Book celebrates the city's best-designed restaurants

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 12:36am

Many of us have fallen victim to the old vanishing trick that Hong Kong developers love to play: turning your favourite antique teahouse into a gaudy serviced apartment block.

Nor are dollar-laden makeovers in the hospitality industry immune to the impatience of owners, landlords or wannabe tycoons. Give a swanky bar and restaurant a couple of years and then, just as it has developed a loyal clientele, rip it all out overnight for the sake of trying to be different.

A similar fate may have befallen brasserie French Window, for example, the Gallic classic that formerly surveyed Victoria Harbour from IFC Mall in Central. Vertical gardens along the inside of the 50-metre tunnel entrance set a romantic tone heightened by - appropriately - French windows in textured glass, floor lanterns and wooden panelling.

The work of Hong Kong design company AB Concept, the restaurant, billed as a celebration of French culture, opened in 2009 - and has already been superseded by another eatery-industry player.

But French Window lives on, if only in the pages of hefty volume that is Restaurant & Bar Design, released this year by art and design publisher Taschen.

The book is a celebration of venues nominated for the annual, global Restaurant & Bar Design Awards from 2010 (when French Window made the shortlist) to 2013.

Awards founder and Italian restaurateur Marco Rebora explains in his foreword: "The Restaurant & Bar Design Awards are the only ones in the world dedicated to the design of food and beverage spaces … from ships to airports, museums to burger vans, Michelin-star establishments to pop-ups.

"Food and beverage spaces [are] where people come together and creatives meet … Our aim is to inspire by creating amazing interactive experiences." So much for just ordering from the daily specials.

Although French Window may be off the menu, it is wistfully remembered by AB Concept, who told the Post: "It was an elegant venue that spoke to French culture and achieved a balance in the design between nostalgia and modernity … It remains one of our proudest F&B projects."

Still taking orders is Aix Arôme Café at the OCT Harbour Theme Park in Shenzhen. Designed by Hong Kong's One Plus Partnership, and a contender for the 2013 awards, Aix Arôme Café, according to its official "design concept", is postmodern in spirit and inspired by the ocean.

"Everything in the cafe has a link with Mother Earth," says One Plus. The recipient of many design awards, the cafe enjoys deeper natural connections for those who wish to examine them.

Its extraordinary, egg-shaped central structure, while harking back to all creation, also suggests a coffee bean, "triggering the audience's visual imagination and taste buds". Not bad for a cashier station and coffee-supply point.

Between the bright "sky" of the ceiling and the darker "waters" of the floor, those customers "sipping coffee here unconsciously become a living organic group, just like on a big coral reef". One wonders exactly what they put in the coffee.

Also earning its Taschen stripes is Ammo, Joyce Wang's restaurant at the Asia Society's headquarters in Admiralty, and Tom Dixon's "hyper-real grotto of irregular lines and luxurious materials" (says the book) that is Tazmania Ballroom in Central.

Singular spots in which to eat and drink seem to have shorter lifespans in this part of the world than elsewhere. Here's hoping most featured in Restaurant & Bar Design survive in reality and not just in photographs. Restaurant & Bar Design (Taschen; HK$595)