Afro bar inspired by Paris dance clubs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2005, 12:00am

Hong Kong's first Afro-Caribbean bar opened last week, the realisation of more than a year's hard work for a 44-year-old mother of three.

Amina Lamarre-Delafoulhouse, who was born in Cameroon, took centre stage at Nzingha Lounge, a 1,800 sq ft basement venue in Peel Street, Central, on Friday. Featuring authentic music and food, and an interior design comprised of wooden furniture, tribal carvings and earth colours inspired by the sub-Sahara region. The venue is intended to showcase African culture in a way never seen before locally.

'It is important for me to make people feel the authentic atmosphere as if they were flying to Mali, the Ivory Coast or even the French West Indies,' says Ms Lamarre-Delafoulhouse, principal owner of the business. 'I want people to feel at home, completely relaxed.'

Working with one financial partner, she has invested her own savings in the venture with the combined outlay well over $500,000. She plans to offer a weekly menu featuring authentic Senegalese and Cameroonian dishes. A full-course menu will be offered regularly on Sundays by reservation only. The cooking will be done by a Cameroonian chief who has catered for African restaurants in New York and Paris. Also on hand is a DJ system, 24-hour liquor licence and a flexible closing policy that will take its nods from customer demand and the dance spirit.

Ms Lamarre-Delafoulhouse says her inspiration came from the African dance clubs found in the Eighth District of Paris - an area known for its expat clientele and African jazz and reggae music. About the closest thing to have existed in the Pearl River Delta, she says, is the old Macanese club Tribu which has since closed down.

'It was the only place where we could find African music and be around our culture,' she says, of the drinks bar which closed down about five years ago.

Ms Lamarre-Delafoulhouse lives part-time in Paris, but maintains personal and business connections to Hong Kong, where she has operated her own event management company Yantasha Village for the past four years. In addition to English and French, she speaks Bamun, an African language with roots in Sudan.

'We are not trying to make it [the new lounge] towards the taste of Asian people, this is wrong,' she says. 'Most important for me is to promote the African culture here in Asia. The money will come later.'

Her previous experience catering for local events taught her there is a demand for African cuisine among expats and Chinese. She used her experience in co-ordinating events as a form of market research. 'All these places I have been were cooking real African food, and the result was a lot of people liked it.'

She says early attempts to raise money were stymied when potential investors baulked at the idea of backing a venue with an untested concept. Instead of backing down, she remained committed - a decision that has led to an increase in her own personal financial risk.

She says the venture carries about the same amount of risk as opening any new business.

Importantly, she chose the up-and-coming Peel Street for its ambience, rejecting the idea of Wan Chai as too hard for the image she was looking to project.

'Because it's away from the crowds, if someone wants to enjoy different food and environment, they will come.'