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Chinese Cuisine comes to Dundee


Manager Willie Wong inside the Hong Kong Restaurant on Seagate, late 1960s (image from Retro Dundee)

“Dundee will have a Chinese restaurant” was the bold claim of a Courier headline on 8 November 1960, after the Corporation Planning Committee approved the conversion of a former tailor’s at 39 Reform Street. The result was the Bamboo Chinese Restaurant, which opened on 18 July 1961. This was the city’s first East Asian restaurant and would probably have been many Dundonians’ first encounter with Chinese people.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese sailors would occasionally have visited Dundee when their ships docked here, though Indian ‘lascars’ were far more common on British vessels. After the Second World War, there were also some Chinese students staying in Dundee while studying at University College or the Technical College, though only in very small numbers - it would not be until the 1980s that the University began actively recruiting students from China, leading to considerably greater numbers arriving.


The Bamboo was therefore an exciting novelty for the city. Its founder and managing director was 36-year-old Wong Fu from Hong Kong. He had come to Britain in 1953 with his four brothers and found work as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Liverpool. Four years later he opened his own restaurant in Whitley Bay, adding a second in Sunderland later the same year and forming the company Wong Brothers Ltd to run them. Another restaurant followed in Newcastle in 1958. According to the Aberdeen Evening Express, “Many of Mr Wong Fu’s customers were Scots and all wanted to know when he would start business in Scotland.” Seeing the demand, Wong opened his first Scottish venue in Edinburgh in 1959 and its success led to another in Aberdeen in 1960. No sooner had that successfully opened than Wong turned his attention to Dundee.


Converting and decorating the Reform Street premises was a major operation. The Courier described the £10,000 transformation: “To step inside the Bamboo is to be transported to an exotic Oriental world… An eye-catching feature is the 13 Chinese lanterns with red tassels hanging from dragon’s teeth. The wallpaper has appropriate Chinese motifs, there is a wealth of bamboo and the cash desk, where tinned and boxed Chinese delicacies are on sale, has a pagoda-style roof.”


Outside the Oriental Garden, Cowgate, 1978 (image from Retro Dundee)

The Bamboo could seat 84 customers and offered 65 different dishes starting at 4 shillings. Mr Chan Fook was employed as head chef with a kitchen staff of six and two Chinese waiters. The restaurant ran throughout the 1960s, closing in 1969 when the premises were turned into a Wimpy burger bar. By that time, however, there were several other Chinese restaurants in the city – the Hong Kong at 5 Seagate, the Kowloon (later renamed the Hosikai and now Chopstix) at 12 St Andrew’s Street, the Rice Bowl at 21 Cowgate (which went through several name changes, including the Kun Lun, the Shanghai, the Oriental Garden and the Fortune) and the Strand at 44 Gray Street, Broughty Ferry – all of which opened in the late 1960s, and all survived at least into the 1980s.


Adverts for the Universal Garden (1974) and the Far East (1977) (images from Retro Dundee)

Many other restaurants and takeaways joined them in the 1970s – the Dundee Directories and Yellow Pages for that decade list the Gold Lucky (later Universal Garden) at 204 Perth Road, the Golden Bird at 49 Dura Street, the Far East at 76 Church Street (with branches later opening at 31 Mains Loan, 62 Mains Road and 95 Hilltown), the Lotus House at 34 (later 66) Main Street, the New Gold Lucky at 124a Hilltown, the Golden Star at 659 (later 681) Turnberry Avenue, the Sun Hong at 100 Albert Street, the Golden Bridge at 119 Cheviot Crescent, the Golden City at 1 Teviotdale Avenue, the Lotus House No 2 at 164 Strathmartine Road and the Lucky Star at 66 Liff Road. Every new opening brought more people of Chinese origin to live in the city, growing the population to over 1200 by the time of the last census. There are now at least 70 Chinese restaurants and takeaways in the city - it seems that Dundee can’t get enough of Chinese food!


Written by Matthew Jarron, University of Dundee Museums


Sources:

Aberdeen Evening Express 16/8/1960

Dundee Courier 8/11/1960 & 18/7/1961

Dundee Directories and Yellow Pages

Scotland Census Results 2011

Retro Dundee website


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