Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Whisking it Up – Whisk, Mira Hotel

With their face lift and rebranding now fully complete The Mira Hotel has emerged as a top contender forHong Kong’s most stylish hotel, and Whisk is the latest and greatest outlet just recently launched in the property.

When one sees the curvaceous exterior and enters the ethereal realm that is the lobby of the freshly refurbished Mira Hotel one can immediately tell that this is no ordinary property. Reincarnated and renamed as The Mira Hotel, the 51-year-old Hotel Miramar has been reborn after a hefty metamorphosis. A hotel modernization would not be complete without contemporary food and beverage outlets, and The Mira boasts plenty, with Whisk coming in as the dining climax of the hotel.

Whisk is the high point of the Mira’s dining outlets for a number of reasons, but the one that we’re going to start on is the connecting terrace – just because we like it best, and because it is a rarity to have such a substantial outdoor area inHong Kong. While the terrace is technically part of Vibes – Mira’s outdoor bar cum lounge – it is still joined to Whisk (with 20 outdoor seats) and is part of the lush view that gives Whisk’s interior its extra appeal. With exquisite landscaping consisting of eye-catching fire, water and green features, the 4,000 square-foot open-air space is an al fresco haven, complete with barbeque-tapas and innovative drinks. There is also a DJ booth, rattan cabanas and plenty of bamboo, frangipani trees and many more plants to help one get in touch with their green side.

However, the terrace is but a small ingredient adding flavour to Whisk’s overall scrumptiousness, because inside things hot up all the more so. The interior design was overseen by the international interior stylist Charles Allem of CAD Associates, and – having designed exclusive residences, hotels and commercial spaces in places like Palm Beach, Las Vegas, New York, and Bel Air – he shows what he is good at, with atmospheric lighting, frequent spots of natural light and lively retro circular-patterned carpets patterns giving Whisk an uplifting yet unpretentious feeling. With monochromatic black, greys and platinum silvers, circularly galaxy-like chandelier fixtures and plenty of nonstandard low-slung dining chairs, there is a cosmically retro vibe to the interior, but enough touches of elegance keep the space sophisticated and formal. There are various areas to the restaurant, with a barcode-patterned bar greeting one upon entry, a mezzanine area complete with views over Kowloon Park, two cosy private rooms and, of course, the main dining room, which connects up to the terrace.

The good taste doesn’t stop at the interior, with a menu assembled together by Justin Quek, a European chef trained under many Michelin-star eateries throughoutEurope. Quek’s specialty is French fare sprinkled with a touch of orientalism – a forte that he perfected when he was at the widely acclaimed French establishment, Les Amis, inSingapore. At Whisk he brings in a few more European flavours and refines a number of Asian favourites, with items like roasted crackling suckling pig and baked Miso Marinated Cod. In addition there are plenty of juicily fresh seafood options, plus a cellared selection of carefully selected European wines. If these features aren’t reason enough to check out this new establishment then you’re either still feeling the economic pinch of 2009, or simply suffering from cibophobia (totally true definition; fear of food).

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, February 2010

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Attack of the Killer Trees

While the EU is currently under apparent threat from terrorism and Americais still suffering from economy woes, here in Hong Kongwe are facing a new kind of threat…from big green serial-killing trees. Well, OK, not exactly serial killing but definitely serial-injuring because there have been an uncanny amount of injuries caused by trees over the last few years. In fact, according to a survey released last Friday one in 10 Hong Kong trees is in danger of collapsing – and you’re more likely to be targeted by evil vegetation if you’re a tree-hugging hippy living in an wooded area (or a distracted iPhone addict watching porn whilst walking in the forest).

Based on the findings of the survey the Chinese University of Hong Kong are now calling on authorities to establish a tree-health database – you know, a catalogued database like IMDB, but to determine the floppiness of trees instead of films. But, while we don’t yet have something as advanced or supposedly necessary as a tree-health database set up, a team of 200 volunteers was nevertheless established last month. However, we still won’t be able to sleep safely at night, because these volunteers all happen to be Members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. What, didn’t you know democrats are the best tree experts around? Nope, nether did we.

The reason for all this tree hullabaloo? Well, it all stems from the Hong Kong Government’s fetish for concrete and development (and their ignorance of the natural world). Back in 2005 the incidents started with the luckiest tree in Hong Kong (the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree, which is so popular that it has its own expressway exit and is shown on highway signs), which had an entire limb fall off, breaking the leg of a 62-year-old man and scratching the head of a 4-year-old boy. The other big indecent that reignited the paranoia in 2008 was the collapse of a 23-meter tree in Stanley, which killed a super-unfortunate 19-year-old (and caused the loss of thousands of dollars for businesses in the area, an insensible bastard of a shopowner said at the time). More recently, back in June of this year a falling tree hit a taxi driver and a pedestrian in central, and 2 weeks before that another evil tree took the life of a 49 year-old cyclist, who swerved to avoid a falling branch and ended up dieing in hospital where he died from brain injuries.

