Lo’s Noodle Factory, Chinatown’s beloved independently run supplier of freshly made produce including ho fun and cheung fun, is closing due to its site being redeveloped by the landlord, Shaftesbury PLC.
According to City of Westminster planning documents approved in June of this year, the ground floor of the building is to be turned into an electrical substation, with plans for an artistic frontage that will contribute “to the character and appearance of this part of the Chinatown Conservation Area” still under consideration as of last month.
In a notice photographed and posted on Instagram at the weekend by Dumpling Shack (the Spitalfields shengjianbao specialists run by John and Yee Li and Nelson Chan), the proprietors of the two-floor Dansey Place operation announced the news, saying: “Unfortunately, due to the landlord having decided to reclaim the premise for redevelopment, our last day of business will be on the 30th November 2019. We would like to thank you for your past custom and support over the last 40 years.”
Opened by the current owner’s great uncle in 1978, Lo’s supplies noodles to 95 percent of Chinatown’s restaurants, as well as the likes of Hakkasan — but anyone can walk in off the street and buy a bag. Its toothsome ho fun are famed for their elasticity: on average some 2.5 miles of them have been made every day on its ground-floor production line, along with sweet goods like custard buns and Malaysian steamed sponge cakes upstairs in the bakery.
In a City of Westminster planning document dating from April of this year authored by its Director of Place Shaping and Town Planning, an initial recommendation was made that conditional planning permission be granted for the conversion of the ground floor of the site into an electrical substation that would “bring significant benefits to the area by addressing current power supply issues in the area”. The proposal was submitted by Rolfe Judd Planning on behalf of Shaftesbury Chinatown PLC.
In the consultation section of the same document, it was noted that Lo’s objected to the redevelopment on the grounds of “loss of business in Chinatown, loss of employment, loss of employment floorspace, and disruption to the supply chain of fresh food within London”. There also appears to have been disagreement between Lo’s and the planning applicant as to the extent of discussions between the two, and the suitability of alternative premises offered. The document states that a possible move to neighbouring 4 Dansey Place was explored for Lo’s; however, this seems not to have taken account of the specific nature of Lo’s manufacturing processes:
The objector advises that they have been offered the first and second floors of these premises [the ground floor is occupied by another tenant] and does not consider these premises appropriate due to the nature of their operation, which involves large heavy machinery and large amounts of water, creating a wet environment that is best suited to being located at ground floor level. The objector claims that there would be significant costs involved in undertaking the necessary structural works required to operate from the alternative premises offered.
Towards the end of the document, the objections from Lo’s were overruled by on the basis that “the issue of the existing tenant being offered a suitable place to relocate is, in this case, largely a private matter which must be resolved outside of the planning system”, the disruption of the supply of fresh noodles “is not considered to be a planning consideration as they could be delivered from elsewhere” and that the loss of employment and employment floorspace “are considered to be outweighed by the benefits that the provision of an electrical substation will bring to the area”.
The report notes that “the complete loss of a shopfront, even one as altered as the existing, is still harmful to the character of the area where the replacement detracts from its character or appearance”, and recommends steps be taken to ensure “the appearance of the building is suitable and that it contributes to the character and appearance of this part of the Chinatown Conservation Area” — a condition accepted by the applicant. The proposal currently under consideration involves a black metal decorative screen.
Tributes to Lo’s have poured in on social media: Eater’s Jonathan Nunn, who has written guides for the site to London’s best noodles and where to eat in Chinatown, called it “one of the last businesses that truly represented Chinatown”, while Leytonstone’s legendary Thai restaurant Singburi’s Twitter account urged followers to “go get something from there before they’re gone.”
Lo’s Noodle Factory in Chinatown. Really sad to hear this place is closing down. Please go get something from there before they’re gone. https://t.co/eeDnToxIoa
— Singburi (@SingburiThaiCaf) November 24, 2019
Against a backdrop of rising rents and reportedly discriminatory and overly forceful crackdowns on workers by the Home Office, the news has once again brought into focus questions about what’s perceived by many as the increasing homogenisation of Chinatown, and central London as a whole.
chinatown will soon no longer be chinatown. it will just be a portfolio of restaurants under one landlord. lo’s was really the last of the resistance to that, hidden in an alley they couldn’t gentrify as long as they were there. it’s a huge shame.
— a a dril (@demarionunn) November 24, 2019
Shaftesbury PLC has not returned Eater’s two requests for comment.