Netflix’s latest series takes viewers to the world’s most remote dining establishments and turns them around. The only Asia location is a small mom-and-pop shop on stilts in a Hong Kong fishing village.
It’s kind of like Queer Eye but for failing restaurants.
A new Netflix series called Restaurants on the Edge takes viewers to the world’s most remote dining establishments, where a team of experts—including a restaurateur, chef, and interior designer—spend a week patching up the place in hopes of turning it around.
And the only Asia location is a tiny mom-and-pop shop built on stilts in a remote fishing village in Hong Kong.
“We thought, ‘Netflix is so big,’ so we thought it would be a good opportunity for us,” says Charlene Tang, who runs Tai O Banyan Tree with her partner Clifford Wong.
The pair got the idea of setting up shop in the quiet fishing village of Tai O about six years ago. “Clifford and I walked around, and we thought, ‘This is a relaxing place,’” Tang says.
They saw a for-rent sign at a shop by the water and decided the space was a good getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban Hong Kong.
(Read more: Life inside one of Hong Kong’s last shantytowns)
After years of running the restaurant, though, business was not profitable, with few customers and not enough social media presence.
The weather was another factor. “When it’s raining, forget it,” Tang says.
The shop’s location on stilts makes it prone to flooding.
The shop’s location on stilts makes it prone to flooding, and when typhoons approach Hong Kong, they have to move all the tables and chairs inside and secure the place to guard against water leakage.
That’s where Netflix came in.
In May 2019, the crew of Restaurants on the Edge arrived in Hong Kong to scout for locations with the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
They settled on Tai O Banyan Tree.
“When I walked into the back of the restaurant, my breath was taken away by the view.”
“When I walked into the back of the restaurant, my breath was taken away by the view,” says Nick Liberato, the show’s restaurant expert. “It is a gem of a tranquil oasis.”
On the show, Liberato, interior designer Karin Bohn, and chef Dennis Prescott find restaurants with fantastic views that need a fix. They freshen up the interiors and work with the owners to create new dishes.
So far, the episodes have taken them to Hawaii, Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Slovenia, Finland, Austria, and Malta.
Bohn said Tai O Banyan Tree was one of the smallest projects she’s worked on for the show—and looked more like a cluttered shop than a restaurant.
Wong and Tang have filled up the space with souvenirs from their travels. Bracelets, clothing, scarves, earrings, and fabric bags from their trips are sold at Tai O Banyan Tree.
“We like to travel and find handicrafts, and so many items in our place are just one piece,” Tang says.
When they were filming in May, Bohn explained that she wanted to declutter the space.
“We really want to showcase their beautiful items in a way that they look special,” she said, “and it’s a little more simplified and quiet.”
(Read more: The 24-year-old obsessed with Chinese antiques)
She also expanded the indoor space to accommodate more customers during inclement weather.
“If it rains, they can only fit two people outside,” she said, “but you can’t support a whole business that way. So one of our challenges is bringing more tables and chairs inside.”
“I want to eat something that came out of that water because I know there’s a story about that. And for Tai O, it’s shrimping.”
In terms of food, Prescott, the show’s chef, said the menu was accessible, but more needed to be done to localize the dishes.
“They’re not actually investing in what’s local and investing in what’s around them,” he said. “If I’m in Vancouver and I’m looking at the water, I want to eat something that came out of that water because I know there’s a story about that. And for Tai O, it’s shrimping.”
The village is known as a center of shrimp paste production, so Prescott suggested two noodle dishes—one with grilled shrimps marinated in XO sauce, and another using pork meatballs with vegetables in a seafood sauce. A third was a chocolate dessert.
The big reveal is featured in the episode, and Tang was thrilled with the result, which involved lots of decluttering and a lick of paint similar to Wedgewood green.
“I’m so happy with it,” she recalls. “I was crying, so emotional.”
The concept for Restaurants on the Edge is the brainchild of executive producer Courtney Hazlett, who came up with the idea while dining at Liberato’s beachside restaurant in Los Angeles.
“It’s right on the beach, right at Venice Pier, a pretty iconic spot, and I thought, ‘Wow this place is good,’” she says. “It made me realize there are so many places around the world where you have restaurants that really rely on the view and don’t always deliver on the food and the experience. So let’s make a show out of that.”
For Tang, the makeover has already had an effect on business. She says regular customers have been fond of the changes, and visitors looking for a respite from the city have been flocking to their place.
“Friends thought we would just do this for two or three years,” she says. “Even I can’t believe we’ve been here for over five years. It’s better job satisfaction than work.”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.