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The stars turning their talents to restaurants

Celebrities use their fame to attract customers to their restaurants but only the quality keeps them coming back, writes Keira Lu Huang

 

SOMETIMES BEING an A-list celebrity isn’t enough. Stars have interests beyond what made them famous and that star status opens doors to new challenges in the business world.

Edison Chen Koon-hei started fashion label Clot and clothing shop Juice, and Jay Chou Jie-lun opened an antique shop. Several have restaurants – but is it the food or fame that attracts customers?

 

Zurriola, Kyo-Shun and Tapagria
The mastermind behind Zurriola, a month-old fine-dining Spanish restaurant, is Hong Kong superstar Carina Lau Kar-ling. She recently opened three restaurants together at The One shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui – Zurriola, the more casual Spanish restaurant, Tapagria, and the high-end Japanese, Kyo-Shun.

Although Lau is known as an actress, she’s also a veteran in the food and beverage business, having opened the popular Muse nightclub in Shanghai.

“I always enjoy eating good food,” the actress says. “As I’ve had quite a success with Muse in Shanghai, I am confident to expand my business to other areas.” The 64-seat Zurriola, on the 18th floor, commands a breathtaking view of Victoria Harbour.

Zurriola originates in Tokyo. After Lau went to the restaurant several years ago, she decided to bring it to Hong Kong. It took a while to find the right space. To prepare for the grand opening, Lau and her business partner went to Japan and Spain several times to search for ingredients, wine and decorations. She helped with the interior design and bought two matador paintings in Barcelona.

Lau knows that a restaurant depends on the quality of food. She says, “[My name can attract customers] in the beginning, but the attention will be going to our chefs, our cuisines and the restaurants’ interiors.”

Of course, she can’t deny that, for some, her name will be the initial draw.

First-time customer Amanda Lee says, “I went to her club in Shanghai. I know she is good at this, so I want to check her new place out. I would recommend this place to my friends – it has a very nice view and nice people.”

On the same floor are Tapagria, which on weekends transforms into a late-night dance lounge with DJs after 10.30pm, and Kyo-Shun, which serves imperial cuisine from Kyoto.

“I hope to bring in three different concepts, so people can go dining and clubbing in a one-stop, no hassle experience,” says Lau. The actress says that managing restaurants and being an artist need similar skills. As with studying a new role, managing a restaurant requires advance planning and a lot of work. It has become her secondary career, but for now, she has no plans to retire from acting to run restaurants.

 

Zurriola, Tapagria and Kyo-Shun, Level 18, The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
Zurriola, tel: 2253 7111, Tapagria, tel: 2147 0111, Kyo-Shun, tel: 2426 6111

 

Monster Sushi
Monster Sushi is affiliated with actor Daniel Wu Yin-cho and managed by the Sushi One group. As with Zurriola, there isn’t any sign that indicates Wu’s association with the restaurant.

“I thought I could see him, at least his photos, you know,” says Daisy Liu, a Wu fan having lunch with friends. “Of course, I am a little disappointed.”

According to marketing supervisor Katrina Yu, Wu is a long-time friend of Sushi One’s owner, director Tony Chan Kwok-fai, who invited him to invest in Monster Sushi. It was Wu’s idea to put “monster” in the name.

“He has always been interested in Japanese cartoons, especially those little monsters,” says Yu. “So when he planned to open a sushi restaurant, he thought about those characters.”

He also designed an item called “monster sushi” – a fist-sized dish which uses scallop as the base and has four types of raw fish on top.

Although Wu fans will be disappointed that his imprint isn’t more obvious, for regular customers, Monster Sushi is great value. Queuing for a seat is unavoidable at lunchtimes and weekends.

 

Monster Sushi, shop 302, 3/F iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 21111116; shop 13, 12/F Langham Place, 8 Argyle Road, Mong Kok, tel: 21111118

 

Baby Café
Next to Monster Sushi is Angelababy’s Baby Café. You can’t miss it. Why?

Because of the name and the huge portrait of the model/actress dressed as a French maid at the entrance.

Ironically enough, not everyone dining there knew who she was.

Customer Roy Fung says: “I didn’t know and didn’t care that she opened this place. The coffee is very good, and it’s quiet here for reading.”

Fribz Narciso and Princess Narciso chose Baby Café to enjoy an afternoon high-tea set because the portrait attracted Princess. “She looks like Audrey Hepburn. And there are photos of her everywhere. Who is she?” As with Wu’s Monster Sushi, Baby Café is managed by the Sushi One group. The two restaurants are in the same shopping centres in Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. Katrina Yu jokes, “It’s a great marketing strategy.

Monster Sushi attracts female fans and Baby Café gets male fans.” And the food? Tiffany Yim, holding her 18th birthday party at Baby Café, says she didn’t come for the star association.

“People here are really not attracted by her. I came because the food and service are good and the price is reasonable.” Yim’s friend, Katie Choy, agrees. “Even if it were not owned by her, I would still come,” she says.

 

Baby Café, shop 301, 3/F iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3583 4333; shop 30, 11/F Langham Place, 8 Argyle Street, Mong Kok, tel: 21111169; shop 3223 and 3225, 3/F Tuen Mun Town Plaza Phase 1, 3 Tuen Lung Street, Tuen Mun, tel: 2110 0244

 

Lin Kee Hotpot
This 18-year-old restaurant is proof that celebrity backers can do the business as long as the food is good enough. The list of investors includes actresses Shu Qi and Kristy Yeung Kung-yu, director Wong Jing and producer Manfred Wong Man-chun. The restaurant is decorated with film posters.

“Of course, our publicity focuses on the fact that a bunch of superstars own this restaurant,” says Spencer Chan Kit, managing director at Lin Kee, who worked on the 1996 Hong Kong film, Young and Dangerous. “But it doesn’t mean the restaurant needs to depend on their fame to attract customers.”

Indeed, 48-year-old David Chan and his wife have been coming to Lin Kee since it first opened, attracted more by the spicy hotpot than the fact that it was owned by celebrities.

“I didn’t know the restaurant was opened by those stars,” says Chan. “When I first came here, I didn’t know why there were so many actors, actresses and directors moving around.”

Many of his friends went to Lin Kee to get a glimpse of those famous faces, but, to Chan, the taste of the hotpot is the only motivation.

Lin Kee originated in Taiwan, and Spencer Chan Kit says the spiciness had to be toned down for local tastes. The soup, which has Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies and pig’s blood, is now mild enough to be accepted by customers. The celebrity attraction might initially draw customers, but the food is what keeps them coming back, says David Chan. “Having a celebrity to associate with is a trick that will only work once. The taste will tell people what you really are,” he says.

 

Lin Kee, Basement, Beverley Commercial Centre, 87-105 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2722 8828

 

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