One hears that the larger than life character that is celebrity chef Harlan Goldstein has finally bid Adieu to Hong Kong and left for Pattaya.


Of course, “Goldfinger” has not just burned, but detonated so many bridges in this city with his unique “business model” of being able to market himself to a number of extremely generous and forgiving investors, who helped him open up a number of restaurants, some more successful than others, with many opening and closing faster than a hooker’s legs with lawsuits and pay-offs making the dishwasher look more on the swampy side of murkiness.


No matter what one thinks about Harlan Goldstein and his somewhat dubious track record, what’s quite amazing is why and how there’s been so many who have been willing to throw money his way to open one restaurant after another when it’s been a proven fact that almost nothing he’s done has gone the distance.

Speak to those who have done business with him, and it’s baffling to hear them openly say they ended up on the losing side of the ledger, but still went back for more. Asked why, there’s no real answer other than something along the lines of thrice bitten, now gun shy, but he has that Midas touch. Really?


“Goldfinger” is a fascinating beast, and the trail of broken partnerships that he’s left behind shines a bright light on Hong Kong’s desperate, dysfunctional and sometimes goofy restaurant industry- the handful of big financially solvent dining groups that control it, and property owners who don’t think twice about dropping squillions on a losing proposition, shrugging their shoulders and carrying on for the sake of “face”.

There have been those times when one wondered if they actually wanted to back losing propositions, or were simply being extremely naive and blinded by bullshit? What were they thinking? Own a field of dreams, build it- “it” always being a swanky upmarket restaurant or club- open it to great fanfare with the beautiful people and even government officials attending, and then, for reasons written in the stars with huge neon lights, everything goes belly up according to the script, and it’s okay? “Face” is a dangerous thing. And expensive.

Right now, it’s a very warped and uneven F&B landscape in Hong Kong where marketing skills are MIA and oversupply and demand has created some extremely confused thinking. Opening restaurants and working night and day to break even is hardly a brilliant business strategy. Yet, this is what many do while pointing out that they can’t compete with the couple of big boys and the five-star hotels that house venues that really don’t have to break even.

Back in the day, this city had less than ten independently owned restaurants- Va Bene, Beirut, Post 97, California, Wyndham Street Thai, Cafe D’Amigo, La Bodega and a couple more. Then came various splinter groups when staff from these restaurants went off on their own and competition began in earnest. There was, however, still demand to meet supply.

Today? Today, like social media, it’s clutter out there- the big, the small, the ugly, and all competing for the same dwindling dollar in what is a down economy and where dining out is nowhere near what it was and where customers are Oliver Twisted and want more of everything and at hugely reduced prices. Don’t get a discount and there’s the threat to go on Facebook or some online foodie site and give the restaurant the two finger salute and no stars.


It’s a scam and it’s spreading with no one writing about it- food bloggers anonymous, foodie websites that ensure reviews are good only if one advertises with them, and, largely, the female of the species who make the rounds of the smaller restaurants promising parties for fifty but insist on free “tasting sessions” in return for “more awareness”. Please. Stop it.


There should be a website that names and shames these shysters along with the small time cooks- they’re not chefs- who need a lesson in humility. No one wishes to pay to be around an “ambience” of arrogance and in-fighting. As customers, this is not what one pays for. This is not an episode of Seinfeld where one pays to be humiliated.


The way things are going, it will all dissipate into what happened when Radiohead released their record “In Rainbows” and asked fans to pay whatever they thought it was worth. Most downloaded it for free.

Maybe Harlan Goldstein deciding to leave Hong Kong is another of his smart and timely moves and damn what people say. Leave with everything grabbed when the going was good, don’t work for scraps and with no need to look back a year later at net profits and start singing “What’s it all about, Alfie?”