At the end of the day all this tree anarchy has only resulted in a more paranoid public and a government who now has another excuse to pave over more long-standing parts of Hong Kong and a better reason to remove dangerous municipal ‘hazards’ like greenery and heritage. What’s more is that a similar thing has already happened before, when the ‘more regulation is better regulation’ mentality led the Hong Kong Government to bury all our hillsides under concrete after a few mudslides resulted in fatalities back in the 90’s. So be on the lookout for more concrete and fake plastic trees – coming to a leafy area near you soon.

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

Bums on office seats are not always good for bottom line

Employees can probably feel less guilty about tardiness or web-surfing during office hours. At least that’s the implication of the results from a Regus global survey suggesting that flexible working conditions can help increase worker productivity and, by extension, company profit.

The survey, which covered more than 16,000 senior business managers, is one of the largest of its kind to validate the correlation between flexibility, productivity and profitability.

Among those polled in Hong Kong, 75 per cent said that flexibility boosted productivity, while 72 per cent agreed that it could help increase revenue.

Hans Leijten, Regus vice-president for East Asia, attributes the gains to enhanced employee morale.

“Flexible work gives people power to decide when and where they work. This helps them to plan and execute their work more efficiently and to reduce the time it takes to commute and to actually do the work,” he says.

“A more efficient and happier worker will generally deliver better results.”

At 67 per cent, a significant portion of Hong Kong respondents also reported feeling more energised and motivated, thanks to flexible work arrangements. Some 60 per cent even claimed to feel healthier, implying cost-savings on healthcare premiums.

Leijten notes that flexible arrangements can also help cut office rentals. “As a rule of thumb, 40-60 per cent of any office space is underutilised,” he says. “In a city like Hong Kong, where commercial space is among the most expensive anywhere, there are big savings to be made.”

And with many firms still reluctant to commit to large pay rise this year, flexible arrangements can be used as an employee retention tool, Leijten adds. “Staff who work flexibly report feeling healthier, more energised and more motivated, which is good for staff retention and morale,” he says.

This view is echoed by Martin Cerullo, the global director of resourcing communications at Alexander Mann Solutions. “The ability to work flexibly makes up an important part of the overall employee value proposition. Employers who allow staff to work flexibly are really saying, ‘I trust you to make the decisions about the time and working location that are right for you.’ Naturally, this sends an appreciative message,” he says.

Leijten notes that the Regus survey findings help reaffirm a common practice in Hong Kong, particularly among smaller nimbler companies where implementation is easier.

“Flexi-working is the future of work,” says Leijten. “If you manage your employees by line of sight, all you can evaluate is bums on office seats. The best companies manage people by results, and flexible working clearly helps employees improve their results.”

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 2011 

Architecture Supplement – Building Blocks of the Future

Hong Kong has always been an architectural hub, with some of the best talent in Asia and the world, and, today, its architecture industry is alive and vigorously kicking.

“With its mixed international pool of architects and proficiency gathered over time, the Hong Kong architecture industry is perfectly set up as a hub to serve the region,” says Dominic Lam, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA).

“In fact, more than 50 per cent of Hong Kong architects end up working on projects outside Hong Kong,” he adds.

The CEO of architecture global giant Aedas, David Roberts, shares the same sentiment, describing Hong Kong as a “strategically-placed business destination”.

“The proximity to Southeast Asia is important,” he says. “A lot of clients [from there] look to Hong Kong professionals to provide provisional services for their projects. Hong Kong has a huge advantage in terms of its geographical location.”

However, this regional market is dwarfed by business in China, which has surged two-fold in the past few years. “The workload from mainland China has been increasing, and 60 per cent of the work in our Hong Kong office is from the mainland,” says Roberts.

“Ten years ago, this would have been only about 10 per cent and, looking ahead, the 60 per cent might become 70 per cent soon,” he adds.

This is felt throughout other practices in Hong Kong, too. Kenneth Lui, a director with the P&T Group, even points out that increasing mainland work is putting pressure on local and international architects to learn Putonghua.

“One of the most important things for an architect in Hong Kong now is language – even locals need to learn Putonghua,” he says. “One must also be willing to travel and to work on the mainland.”

Lucy Richardson, managing director of Bespoke Hong Kong, is seeing the same trends at her local architect and designer recruitment firm. “At the moment, 80 to 90 per cent of candidates we place are Chinese, and this is mainly because of the language factor,” she says. “We are finding it more and more difficult to place international architects because they don’t have the language skills.”

