Tag Archives: culture

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

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Opening the Window – French Window, IFC

Making much better use of the space than the eatery that previously occupied the site is French Window, coming in as a grand addition to the Hong Kong fine dining scene up on the third floor of ifc Two in Central.

Like most things French, The French Window has an undeniable flair about it, with the interior bordering on art and the food quality coming close to perfection. However, while there is a touch of Frenchness about the interior and there is a French-inspired menu executed by Michelin-trained chef Mickael le Calvez, these are the Frenchiest elements of the restaurant, with the restaurant managed instead by the un-French Miramar Group; the concept helmed by Singapore’s Justin Quek; and the interior having been actually overseen by local design prodigies from AB Concept. Nevertheless, the French theme is still apparent throughout, with the interior loosely (and beautifully) modelled around a classical French château, and a erudite selection of predominantly old-world wines available to complement the food.

As a a rising star and modern prodigy of French cuisine, chef Mickael le Calvez does his best to create a nouveau Gallic menu, but the real star of this eatery is the designer Ed Ng, the founder and director of AB Concepts. 
Created with his award-winning design team from AB Concept, the modishly nostalgic interior perfectly complements chef Mickael’s modern takes on French traditional cuisine – which sees thin tender cuts of lamb placed within a crispy tunnel of fried potato in one dish, and features a tantalizing combination of foie gras and beef carpaccio in another. In much the same way, the designers have also used a similar tapestry of styles and techniques in the design of the restaurant interior, with modern textures and colours effortlessly merging alongside purposely aged mirrors and gorgeous oversized hand-beaten wrought-iron light fixtures, inspired by Parisian street lamps. Alongside the antiquated mirrors there are also textured stone tiles and patterned glass screens, which resemble French windows (which are, by dictionary definition, tall glazed casement window panels). It is this kind of meticulous attention to detail that got the restaurant shortlisted for the UK-based Restaurant and Bar Design Awards in the International Restaurant category.

While these words will not be able to do the interior justice, an attempt must be made here, but do keep in mind that The French Window really is the kind of place that has to be seen to be properly experienced. Walking in from the blinding retail haven of the ifc mall outside is like going down Alice’s rabbit hole and entering another dimension, with the long entrance passageway bearing a resemblance to a French promenade (only indoors). Lush vertical garden panels and atmospheric lighting fixtures lead one down into the space of the restaurant, which emerges as some kind of château or salon, with a subtle homelike ambience permeating the space. This homey vibe comes across through the use of cosy fittings such as the soft carpeting, the mosaic floor tiles and the warm dashes of wood. Nevertheless, this homeyness is counterbalanced with a smattering of modish elements, which crop up in the form of the tantalizingly large wine cellar, the uplifting views of Victoria Harbour seen through the massive windows and the refined palette of cool grey, cream, and taupe tones. When paired with chef Mickael’s ambrosially delectable menu, this interior makes perfect sense and the aesthetic beauty of the environment is further enhanced by the food. Together, it is elements like these that give The French Window its class and finesse – this is an eatery to make Hong Kong proud.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, May 2010

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Game-changing – Mamoz, Causeway Bay

Situated atop the newly opened Cubus building on 1 Hoi Ping Road in Causeway Bay is Mamoz, the latest dining hotspot that is bringing class to the shopping district.

While mainly known as a shopping area, Causeway Bay has always had a lack of up-scale decent bars and lounges. Sure, it always had karaoke bars and cafés but, apart from a couple of outlets that are few and far between, the district has been deficient in classy lounge venues. However that has been slowly changing over the last few years and Mamoz is a testament to that fact.

Designed to impress from the moment of entry, Mamoz takes class and chicness to a whole new level, with the two-floor 5,000 square-foot space featuring an impeccable design scheme from end-to-end. These design features include plush black marble floors, an eight-meter-long bar counter carved from a single piece of lacquered Indonesian timber, beautiful patterned damask leather walls and ceilings, unisex bathrooms lined with burgundy and gold mosaic tiles, plus a vertiginous section of glass floor on the landing of the connecting staircase.

The interior decoration was overseen by the team from Gettys Hong Kong (a firm that is most known for their luxurious work with hotels, resorts and casinos who worked on the Hard Rock Hotel in Macau and the Peninsula Hotel in New York), and they really pulled out all the stops, with classiness and luxe into overdrive throughout. As soon as one exits the elevator on the 27 floor, sculpted wall panels and metal partitions greet one in foyer, where subdued lighting enhances the atmosphere further. One past the foyer, the attention-getting space of the bar immediately grabs the eyes, with more subdued lights working alongside Tetris block-shaped metallic bar stools and subtly retro table lamps and paintings. One is also immediately drawn to the large floor-to-ceiling windows which not only bring natural light into the interior, but also provide dramatic views over Hong Kong. Other highlights on this floor include the slightly oriental chandeliers on the corner tables, the pirate wheel-like chandelier in the private area, plus leather-covered seating and glistening cushions. After scaling the frosted stairs to the second floor, the second floor is just as dramatic with more light oriental decorative motifs, more atmospheric lighting and of course, the main feature glass flooring as well.

