13 May 2016
Hanging out in Hong Kong
Multi-functional spaces, which not only offer food and drink but other attractions too, ranging from listening posts to educational workshops, are cropping up across the city.
Among them is Butcher & Baker Café in Hong Kong Island’s Kennedy Town. Launched in November, the space provides one of the most eclectic offerings, with a butcher’s shop, florist, bakery, restaurant and children’s play area under one roof.
“Many local young families who have returned to Hong Kong from Canada and the United States have experienced this style of restaurants overseas and understand the concept,” says Wayne Parfitt, founder of food and beverage group Castelo Concepts, which set up the café.
Another multi-functional venue is set to open next month. Bali export Potatohead, featuring a restaurant, retail, listening space and coffee shop, will launch in Sai Ying Pun on Hong Kong Island.
The Edutainment Experience
Learning while being entertained is another take on the concept employed by places such as premium dining club The First Floor. Located in Central, the venue provides food demos, workshops and tastings. Since opening last November, it has hosted events with partners from the worlds of artisanal cheese, sherry wines and Hong Kong craft beers, while cooking demos have included blue cheese ice cream, stout macaroons and ricotta cheese. Its current edutainment offering focuses on umeshu (Japanese plum wine).
“We have created a dining club where guests can come in for lunch and dinner, enjoy cigars at our private cigar room, sign up for different events and visit our retail area, which stocks gourmet products such as traditional balsamic vinegars, African chili sauces, Spanish olive oils and truffle-related products,” says John Park, Head of lifestyle group Experience Creation, which operates the venue.
Mr Park believes that while other restaurants also offer some form of edutainment dining, the level of participation and interaction varies. “A highly knowledgeable and entertaining sommelier, for example, could be interacting with customers and sharing interesting knowledge on specific wines and this can be considered ‘edutainment,’ as could menus designed to show different cuts of meat. I think consumers will increasingly begin to expect these kinds of dining experiences from restaurants in addition to great food and service,” he says.
Building on a Brand
Many fashion brands have created dining concepts using their name, with the agnes b chain of cafes and restaurants and the Armani Bar plus nightclub Armani Prive being two of the most successful examples. Luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz has gone a step further by creating lifestyle concept Mercedes me, a showroom/restaurant and event venue with F1 race screenings, art exhibitions and fashion shows among its offerings.
The first Mercedes me opened last September in Hong Kong with a string of high-profile events. Last month, the German Rugby Sevens team visited the store and met with local fans. The kitchen and bar has also proved a big hit with local foodies, with eye-catching items such as its cheesecake Martini and signature dish Spanish Octopus with puffed pork skin, potato foam and smoked paprika.
“The aim of the Mercedes me store is to not only address Mercedes-Benz owners, but also act as a platform where anyone can come in and experience the world of Mercedes-Benz,” says Peter Larko, Head of Marketing Communications & Public Relations.
Mr Larko believes more brands across several industries will complement their traditional retail formats with lifestyle concepts that are especially welcome in world cities like Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is a buzzing urban metropolis and a leader in trends for much of Asia. It is also a gateway to China. Hong Kong is in a very special category of world cities next to London and New York, so I think this is the perfect place for a Mercedes me store.”
A Homely Experience
Providing a “third space” away from work and home is the idea behind MyHouse. Billed as a wine, music and dining venue with a focus on natural produce, MyHouse was launched last October in Wan Chai by sommelier/curator Alison Christ, who refers to her customers as “house guests.”
“Before I opened MyHouse, I spent a lot of time sitting in lots of cafes and restaurants. I noticed there were lots of creative types there, people perhaps who couldn’t afford office space, and I thought I could attract them by giving them a place to drink coffee and listen to vinyl.”
With more than 1,000 records to choose from and seven turntables to play them on, MyHouse is also attracting music aficionados. “Our resident DJs Arun R and Romi Behl only use vinyl, too – it was a bit of a struggle to find DJs willing to do this as records are very heavy and people don’t want to carry them, but it’s worth it as the sound quality is superior to digital.”
The venue recently opened its first art exhibition, a show by US artist Chrissie Downing, who will be in residence for three months, in collaboration with the Cat Street Gallery.
In addition to only using sustainable seafood and free-range meats, Ms Christ aims to differentiate the business from other restaurants and bars by stocking a wide range of natural wines, including biodynamic and zero sulphite vintages and orange wines, which are made from white grapes and aged with their skins and seeds.
Ms Christ says seeing this third space concept work back home in the United States gave her the confidence to launch it in Hong Kong. “It can be difficult to encompass so much, but it is possible. People who like wine, for example, usually like art, so there’s a crossover of interests.”
Finding the right location was a challenge that took a year to surmount. “I wanted a liquor license past midnight, but Sai Ying Pun never give licenses past 12, the rent in Central was too high, but in Wan Chai, there were lots of really cool places. QRE is an F&B building, it understands the dynamic of that business, and it’s not the kind of place that will triple the rent in five years.”
Ms Christ hopes to bring the MyHouse concept elsewhere in Asia, including Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, if she can find the right local partner.