When Meaghan Mulholland heard about a Hong Kong restaurant offering a unique style of service, she knew she had to try it, even if it did turn her stomach.
Until a few days ago, if you’d asked me to pick the restaurant industry’s worst contribution to society, I might have chosen KFC’s “Double Down” sandwich, or perhaps the aggressive marketing of Fast Food corporations towards children.
That was before I went to Modern Toilet Restaurant.
Yes, Modern Toilet Restaurant: a restaurant with a toilet theme. Picture a roomful of people slurping noodles out of toilet bowls, and you get the idea.
When I first heard about the place, I didn’t believe it, either, so I took the Metro from my Hong Kong apartment to bustling Mong Kok one night to see for myself. Turns out the place not only exists, it’s doing booming business; my husband and I had to wait fifteen minutes for a table. At last we were led to a glassed-over sink flanked by four brightly-colored toilet seats; the walls were of colorful tile, and the light fixtures shaped like plungers. When I spotted the signature dessert, “Marton #5” (from “matong,” the Chinese word for toilet), a swirl of chocolate ice cream served in a miniature porcelain commode, I realized there was no turning back.
The place is clearly a gag, a gimmick–which makes the fact that it’s lasted so long (since 2004), and now has thirteen franchises in Taiwan and Hong Kong, all the more unsettling to me. It does have a festive vibe–everyone laughing and taking pictures–but the novelty fades fast. Yes, I laughed when our drinks arrived in mini-urinals, garnished with twisty straws, but by the time my spaghetti in creamy pumpkin sauce arrived (it’s no coincidence that of the entrees at MTR are mushy stews and “hot pots”) I was feeling queasy. The key to getting through this, I soon realized, was to not think; sure, this went against everything I believe about mindfulness and health-conscious eating – but those things had already flown out the window when I set foot in the restaurant.
While the assorted curries, burgers, and noodle dishes were passable–and affordable, with mains around 85-100 HKD ($10-12 US), and “snacks”
and ice creams for $3-6, I’d never choose Modern Toilet over the countless other amazing dining options in Hong Kong, from authentic dim sum to SoHo’s trendiest fusion gourmet. MTR’s definitely not for the squeamish (or anyone who objects to bathroom humor), but if you’re in Hong Kong and determined to experience it yourself, take my advice: order the funniest, grossest-looking thing on the menu, take the requisite photos, then flee to the nearest street stall for dumplings or BBQ duck and try to forget about the whole thing.
Photos: Andrew Hutson