Category Archives: F&B

Made for action – Queenstown, NZ

Queenstown in New Zealand has long been rightly identified as the
adventure capital of the world as it is the birthplace of
thrill-seeking tourism, home to many adrenaline-laden world
firsts – welcome to the action-packed epicentre of the world

new z covers (8)New Zealand was the last mass region on the planet to be settled by humans. Being late to the inhabitation party, this has given the island country a distinct ecological advantage, as the two main landmasses and all the smaller islets within it now boast a vast biodiversity of life unlike any other in the world. This has also given rise to the adventurous outdoorsy national spirit that New Zealanders have long been known for, which naturally comes with the territory, and is not surprising for a populace living amidst some of the most dramatic topographies on the planet.

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Pretty Crabby – Fatty Crab

Having successfully gone from Malaysia to New York, the hot and slightly weirdly-named concept that is Fatty Crab has now arrived in Hong Kong with a bang.

Fatty Crab RestaurantA few years ago, when the concept of Fatty Crab was first opened by the expatriate Fatty Crew in New York City, the concept at first received a mixed reception amongst reviewers and diners alike. Having emulated and taken a name from a small no-frills hole in the wall in Malaysia, the group culturally tailored it slightly to the Big Apple market, with consistent elements such as the dingy interior and scrumptious large spicy crabs at the heart of the menu remaining. In time, the concept caught on and, like the accepting diverse foreign atmosphere that is NYC, the cultural import that was Fatty Crab grew to be an astounding hit. Now, the group has just brought the concept to Old Bailey Street in Hong Kong, home of the Hairy Crab. To make it work here, the group worked to customise the concept slightly more for the local market, with an upmarket and raw edgy styled interior making the restaurant perfect for the local Soho crowd.

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Blue Meat – Blue Butcher

Industrial chic merges with quirky rustic ornaments and a subtle speakeasy theme in this engagingly designed meat-focused Sheung Wan restaurant.

24 - CopySlipping comfortably onto the meat bandwagon that has been trending in the restaurant scene of late is Blue Butcher, an eye-catching new establishment from the people behind PLAY and the Mexican-themed Brickhouse. However, instead of just sitting on the bandwagon, the folks at Blue Butcher are shaking it around, with the restaurant touting itself a ‘meat specialist,’ rather than a steakhouse. This is not without good reason, as they are the only restaurant equipped with a walk-in pink salt dry aging room in Hong Kong. The practiced chefs prepare, bake, age, and hang everything in-house using age-old recipes and modern techniques. They also use the freshest produce and herbs from local organic farms, with a menu of unique and award-winning cocktails standing out as well. Continue reading Blue Meat – Blue Butcher

Steak Out – Carnevino

The talented people from Dining Concepts have done it again, with Carnevino being another successful partnership between the budding restaurant group and the New York-based chef Mario Balti.

With the dust has barely settled on the opening of Mario Batali’s Lupa in LHT Tower on Queen’s Road Central, the busy chef-lebrity has just opened his second restaurant in Hong Kong, Carnevino, in the same building one floor above. Although both restaurants are targeted at a similar set of clients, Carnevino is slightly more upscale and formal than Lupa, with the new restaurant actually being part of an award-winning chain from Las Vegas. Continue reading Steak Out – Carnevino

Thailand’s Grape Adventure – The Thais That Vined

Situated a leisurely drive away from Bangkok are a handful of unique home-grown Thai wineries which have slowly been gaining praise with wine-drinkers around the globe and, despite the government’s strict stance on alcohol, things are looking better than ever for the budding local wine scene. 

It’s a late Sunday afternoon and a gingery orange hue slowly turns to a bloody red in the sky above miles of lush budding grape fields. Below, some fortunate individuals sit around a table covered in wine bottles, contentedly sampling a batch of matured grapes fresh from the latest harvest. If trite clichés had their way, this romantic scene would most likely be set in Bordeaux or Tuscany, but this is far from the case, as just beyond the table of wine-drinkers a full-grown elephant assisting with the grape-picking breaks the stereotype – and further on just over a hundred kilometers away from the wine fields is Bangkok, where the rush hour traffic scarcely percolates through busy streets whilst the wine bars and lounges begin to fill up as twilight sets in.

