresses taking orders are clearly audible, the eatery is not too noisy. Background music is not heard, probably eclipsed by human voices. However, the lack of it presents an opportunity for the brand to step up its spice game.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that certain types of music – those with fast beats, distorted notes and high-pitched sounds – can enhance the sensation of heat from chili peppers. Apart from setting the mood for diners, music can serve as what the researchers call “sonic seasoning”. Do you think it is a good idea for TamJai SamGor to play those types of music in its restaurants?

Reference: Music Makes Curries Taste 10pc Spicier, Scientists Find

 

ifc Mall: High-end Shopping Destination, First-rate Soundscape?

A prominent landmark on Hong Kong Island, the International Finance Centre (branded as “ifc”) stands proudly at the Central waterfront. The complex comprises some of the most exclusive office space in Hong Kong, the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a leading destination for high-end shopping: ifc mall.

During busy hours when people hurry to arrive at offices and hurry back home after work, the sound of fast-paced walking and high heels clicking on floor are especially prominent. We may all hear classical music playing at a mall but seldom do we listen to it. Yet when we do listen, the background music at ifc is not constantly heard. It may get uneven when background music is heard louder at some spots while not at all perceivable at other locations. It may not matter much as reported by mall-goers of what they perceive within their awareness. However, little noticed as it may, it may sound glaring when the classical music at the background clashes with music of entirely different genres from some stores, such as the rock music played by a Hi-Fi store in the mall.

There may be other aspects of the sonic environment in neglect. The sound of trolleys clashing at Citysuper contrasts glaringly with the relative quiet of the cosmetic stores nearby. The passages in ifc are wider compared to a lot of shopping malls in Hong Kong, hence intensifying the reflection of sound. Pleasant sound magnified will contribute to the likeability of ifc’s sonic environment; unwanted sound amplified will reinforce its undesirability.

Do you think ifc’s soundscape lives up to its expectations of being a high-end mall?