Candidates need to know more than just Putonghua though, as Richardson points out. “Those who are most in demand are the locals who have trained overseas, who have had experiences with international practices and are returning home to the mainland or Hong Kong,” says Richardson.

“Although graduates are of interest, the Chinese market is looking for broad-minded architects who have done two to 10 years in a practice overseas, and have come back with understanding, training and experience.”

Richardson also points out that while there are some strong candidates coming out of local schools, Hong Kong-educated students are slightly weaker than their international counterparts.

“I think that the brief set in universities here is a bit basic, and does not really get people thinking – it is a lot more challenging at Australian, British and American universities,” Richardson says.

P&T Group principal designer Remo Riva agrees, adding that creativity is somewhat disregarded in Hong Kong.

“At universities here, they teach that management skills are very important and creativity is more a by-product because it is not so needed or expected,” Riva says. “Even at the University of Hong Kong, the emphasis is not so much on teaching or on creativity, but about training for management skills.”

Creativity is also lacking in the field, where developers dominate and tough regulations restrict architects. “Basically, to be approved, the architecture has to work around and within the regulations and demands of developers, which reduces creativity. In other places, you look at buildings and you can see the developers are more open,” says Lui, of P&T Group.

He adds that developers are also snapping up talent, which means that local demand for architects remains strong.

Nevertheless, HKIA’s Lam says that the architectural scene is healthier than it has ever been, and fresh graduates can expect to start at a competitive monthly rate of HK$30,000 minimum, which is the highest that entry-level salaries have been in the sector.

Roberts of Aedas has the same positive viewpoint. “Hong Kong has been able to grow domestic talent through the universities and educational establishments here, while also attracting international talent, even as markets are quiet in places like New York and London,” he says.

“We have some of the best infrastructure, and investment is continuous with strong all-round optimism and energy levels. This is certainly the place to be right now,” Roberts adds.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 2012

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Industry Insider – A matter of trust at Withers

Priding itself on its difference from other companies, Withers Hong Kong is the only law firm in the city that places equal focus on wealth and asset preservation, as it does on wealth planning. It has also made significant additions to its Putonghua-speaking team. Managing partner Marcus Dearle explains that this is essential as many mainland Chinese clients wish only to do business in Mandarin.

What is the ‘Wealth Preservation Group’ and why was it set up? 
Formed in 2011, the work of Withers Hong Kong Wealth Preservation Group has attracted considerable interest due to the wealth planning industry’s recognition that family discord and divorce is a clear and present danger to family wealth.

It is of great interest to high-net-worth individuals, and this part of the world. In some high-net-worth cases, spouses may lose up to one-half of their wealth on divorce. But, there are steps that can be taken against this.

We provide advice on pre- and post-nuptial settlements and dynastic trust planning, to help restrict attacks against assets.

We also “stress test” existing documentation to check that all is in order – for example, examining if a will is properly drawn up and attested, to avoid hugely expensive and acrimonious scenarios.

How do the mainland Chinese regard wealth preservation? 
An increasing proportion of high-net-worth individuals come from mainland China. As with wealthy Hong Kong Chinese clients and expatriates, some have become concerned about the big cases that have recently hit the headlines.

Is Withers trying to expand the idea of wealth preservation into China?
We are trying to push wealth preservation in China, using our intermediary contacts and referrals from private banks.

How important is the mainland China market to Withers?
We have been attracting more mainland clients in recent years, which  is the same as other Hong Kong firms. Hong Kong is often the first jurisdiction that mainlanders look to; Singapore is another.

We will be increasing our footprint in Asia when we open our new Singapore office this year.

How many Putonghua-speaking staff do you have, and do you plan to increase this number?
We are certainly looking to hire more mainland Chinese lawyers in the future. Currently, we have six fluent Putonghua speakers in our team.
One of our recent successful mainland recruitment stories is Lian Fang, a registered foreign lawyer brought up on the mainland, who attended Nanjing University and Columbia University School of Law.

Any international law firm that doesn’t appreciate the importance of mainland China risks losing valuable business now and in the future.

Is there a different way of dealing with mainland clients?
I think Hong Kong Chinese clients, like expatriates, usually have a basic understanding, for example, of the concept of what a trust is.
Mainland clients have often become very successful over a short period of time and won’t have come across the concept of a trust – the idea of putting your money in the hands of other people.

This is very unfamiliar territory to them, so this is all the more reason why we need to have people in the office who are able to win their confidence, and explain the intricacies of the law to them.

A lot of mainland clients only want to deal with Putonghua-speaking lawyers.