Wines are fairly new to the Bangkok drinking scene, but local taste buds have been maturing more rapidly in recent years as the city, and the country, quickly develops. Wine drinking is now de rigeur in Thai society and, in line with Asia’s burgeoning levels of wine consumption, just about every bar and hotel worth visiting in Bangkok now boasts an erudite selection of wine. This is the same story in other popular spots around the country as well. Official figures indicate current Thai wine consumption to be at 12-14 million liters per annum, and it has been growing at a steady rate of about 6.5% per year since the millennium.

There is a silent revolution taking place in the small but cozy local wine production scene as well, with many of the existing Thai wineries having garnered the respect of the international wine scene by securing numerous esteemed awards. Just back in June three Thai wine professionals passed the internationally-recognized Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, and one of the local star wineries, GranMonte, was also recently awarded with 12 medals at prestigious competitions in France and the UK. However, wine-producing is probably the last thing one would associate Thailand with and, as the sommelier Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok points out, “Thailand only has limited areas where grapes can be grown for wine making, and it also has geographical limitations.” Nevertheless, these geographical limitations do not run throughout the country and Thitipornwatthanakul adds, “I am confident that Thailand is the most successful wine-producing region within South East Asia.” This confidence is shared by many and some have even said Thai wineries are the best in Asia – although China is of course a close competitor. As Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine (and one of the three who passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam), explains, “In Thailand, the producers are all millionaires who are passionate about wine, and when money is no objection there is no stopping them – no other wine-producing country in Asia is as unique as Thailand.”

This uniqueness is, in part, due to the geography of the country which causes the few select wineries that operate to run in the mountains around Thailand and the valleys in the northern part of the country where the weather is cooler. Although Thailand is a tropical country, these higher altitude areas provide a predominantly subtropical climate which is almost ideal for winemaking. Prayut Piangbunta, the director and chief winemaker from Khao Yai Winery – another of the leading Thai wineries – knows this more than any and he explains that, “Thailand is the only country in the Northern Hemisphere which has the same harvesting period as the South, and this creates a perfect environment for grapes to grow, with dry cool nights and warm sunny days.” Being close to the equator, Thailand’s latitudes fall between 10 and 20 degrees (in contrast to the typical old-world wine-making standard of 30 to 50) and, as one would imagine, this is not your average wine-producing environment – this is the world of ‘New Latitude Wine.’ Contrary to viticulturalist beliefs, Thailand wineries are perfectly capable of growing many types of grapes, though the subtropical climates are more suitable for grapes with high acidity. As Jirachai Sethisakko – the Group Wine Guru for Anantara – highlights, “The quality of Thai wines is comparable to mid-range Chilean wine and an entry-level Australian Shiraz.

In the industry everyone knows that Thailand has some of the most distinctive wineries in the industry, and the ideal grape-growing conditions even allow some wineries to produce two harvests a year. In this world of ‘New Latitude Wine’ the wine production season runs from November to March and harvesting takes place from January to late March. Labor is cheap and grape-picking often takes place at night to avoid the heat of the day. However, the exceptionality of the ‘New Latitude Wine’ world is not just limited to technical details. This is also a world where there are floating vineyards that workers must harvest by boat, and a world where elephants aid the grape-pickers – this is wine-making with a difference.

These differently-made wines are produced mainly southwest of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta and the Hua Hin Hills, and in the north and northeastern parts of the country near Chailang Rai and the Khao Yai region, about 130-kilometers from Bangkok. The central wine hotspot is the area around Khao Yai National Park, where a cluster of the leading local wineries operate, and where almost 50% of local Thai wines are produced. Operating within close proximity of one another, many of these wineries also offer tours, lodging, restaurants, and other activities. Up in the northeast, for example, Village Farm Winery boasts a spa and a cliff-hanging swimming pool, whilst the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery vineyard offers resort-style accommodation and Siam Winery boasts a large Thai-inspired wooden pavilion designed by a former Norman Foster architect. For this reason the area has been loosely compared to Napa Valley in California and the enthusiastic atmosphere at local wineries could be compared to other wine scenes that were also once not so developed. As Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy – the Winemaker at the GranMonte winery – states, “It is kind of comparable to the 70’s when Napa was booming. Back then Napa wines competed with the French wines and won at the judgment of Paris. Now we are more or less winning the same all around the world.” However, the Thai wine scene is not quite yet ‘winning’ at a Charlie Sheen level yet and, as Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok clarifies, “There are definitely opportunities for Thailand’s wine industry to grow. We still need more education in wine-making. Chile is a good example for us to look at, since it is a wine region with similarities to Thailand.”

