Point of view
Hong Kong's fantastic vistas are appreciated by diners who enjoy the high life, writes Janice Leung
With its spectacular skyline and collection of almost 300 islands, Hong Kong has no shortage of marvellous views and restaurants that enjoy them. Be it up high on The Peak or perched right on the edge of Victoria Harbour, a victual with a vista is always in high demand.
"The view is very important - it is one of our unique selling propositions," says Kellie Ng, operations manager at Cafe Deco, which has sat in the same prime position on The Peak for 18 years. "We are very aware that we are a destination restaurant. The view always comes up during a conversation."
Ali Ahmadi, director of restaurants at The Upper House, agrees that a view is always a big topic of conversation. If running out of things to talk about with your dining companions is a concern, a location with stunning scenery could be the saving grace, as it has the same effect as having another guest at the table, he says.
Like another dining companion, the panoramic view acts as a springboard for conversation, calming nerves and breaking the ice for those on a first date or at a business dinner. "People always seem to be enchanted when they look out over Victoria Harbour and onto Kowloon," Ahmadi says.
Beyond the obvious food and service, restaurateurs believe that an enchanting ambience makes a dining experience unique. "The view [from Cafe Deco], I believe, has different meanings for different people; some people see it as nostalgic aspiration, inspiration or romantic, but never dull, so it definitely enhances one's dining experience," Ng says.
Up until a few years ago, Chinese restaurants never thought of capitalising on the view, or perhaps they felt the focus should be on the food and not what was happening outside.
Nevertheless, Nanhai No. 1 is one of the few Chinese restaurants in the city to have a breathtaking view and be able to cater for larger groups, making it a popular choice for group or business dinners. Sitting in the dining room, one can look across the tip of Kowloon over to Hong Kong Island, while feasting on Cantonese dishes. Beyond the dining area is an outdoor terrace where, although there are neither seats nor service, guests are welcome to bring a drink.
Alfresco dining on terraces is a nascent phenomenon in Hong Kong and rather rare. For DiVino Group, outdoor dining spaces have often been a core factor. The group has five Italian restaurants, four of which offer alfresco seating.
Corporate chef and co-founder Michele Senigaglia says: "We want to stay true to our roots and to the Italian philosophy. This is part of European culture. Most expats enjoy a glass of wine or eating outside."
At Spasso, one of the group's restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui, the expansive terrace right on the edge of the harbour is Senigaglia's idea of perfection: "I fell in love and asked my partner to sign [the rental agreement on] the place immediately."
A cool ocean breeze at sunset will certainly entice many, but Hong Kong is prone to hot, humid summers and adverse weather such as heavy rain and typhoons. Senigaglia says Spasso has extra staff to take care of the terrace but "some days we cannot serve anything there and we lose lots of guests and money".
The group's newest venture, DiVino Patio in Wan Chai, is more fortunate in that the alfresco dining area is well-sheltered and service can continue outdoors, whatever the weather.
Of course, many people simply prefer to sit indoors, cooled by air conditioning and protected from the elements while enjoying similarly unobstructed vistas behind panes of glass.
The Upper House's restaurant, Café Gray Deluxe, is nestled on the slopes of Victoria Peak. A "wall of windows" surrounds the restaurant, giving guests a 360-degree view of the harbour and round to The Peak, Ahmadi says.
Another way of experiencing an all-round view is at View 62, the revolving restaurant on top of the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai. The panorama can be taken in without even having to turn one's head. Previously a buffet restaurant, its reopening this year has revived its reputation as a destination for locals and visitors alike. Paired with a menu designed by Paco Roncero, a disciple of Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame, both the aspect and the cuisine provide a high wow factor.
While a view is important, it's more about what you do with the view and how you use it to add to the diner's experience, Ahmadi says. At Café Gray Deluxe, tables run along all available window space, but "the shape of the building means that if you're seated in the dining room, you can look though into the bar and into the city", so nearly all tables have a view, even if they are not right beside the windows.
At Cafe Deco, Ng says that while tables are arranged to maximise diners' views, and a recent renovation ensures the three private rooms also enjoy them, the restaurant never loses sight of the fact that the most important view is of one's fellow diners.
Be it seamless glass panes, table placement, architecture, rotational mechanics, air conditioning or a natural breeze, restaurateurs just want diners to have a memorable dining experience. When it comes to the panorama itself, however, as Ahmadi says, "the city does most of the work for us".