Down to a fine art: Amigo
Spanish decor and French fare a timeless recipe, says Janice Leung Hayes
Amigo might be one of Hong Kong's oldest Western fine diners, but that's not why it's filled with antiques. The two-storey restaurant is built in the style of a Spanish colonial revival home, with red terracotta roof tiles and white stucco walls, arched windows and wrought iron. Inside, it looks like a medieval chateau, with an antique suit of armour, timber ceiling beams, and originals by 19th century artist Russell Flint. For the restaurant's nonagenarian owner Yeung Wing-chung it is as much gallery as eatery.
Derek Kung, Amigo's manager, joined the restaurant in 1968, one year after it opened on Percival Street in Causeway Bay. They moved to Happy Valley in 1976, for a reason that is all too familiar to Hong Kong restaurateurs: "The landlord increased our rent," Kung says. Yeung then bought the current Wong Nai Chung Road location and built the restaurant that devotes more space to its kitchen, wine cellar and bathrooms than possibly any other in Hong Kong.
"You'll never see the stalls when you first go in, as the boss says they're unsightly," says Kung. "He has been to a lot of fine dining restaurants, but says their washrooms always let him down, so he decided to make his perfect. He tells us to treat customers like princes and princesses."
Yeung is from a family of rice merchants and toy manufacturers, and was a keen world traveller. He was particularly enamoured with Europe, and wanted to bring back the sights he saw. Kung says: "He even shipped lamps and candle holders back to Hong Kong. We clean and polish these every day, but he doesn't like the lamps too clean. He says a bit of dust adds to the ambience."
Despite the Spanish architecture and name (chosen because it's easy to pronounce), the menu is French, and is largely unchanged since the restaurant's inception. Their signature dishes, such as filet de sole en papillote, scallops Provençal, and crêpes Suzette remain popular.
But the source of ingredients has changed over the years. A menu from the 1970s lists sole from Macau; nowadays they get it from France. "Even if we took something off the menu, a regular would come in and ask for it all the same," says Kung, who adds that in the early days, families made up most of the customers. "Nowadays, there are more young people coming on dates," he says. "They tell us that they found us on Openrice."
Amigo, Amigo Mansion, 79A Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2577 2202. Open: noon-3pm, 6pm-midnight