While the design certainly makes a visit to this place worthwhile, there is also a top quality selection of drinks on offer with some decent food offerings as well. These include liquid concoctions thought up by expert mixologists and a wine list conjured up by local sommeliers.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, June 2011

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Boutique Restoration – The Waterhouse, Shanghai

Proving once again that Shanghai has a better idea of heritage preservation than Hong Kong, The Waterhouse is another boutique design-led commercial restoration project that has rocked the economic powerhouse in the mainland.

As the pride and joy of Shanghai, the Bund has always played an important role in the city, and held a special place in the heart’s of residents. Back in the day the riverside strip was home to trading firms and financial houses, and further along there were factories and working houses. Now, all those places have long-gone, and as gentrification sets in, many of the interesting Art Deco edifices are being done up and converted into unique commercial projects. The Waterhouse is precisely one of these and, as the most recent and possibly most attractive addition to the area, the boutique hotel is already turning heads.

Designed within a restored 1930s Waterhouse, this boutique hotel project was destined to stand out from the start. Much of the original Art Deco appeal has been retained, and the internal and external spaces stylishly merge together with designer furnishings throughout. Looking onto the public areas of the hotel is a bit disorientating, but the guest rooms all have adjustable shutters faced with mirrors. There are 19 rooms in total, and these have each been designed differently, but collectively together all still ooze the same rustic designed chic. With designer furnishings clashing with rustic bare walls, dated fixtures and copious amounts of space, there is a distinct sense of minimalism – the kind commonly found on the pages of Wallpaper Magazine.

The hotel was designed by the Shanghai-based Neri & Hu design firm, and they choose to keep many of the original fixtures, with bare walls cropping up alongside dated oxidized fixtures. The hotel is also home to one of the largest authentic collection of designer furniture in any hotel inChina, with the management and designers having thoughtfully selected works by leading designers and legends such as Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner, Antonio Citterio and more.

Of course, a designer hotel would be nothing without some tempting dining options, and these come in the form of Table No. 1, The Roof and the Lounge, which together form quite the alliance. While the formal European restaurant Table No. 1 boasts a sleek and simplistic interior, with select glimpses into hotel rooms and onto the street; The Roof and the Lounge are more informal, with the Lounge coming complete with a fireplace and books, and the wooden-decked rooftop bar providing stunning views of the Huangpu River.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, August 2010

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China Movie Magic

So by now the majority of you have had your brain cells burnt out by the mindfuck of a film that was Inception, and most of us should have at least some basic infantile grasp of what the movie was about (dreams and spinning tops, or something like that). The film is now currently doing the rounds in Chinaand, as one of the only 20 foreign films to be shown in the motherland each year, this is a big deal. Furthermore, the film was released three weeks ahead of schedule since it apparently passed through censorship without any cuts. Christopher Nolan was probably buying drinks all round (or should’ve been), as the film soon went on to be the fourth-biggest opening ever for an American movie in China, behind Avatar and the two recent Transformers movies.

Nevertheless, like most movies shown in our proud motherland, Chinese audiences have taken to the film in quite profound ways. In Chinese the name of the film loosely translates to ‘a space for stealing dreams,’ which is a lot more helpful than the English title. But, obliging title or not, this didn’t stop some locals seeing the film over 4 times. The hype was so big that shops even started selling replicas of the signature spinning tops used in the film, and they sold fast, considering they were priced at for $130RMB each. An online buyer claimed he needed the spinning top to distinguish dreams from reality. In another province a special competition was held to find who could design the best 7 layers of a dream, and over inChongqing a man even tried to hire a psychologist to perform inception on his own wife ahead of their wedding.

This is not the first time a foreign film has generated weird reactions in China. Last year a young transformer fan was found to have been drinking gasoline for 5 years, after being inspired by Optimus Prime and his robotic crew. Also there was that other stupidly popular 3D movie about oversized smurfs which sent China into a frenzy when it was first released, with losers camping out and cueing for Avatar tickets from as early as 4am. The fiendish demand for Avatar led China to become the most expensive place in the world to watch the film, with tickets fetching up to $200RMB a pop. Lifeless locals saw it as a kind of status symbol, and our humble counterfeit nation even started printing fake cinema tickets. And let’s not even begin to mention the overly-detailed criticism or the popular tourist spot that was controversially renamed after a place in the film.

Originally published in the now defunct The Dark Side Hong Kong, 2010