Tag Archives: tourism

Wonderfully Unconventional – W Retreat Koh Samui

The overuse of words beginning with the letter ‘W’ employed at W Hotels around the world gets kind of galling after a while, but this is one annoyance we are willing to forgo at the W Retreat Koh Samui, which really is, by definition and design, whimsical and wonderful (*shudder*). At the entrance one is greeted by interactive digital floor projections and a large architectural recreation of a lily pond complete with glowing psychedelic floating globules and sunken seats that look like over-sized lotus flowers. From here on in a whole world of chicness awaits where quirky design features abound and create a serious sense of place. In the 75 colourful glass-walled pool villas red marshmallow-resembling light fixtures, modish asymmetrical ceiling fans and other playful eye candy combine to make an impact on the senses, whilst around the resort a number of alluring food and beverage outlets beckon and entice. These include the open kitchens, dramatic glass ceilings and vivid bright blue tones of The Kitchen Table; the raw wood, concrete, and glass elements of the beach-side Sip Bar and Namu Japanese restaurant; plus a healthful juice bar connected to the Away Spa (which boasts Asia’s first Thai/Mexican steam treatment facility). Being a W property, the exceptional design is matched by an exceptional location, which features two separate beaches that converge at a sandy tip. While villas scatter a hillside on one side off from the beachfront, there is a flat plain that stretches out on the other side, overlooked by the various levels of public areas that impressively cascade down the hillside. It is all just a day’s work for this hotel group of cool unconventionality.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, May 2010

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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

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

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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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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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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