LAN Kwai Fong is putting on a new face for 1996. Greeting the second half of the decade with a revitalised open-front policy, more restaurants, old and new, will be spilling their cartes and their customers on to the streets. The idea for this makeover, says Allan Zeman, the mover behind much of Lan Kwai Fong, is to create fusion between indoors and outdoors, and promote a new and vibrant interaction between restaurants and the people who frequent them. The transformation is expected to be complete by March. Action central will be in the triangle between La Dolce Vita, a re-styled California and the new Cafe des Artistes, which is moving into the space recently vacated by the struggling Cafe de Paris. 'That whole corner will suddenly come to life,' Zeman predicts. Cafe des Artistes will be a brasserie influenced by the lighter side of French cooking. The menu will be heavy on fish and vegetables and light on heavy sauces. The decor and the ambience will be country chic. 'It's all very Provence,' Zeman says. Further up the street, Italian trattoria Tutto Sapori is scheduled to open after Chinese New Year in the two-storey site that was to have been Japanese restaurant Tokio Rose. Managed by Elite Concepts, which celebrated the grand opening of Tokio Joe last week, Tutto Sapori will be casual and open to the street, too. The emphasis will be on pizza, with some pasta and salads. 'It will be like Mezzaluna in New York,' says Zeman, chairman of California International Investments Ltd. But restaurants aren't grabbing all the make-over dollars. Zeman also intends to revamp the facade of the California Entertainment Building. Lan Kwai Fong's latest transformation comes at a peak time. 'The place has been crazy this year,' Zeman says. 'It's the busiest it's ever been.' But change is nothing new to the area. 'There are always things going on. At least once a year, there are changes of concepts, redoes, refits, the whole thing seems to continuously go through an evolution,' Zeman says. Spaces most people didn't even know existed are being pressed into service in the new year to round out the cuisines on offer. A Chinese restaurant concept is being pulled together for the basement space beneath California. Details are under wraps, but all is expected to be revealed before Christmas. In another change, Graffiti has been retired to make way for a steak house, Dillinger's, by the same group which brought Sherman's to the area. The two-storey Dillinger's, which will have a glass front, should be open at the end of December. But the decade-old Graffiti may not disappear altogether. Perhaps feeling a touch nostalgic, the group's chief, Sherman Tang, is said to be considering putting a New Graffiti into the third-floor space above Dillnger's. While new places make their debut, at least one established operation, Japanese restaurant Hanagushi, has expansion plans. The Jazz Club's management is set to expand as well, with more of the California group influence. 'We will be giving it a facelift and bringing it up to the new standard of the street,' Zeman says. With the enormous costs of running a restaurant and the current dodgy economic climate, Zeman says much thought is given to what crosses the street. But there's also a spontaneity about the changes which give the area a lively edge. 'The whole place remains very Left Bank or Soho,' he says. And it's not only the decor that's doing it. Cutting-edge food concepts are a major draw, nudging out dated operations, dull ideas and businesses that aren't happening enough. 'The whole area has become much more restaurant focused,' Zeman says. This is combined with a carefully implemented artistic element, spearheaded by the recent opening of the Lan Kwai Fong Gallery above Japanese restaurant Yorohachi. The emphasis on art has been carefully considered. 'I thought, 'Where do we go from here?' I wondered what the next step was,' Zeman says. Introducing fashion was a possibility, but art seemed more logical. The glass-fronted gallery space was empty for almost a year while Zeman pondered the options. 'I wanted the right concept,' he says. As it stands, the gallery interacts with people in the street. 'It's the reason Cafe des Artistes got its name,' Zeman says. 'People will be looking over at the gallery.' Space permitting, more galleries are on the way. While the latest transformation, perhaps like those before it, may be driven by short attention spans and fickle tastes, there's a sound Hong Kong business logic about the necessity for constant change. 'If the old places don't upgrade and change with the times,' Zeman says, 'they will not survive.'