Designer Fiona Kotur shares a lunch at Hong Kong’s first Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant DJAPA
Founder of Kotur, whose bold clutches and evening bags are often seen in the hands of celebrities, talks about her love of food
Fiona Kotur is a ball of energy. With her sunny disposition and elegant New York style, she has a way of lighting up the room - or, in our case, a two-storey restaurant.
We are at DJAPA, Hong Kong’s first Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant, the latest venture to open under the Le Comptoir umbrella, which has a string of popular eateries including Bibo, The Ocean and TRi.
The restaurant could also double as a boutique art gallery, with its sizable collection of artworks by renowned artists. Highlights include a giant lion sculpture by Takashi Murakami and a manga-inspired painting by Masakatsu Iwamoto on the first floor. When you climb up the colourful set of stairs - hand painted by the staff - you’re immediately greeted by a giant sparkly pumpkin structure by Yayoi Kusama. Turn around and you’re face-to-face with a sexy robot by Hajime Sorayama. Even the walls have been turned into giant canvases as prolific Brazilian artists Toz and duo Bicicleta sem Freio, all known for their graphic, colourful and avant-garde style, took over to leave their mark.
Kotur, the founder and creative force behind her fashion label of the same name, is blown away.
“I love the use of colour,” she says, as we tour the restaurant together. “It’s very eclectic.”
Kotur’s words aren’t empty. With a background in art, design, and fashion - she cut her teeth at major fashion houses, including Ralph Lauren and Gap, before helping her friend Tory Burch set up her own fashion company - she has a sophisticated, practised eye that can immediately detect what does or does not work.
It’s what led to her brand’s success and helped it win fans from around the world. Kotur focuses on clutches and dainty evening bags, proving that size doesn’t matter. Her designs are bold, feminine yet whimsical. And its unique aesthetic complemented by Kotur’s signature savoir-faire has made it a popular choice for fashionistas and celebrities alike.
A quick glance at her Instagram page shows dozens of Hollywood starlets posing on the red carpet carrying her ultra-cool clutches. Continue to scroll down and you’ll see post after post from the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Kate Bosworth, Dakota Johnson, Carmen Electra, Emma Roberts, Natasha Lyonne - the list goes on.
When we sit down for lunch after our tour, we’re presented with a dilemma - we can’t decide what to order.
For lunch, DJAPA offers a specially curated selection of four bento boxes: the espetos box with three different types of skewer, edamame salad and baby potatoes; the carne box with beef and pork feijoada (traditional Brazilian-style stew) and perilla and golden berry salad; the camarao box with bobo de shrimp, snapper ceviche and edamame salad; and the vegetarian bento with pineapple cabbage salad, sweet potatoes yuzu, and panko mushrooms.
Each bento also comes with onigiri lightly dusted with either coconut flakes or stuffed with seafood and topped with seaweed flakes.
But because we can’t choose, we decide to do the only sensible thing and order all four options to share. We also order a couple of cocktails - fancifully named Blushing Geisha and Princess Mononoke - at the recommendation of a trusted source.
“I love trying a lot of different things,” Kotur says. “I love bento boxes, because [they have] a little bit of everything.”
She jokes that she could live in a cocktail party, because she loves sampling hors d’oeuvres.
Even so, she still has her favourite go-to cuisines. Japanese is one of them, closely followed by home-made Chinese and Italian. She rattles off her favourite restaurants in quick succession: Wagyu Kaiseki: “It’s really good, but I can’t eat for two days before and after that”; Sushi Sase: “It’s very fresh”; Gaia Ristorante: “It’s sort of old school but I like it”; Xiao Nan Guo,:“[It’s] our [family’s] favourite Chinese xiaolongbao restaurant that we go to in Central”; Nadaman; and Carbone.
Kotur’s fondness for trying out different things extends to her business, where she is busy working to produce her first 3D-printed bag, expanding her World of Kotur section to curate a more personal experience for her customers online, and celebrating having just received her patent for the design of her GetSmartBag.
As an entrepreneur, successful business woman and mother to four boys, Kotur has a knack for making it look easy. The secret, she insists, is keeping focused.
“I think you just have to be really focused. And even then, things fall through the cracks and get messed up,” she says. “Things are unpredictable and they change all the time as well ... you always need a little bit of a Plan B to juggle things around.”
The other thing is to understand your priorities, which for her, she says, are her four boys.
“As children grow up, their demands are different. It used to be that when I only had small children, I could tuck them into bed at 7pm or 8pm and I could work all night. But as they get older, they stay up later, so I [have] had to change my schedule around,” she says. “[It’s] because I want to spend time with my older ones and at night is when they talk to you and they [may] need support with homework or help studying for a test or anything like that.”
When our food is brought by a waiter expertly balancing all four bento boxes at once, Kotur is visibly excited. She wastes no time splitting each dish evenly before expertly scooping and serving them.
Kotur signals her approval as she takes bite after bite, moving from one dish to the next.
“I love it,” she states.
“I like flavours basically. It’s more about how it all works together,” she explains, gesturing to the eclectic mix of foods laid out on her bento. “I love the smokiness of the skewers, the rice is also very flavourful - I like the combination of the food.”
We end lunch on a sweet note - cocoa tapioca with yuzu jam and a selection of chocolate, one of Kotur’s biggest weaknesses.
“I find a lot of happiness in chocolate,” she says. “When I’m elated, I crave chocolate. When I’m sad, I crave chocolate.”
“Anything that goes on the plate goes into the mouth - that’s the problem,” she quips with a laugh, as she unapologetically takes another bite.