When a towering ambition comes full circle
Peter Klimenko first visited Revolving 66 - the restaurant atop the Hopewell Centre - in 1989, the year he arrived in Hong Kong. 'It was the talk of the town. The Hopewell was the tallest building around at the time,' he says.
The 360-degree rotating platform exploited the venue's sky-high location: taking in Wan Chai's mountainous backdrop, a crowded Victoria Harbour and the canyons of tower blocks sandwiched between.
But while the ever-changing views impressed diners, the mediocre menu of tired dishes did not. 'It was bad,' Klimenko recalls. 'The international menu was a bit of everything ... and nothing.'
The Los Angeles native, who made Hong Kong his home, returned to Revolving 66 a handful of times, but only to show visiting friends the sweeping panorama.
As countless restaurants with comparable views and much better food joined the dining scene, the revolving room was left behind, never to recapture its late 1980s buzz. But all that is set to change with its latest incarnation as View 62, which opens next month when two-Michelin-star chef Paco Roncero will be at the helm to present a Spanish-inspired European menu.
The dated and dark interior has been replaced by an altogether brighter space bristling with high design. The ceiling, for instance, has a cloud-like textural effect accomplished by suspending 50,000 pencil-like fixtures.
Roncero - one one of the most famous disciples of celebrity chef Ferran Adria of the departed El Bulli in Spain - doesn't like to label his cooking as molecular gastronomy (he prefers the term 'modern cuisine'). However, the dishes will carry familiar accents of the genre: liquid nitrogen, emulsifiers, deconstructions and foams will all play some part.
The 42-year-old chef earned two Michelin stars at La Terraza del Casino restaurant in Madrid and is considered one of the culinary world's most innovative craftsmen.
Non-typical tapas will figure, such as la tortilla del siglo 21 (or 21st-century Spanish omelette), a many-layered construction served in petite martini glasses with caramelised onion at the bottom, potato foam at the top and a filling of zabaglione. Another is a liquid Iberian ham-filled croquetta, served on a spoon.
Spanish olive oil, the most important ingredient in his kitchen, features heavily. It's the pride of his country and what he calls 'the most important fruit in Spain'. Roncero is obsessed with the extra virgin nectar, producing unexpected textures including an olive oil 'butter' achieved through a freezing technique. 'We freeze the oil, then defrost it very slowly. At a particular moment, we mix it,' says Roncero. Inserted into a toothpaste-tube like dispenser, the paste is then ready to spread on bread or toast.
The revolving restaurant concept first arrived in Hong Kong in the '60s when Juno opened on Nathan Road in Mong Kok with its wraparound views. Cassam Gooljarry, a prominent Hong Kong gourmet, remembers Juno as a real novelty and 'the only place with such stunning views, because in those days you couldn't build skyscrapers [in Kowloon] on account of Kai Tak airport'.
Then came La Ronda in 1973, yielding unobstructed views from the top of the now-defunct Furama Hotel in Central, which remained a popular spot until the hotel's closure in 2001.
'We would take every guest who had just arrived in Hong Kong there. It was close to the harbour at that time, and there weren't a lot of tall buildings constructed in 1972, so you could actually see the planes take off and land at Kai Tak,' recalls Gooljarry.
Sprawling buffets were the order of the day and there was a good grill and carvery, seafood and salad counters, numerous Asian and Western favourites and a groaning dessert table. 'La Ronda did everything correctly in terms of food and service. Everything,' he says. 'It was a showpiece for Hong Kong tourism.'
But even the best revolving restaurant had its drawbacks, chief among them the occasional bout of motion sickness. La Ronda's buffet format didn't help. Diners would leave their seats to replenish their plates at the buffet and became lost or disorientated when they tried to return to their tables.
Measures have been taken at View 62 to help prevent such predicaments. While R66 turned at 66-minutes a revolution, the new venue has extended it to 68-minutes, the slowest pace the platform can move at. And the confusion factor of finding your seat shouldn't be a problem either, says Roncero. 'There will be no buffet. All dishes will be served at your table.'
The ambitious Spaniard insists the elaborate menu will be adapted to suit local tastes. 'We want to learn from the culture here,' he says.
And what of the prospects of View 66 earning a Michelin star in the future? 'It's a challenge that I will always set myself, because to me it's very important to export our cuisine to other countries.'