Chile is the perfect yard post to measure the Thai wine scene against, since it is a young wine country with a similar climate that produces similar wines, and that also once lacked the education to create good wine and was plagued by tax problems. However, though Chilean alcohol taxes were dropped (and the wine Chilean industry subsequently saved) in the 1980s, excessively high taxes and a strict governmental stance on alcohol are hindering the growth of the local Thai wine scene. “The Thai government is very strict with alcohol advertising. Thailand wine deserves better and more publicity from local press but they cannot publish pictures of bottles or write about wine except for education,” says Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine. In spite of everything though, the local Thai wines are doing extremely well outside of Thailand and, with Thai wines being undoubtedly some of the best to come out of Asia, the future nevertheless looks bright for this new world of newer New World wines.

Originally published in Turbojet Horizon Magazine, August 2011

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Area Guide – Central

LUPA / Compass Offices (Aon China Building) –

As home to some of the city’s leading companies, Central remains unsurprisingly one of the best areas in town for corporate dining, be it for a casual business lunch or gala dinner.

Many of the neighbourhood’s bars, restaurants and cafes have accordingly molded their services, furnishings and cuisine to cater to the needs of the area’s many busy-bodies.

Hearty New York Italian eatery LUPA is one such establishment. The newly opened restaurant has squarely positioned itself in the all-important sweet-spot between casual lunch establishment and formal dining hall. At 5,500 square feet in size, the sprawling interior is equally fitting for large events, particularly when combined with the 2,500 square-foot outdoor terrace, which in and of itself is perfect for a small cocktail affair.

Also new to the district is the latest serviced office complex from Compass Offices. The exquisitely furnished establishment takes up the 16th and 17th floors of the Aon China Building which, situated in the heart of the district, an ideal place to base yourself if you’re in town for a business trip.

The building itself has recently undergone renovation, and now boasts three ultra-posh elevators that are sure to impress even the most pernickety of business clients.

The spaces on offer are each beautifully furnished and offer equally beautiful city views, together with all the connectivity one would expect from a modern office. The shared office facilities include a large private lobby and three well-equipped meeting rooms with comfortable seating for four, six and 14 people.

Compass Offices also houses a banking-grade data centre on site for those with more demanding information technology needs.

Virtual offices are also available and start at HK$598 per month. Meeting rooms on their own go for about HK$50 per 15-minute session. Custom office fittings are also available for long-term clients.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, June 2012

Gentrifying Dining – 208 Duecento Otto

Although it’s been happening for a while, 208 Duecento Otto officially secures Sheung Wan’s position as the trendy gentrified dining extension to Lang Kwai Fong and Soho, and when one experiences the idiosyncratic interior one can see why the official transformation of a district can rest on a single restaurant.

208 Duecento Otto is the kind of restaurant that makes us design addicts happy at Today’s Living. Although the design is stunning, this time we are impressed with more than just the aesthetics as the story behind the restaurant is just as appealing, and the people who put the hard work into the restaurant are just as deserving as the designers. Originally a two-storey frozen meat storage warehouse at the end of Hollywood Road, the Singaporean founder of JIA Boutique Hotels – Yenn Wong – decided to build on the success of her eccentric Philippe Starck designed hotel and, combining an attention-grabbing design scheme with a New York-style Italian-American bill of fare, this captivating restaurant was born.

