Floating in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter, its large green and red neon sign lighting up the night, the 42-year-old Jumbo Kingdom seafood restaurant is impossible to miss.
“We have a huge boat – I believe we’re the biggest floating restaurant in the world,” says Chan Wing-hung, Jumbo Kingdom’s semi-retired business consultant.
Having joined the company 47 years ago – before Jumbo even opened to the public – Chan is one of the restaurant’s longest-serving and most respected employees.
When asked by the restaurant’s own marketing team “whether it is better to say ‘one of the world’s largest’,” the bespectacled 68-year-old reassures them matter-of-factly.
“Our boat is around 260 feet [79 meters] long. It’s the biggest – not ‘one of.’”
Surrounded by small fishing boats and luxury yachts, the three-story Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is the main boat of the larger Jumbo Kingdom, which also includes sister restaurant boat Tai Pak (dating back to 1952), a barge for seafood tanks, a 130-feet-long kitchen boat and eight small ferries to transport visitors from two nearby piers.
A Hong Kong attraction
Appearing in many local and international movies over the years, Jumbo has become one of the city’s “must try” experiences.
Even Queen Elizabeth II, Tom Cruise and Chow Yun Fat have visited.
“Most floating seafood restaurants were not that attractive back then,” says Chan. “Our boss took inspiration from the Forbidden City to design this Jumbo Kingdom.”
The interior is just as lavish as its Imperial-style façade.
Each of the dining halls is decorated differently – all with plenty of colorful traditional Chinese-style motifs.
An “emperor’s room” gives customers a chance to dress up as ancient Chinese emperors and other royals and take pictures.
Diners can also visit the seafood barge, connected to the main boat, to check out the day’s freshest offerings.
Seafood arrives at 10 a.m. daily, directly from a fishing boat.
Working on a floating restaurant
The barge is where you might bump into Chan Ming, affectionately referred to as “brother Ming.”
Originally hired as a Jumbo waiter 26 years ago, Chan is now the restaurant’s seafood buyer.
“We usually have leopard coral grouper, tiger grouper and flowery grouper,” says Chan, while taking visitors on a seafood tour. “We also have Hong Kong grouper, girella melanichthys and spotted-tail morwong. Those are rarer fishes.”
Chan says it’s not an easy job, given the seafood barge can rock heavily.
“Some people are afraid of seasickness,” he says.
Diners, on the other hand, don’t usually feel any sea movement once they’re on board the main restaurant boat, which is anchored in the middle of a typhoon shelter, like a mini archipelago.
“It’s different from working on the dry land – we need to estimate our commute time by ferry as we can’t swim to the restaurant,” says Ng Kin-wah, deputy food service manager.
“Colleagues who are running late would hire a sampan to work – it’s like a water taxi to us. Since we are located on the sea, all our ingredients and equipment are shipped from other boats, even for chickens, geese and ducks.
“It takes a lot of work.” adds Ng, who has been serving customers on Jumbo for more than three decades.
“We have a higher expenditure, such as the ferries that take our customers back and forth. And since we are located on the sea, we are working under the Hong Kong shipping ordinances as well. In comparison to restaurants on the land, it’s harder to run a business on the sea.”
The star dish: Flamed Drunken Shrimp
The restaurant can seat more than 2,000 guests at once.
It features indoor and al fresco dining areas as well as an airy event hall with a terrace on the top floor, serving customers dim sum and Chinese dishes.
One of the most popular dishes is “Flamed Drunken Shrimp,” due to its theatrical presentation.
The chef will fire up the dish on a trolley in front of guests in the dining hall.
“First, we use the Chinese Rose Wine to soak the shrimp,” says Ng.
“Around five minutes later, the shrimp will be soaked, We then use the Chinese Rose Wine to cook the shrimp. When it is almost cooked, we put other ingredients in, such as red pepper slices.
“It’s my favorite dish as customers usually pay lots of attention when we cook it. Besides the flavor of the dish, it also boosts the atmosphere.”
Guests visiting Jumbo Restaurant can take a free shuttle ferry from Aberdeen Promenade Pier or Wong Chuk Hang Shum Wan Pier.
Jumbo Kingdom, Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter, Hong Kong; +852 2553 9111