What is the hiring outlook for Withers in 2012?
We are currently expanding our litigation and wealth planning arm, and are recruiting for our new Singapore office, with a major focus on personal tax and trust lawyers. There is a big demand for wealth planning from clients in this region.

A mainland China office is definitely a future target as well and our first mainland-bred lawyer, Lian Fang, will hopefully be the first of many.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, February 2012


A Cut Above – The HarbourView Place Presidential Suite

Taking luxury further once more, the leading Sun Hung Kai Properties have set the new benchmark for hedonism with this exquisite Presidential Suite, located in the stunning development of The HarbourView Place that just opened last year.

Located next to the third tallest building in the world and above one of the most luxurious shopping malls in Hong Kong, The HarbourView Place is worlds apart from your average serviced accommodation – and not just in terms of elevation.

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Fashionable Gastronomy – Armani/Aqua & Armani/Privé

As the fine-looking end product of a fruitful collaboration between luxury gods Armani and the arbiters of restaurant taste, the Aqua Restaurant Group, this restaurant was set to be a hit before construction work even began.

If the Greek legend King Midas was a corporation he would most likely be the Giorgio Armani Group, that ubiquitous oh-so-familiar fashion and luxury goods company that needs no introduction. Pretty much any project that gets the Armani seal of approval is bound to be a success in some way or another these days, and this even counts in areas outside of their domain – with their young yet successful collection of restaurants being a perfect case in point. As a fairly new venture for the company their thriving restaurants all boast the Armani signature lushness, with three gourmet restaurants at the Armani Hotel in Dubai plus a flourishing Armani and NOBU venture. They also recently and fittingly moved into bars, with three Armani/Privé’s located in Milan, Tokyo and Dubai, plus the recently-closed Armani Bar in Hong Kong, which was doing well even up to its close.

Not being ones to stand still, Armani have again taken things a step further and, following in the footsteps of the previously closed Armani Bar, they have just launched a new restaurant concept in the heart of the Hong Kong city centre as well – a massive 14,000 square-foot combined bar and restaurant called Armani/Aqua and Armani/Privé. The new innovative luxury restaurant concept is the result of a partnership between Armani and Aqua Restaurant Group, and their could be no better pairing, with the designer David Yeo behind Aqua being a man with flair and finesse, much like Giorgio Armani. In fact, as one of the main masterminds behind the ultra-stylish Hullett House, Aqua and the Michelin-starred Hutong, much of the phenomenal success of the Aqua Restaurant Group can be attributed to David Yeo alone.

Upon entering Armani/Aqua and Armani/Privé it is clear to see Armani made the right choice for a partner, as David Yeo’s design magic has been successfully conjured up again. Much like the atmospheric interiors of restaurants Aqua and Hutong, subdued romantic moody lighting runs throughout, complementing a dramatic design scheme that catches the eyes from the get-go. A fine polished Italian veneer greets one at the entrance and a plush red carpet leads one into the restaurant. Further in a the dynamic design continues where a long black and orange carpet ushers one into the restaurant, which stands out with arches on either side and mirrors behind – a surreal train station resembling space. Inside in the main dining one is greeted by a lava amber bar, which stands out with its light oriental motifs. Behind this more blood reds crop up in the dining area where they are complemented by cozy booths and an abundance of natural stone, wood, glass and steel.

The other main area of the restaurant is Armani/Privé which has more of a club vibe. As the fourth Armani/Privé in the world Armani wanted things to be a bit different and so the space is split into two main parts – an up-beat lounge and a 5,000 square-foot rooftop terrace which offers skyscraping city views reminiscent of a scene from Blade Runner. Inside chic sleek blacks are matched by lush velvet chairs, while outside wooden decking, rattan furnishing and candlelit containers create a romantic yet futuristic mood.

Of course, they do not disappoint in the food arena as well, with an extensive menu that boasts a wide selection of Italian and Japanese fare. While their Italian cuisine focuses on simple, traditional techniques incorporating influences from the different regions of Italy, their Japanese dishes are more experimental, with beautifully fresh ingredients matched by elegant and innovative presentations. This is one powerhouse that deserves to be visited at least once.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, November 2010

Dramatic Designs – The Great Hill

Idiosyncratic decorations and distinctive materials give this home an aura of prestigiousness.

This is another luxurious design project from the high-class realms of The Great Hill residential complex in Sha Tin. At 4,380 square-feet, the entire stand-alone house is seeped in distinction, with slick licks of style emerging throughout. The interior design was overseen by Jason Lee of J’s Design House and he successfully merged interesting materials, innovative light fixtures, neoclassical chic and plenty of natural touches to give this home the refined appeal it now has.

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