208 duecento ottoThe main district-changing factor of 208 Duecento Otto is the eye-popping design of the place, with an attention to style and detail running inside and even out. As the first overseas project by a Turkish design firm called Autoban, the interior is a spectacular bohemian work of art, and it is clear to see this design firm won’t be strangers abroad after this. The exterior is marked by a striking intentionally-oxidized rustic-looking iron frame, which somewhat resembles an oversized Louis Vuitton suitcase. This is appropriate; given that Chef Vinny Lauria’s cooking style has been defined as “a New York interpretation of rustic Italian cuisine.” Inside the rusticness continues in the spacious bar area on the ground floor where sophisticated walnut wood squared panels decorate the ceiling and flooring, and somehow complement the blue and white ceramic wall tiling, which also bring in an extra touch of orientalism. Some dramatic overhanging lights stand out as well, appearing alongside gorgeous textured wooden tables, a slick marble bar counter, refined leather bar stools and old-looking holed stairs, which have a slightly nautical feel about them. Upstairs, there is more of a sophisticated ambience, with the walnut wood ceiling and flooring continuing alongside more ceramic tiles, but here they are complemented by some leather sofas, an authentic wood-fired Napoletana pizza oven (specially imported from Naples), and a spot of natural light coming in from the large window out the front.

Pastiera Napoletana Of course with such a spectacular design scheme it would be a crime if the food failed to make an impression as well, and luckily the Italian-American fare it does not even come close to disappointment. Overseen by Chef Vinny Lauria, formerly a cook at Mario Batali’s famous Babbo inNew York City, there is a home-made vibe to the food, with every dish prepared on-the-spot using the freshest ingredients available. Apart from the pizzas and antipasti, these are not your generic dishes, with many of the items featuring top-quality ingredients and a signature touch of creative flair, much like the rest of the restaurant.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, August 2010

Harbour-side NYC – Al Molo

Al Molo is a hot new Tsim Sha Tsui joint which brings celebrity chef Michael White’s signature New York twist on Italian dining to the edge of Victoria Harbour.

Opened to much deserving fanfare last year, Al Molo is one of the finer restaurants in the vast commercial complex that is Harbour City. The stunning 7,000 square-foot venue is the collaborative product of a partnership between the award-winning New York chef Michael White and the leading local restaurant group, Dining Concepts. While these leaders took care of the management and food, the New York design firm Avroko and Hong Kong’s Zanghellini Holt took care of the interior design.

Luckily for locals, all the involved parties delivered in their designated areas, with Al Molo now featuring an appealing New York restaurant design aesthetic and an enticing menu of Michael White’s creations. Overseen mostly by White, the concept of the restaurant is ‘New York Italian,’ which is a popular Manhattan cuisine involving flavoursome generously-portioned Italian food which White has perfected and served up in homey Italian-themed settings for years. In fact his perfection has secured him many awards and he is most known for his two Michelin star rated New York eatery Marea, which was honoured as ‘Best New Restaurant in America’ and got White nominated as ‘Best Chef in New York City.’

With Al Molo, White has not held back in any way and he has successfully managed to export his hearty Italian New York cuisine to a deserving site just across the water from the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui (hence the name Al Molo, which means ‘The Pier’ in Italian. This site is one of pure stylishness, with the massive space featuring old Manhattan restaurant inspired aesthetics. What this translates to is rustic-looking plank ceilings, raw exposed brick walls, long fine marble countertops, characteristic mosaic flooring and plenty of carved wood. Spotted throughout the restaurant are also industrial iron fittings and eye-catching decorative lighting which all, of course, rival the ever-impressive skyline of Hong Kong that attractively glares into the restaurant via the tall windows and the outdoor terrace, offering up alfresco dining right by the harbour. Other key features of the restaurant include semi-open cooking stations that flank both sides of the massive dining room, a walk-in bread-baking oven and an eruditely-stocked bar. In terms of seating, the restaurant offers various dining setups which include relaxed casual dining on the terrace, more private seating in black leather booths inside, plus some other more communal longer dining tables to accommodate bigger parties inside as well.

Nevertheless, while the interior is undoubtedly striking, the menu is equally extraordinary with some of White’s imported signatures naturally appearing here in Hong Kong where the appointed executive chef Jimmy Everett, a protégé of White, does a good job of representing the ‘king of Italian cooking in New York.’ White’s signatures include handcrafted pastas swathed in indulgent sauces plus his famous antipasti offerings. Headlining the menu also are seasonal fish dishes including local sea bass with artichokes, roasted peppers, riso nero and dates and New Zealand john dory with grilled peach, almonds, salsa verde and roasted shallots. Other highlights include dishes of hand-selected meats such as roasted guinea hen with celery root, asparagus and cippolini agrodolce; herb roasted lamb saddle, farro, cavolo nero plus spring onion and braised veal shank with bone marrow, saffron risotto and sautéed spinach.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, March 2012

Ozone, Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Unless you’ve been reading censored news, you’ve probably heard about Ritz Carlton’s return to Hong Kong, and the crowning glory of the hotel is Ozone, the highest (and quite possibly one of the most stylish) bars in the world.

Ritz Carlton Hong KongThe Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has been pretty busy of late. After the 2008 closure of their elegant property in Central the group went silent for a while both here in the city and the region, but now they have returned with a palpable bang, as The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong and their latest properties have shown. Recently the brand has changed their positioning in the market slightly and a slight shift in their design philosophy and service evolution has emerged across their stunning portfolio (particularly in the newer properties). Up on the top floor of The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, Ozone is a testament to this fact, with the bar and light eatery boasting top-notch service and a conspicuously eye-goggling design scheme.

While the ICC is sadly not the highest building in the world, Ozone is, vertically speaking, the highest bar in the world – period. This alone is reason enough to visit the 118th floor venue, but thankfully this is not the only incentive, with the stunning views complemented by top-quality drinks and food, fine service, plus a stunning interior. The interior design was overseen by Masamichi Katayama and his self-owned company Wonderwall Inc., a design company with a difference that has an incredible catalog of exclusive interiors which includes impressive store spaces designed for Bape, Uniqlo and I.T, plus a Tokyo restaurant interior for Harrods, a Parisian restaurant called Collette and more. Although Wonderwall Inc. is anything but typical, their typical atypical design style can be seen all over Ozone, with playful contemporary plastic features appearing alongside first-rate materials and creative atmosphere-building gilding. There is a distinct Alice-in-Wonderland vibe about the whole interior, which was created around the theme of an ‘Edenic Experiment’ – “a man-made environment of nature in an imaginary world,” as the designer overview states. In other words, blown-up inspirations of nature can be seen everywhere, from the dim neon color-changing forest-like entrance through to the beehive-resembling ceilings and marble-shaped bamboo.

Ozone-Ritz-Carlton-Hong-KongAfter being zoomed up to Ozone in an elevator which reaches ear-popping speeds of nine meters per second, one is greeted by an atmospheric entrance area, where layered mirror ceilings, curtain-shaped walls and rock-resembling floor patterns tease and tantalize one’s expectations before entry. Once inside one is greeted by an eccentric white pillar which resembles oversized stacked marshmallows and acts as a visual centerpiece. Further in the interchanging neon colors continue to shine out along the ceiling, where they are complemented by beehive-like ceilings, geometric shapes and flower petal patterns on the walls below. The beehive shapes run behind the bar as well where they take on a web-like appearance. Along from the main bar is a sushi bar, and things get taken down a notch here, where a whitewashed marble counter is matched by marble bamboo-shaped pillars behind. In the main dining area the hive ceiling continues, but globular bubble light fittings add a different touch here. Outside, in the semi-al fresco area where 12-foot walls of glass offer panoramas of the city, there is another bar, and this one takes on an iceberg appearance. Various bar tables correspond with the white ice theme while a few rattan seats and bar stools provide a nice place to admire the view from.

Of course all this perfection would not be complete without a good selection of food and drink, and luckily, Ozone does not disappoint in this area either. Covered with custom-made holograms, the menus contain wonders such as wines that hover around the $100’000 mark, custom-made cocktails and signature drinks, plus a fine selection of sushi, sashimi, tapas, tempura and caviar.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, July 2010