When a restaurant promotes itself as ‘honest about art, serious about food’ you know you’re in for an interesting time. Zara Horner visits Duddell’s
Is it a restaurant or is it a gallery? One could be forgiven for asking the question on first stepping into hospitality entrepreneur Yenn Wong’s Hong Kong offering, Duddell’s. Taking its name from the historic street on which it lives, Duddell’s is hailed as “a cultural and social destination for people who have an active appreciation for the arts.” Oh, and it just happened to earn a Michelin star just eight months after opening… and then a second in 2014. A “chic salon” – with three private dining rooms – opens out onto an under- stated yet inviting jungle-like garden terrace where diners can enjoy dim sum and snacks, brunch, executive lunch, dinner, à la carte dining, or just drinks. It’s all fabulously stylish yet relaxed. The interior space was designed by London-based, award-winning Ilse Crawford who has created the impression of walking into “an eclectic home of a great art collector.” Wong specifically wanted to provide “a new platform for art to thrive, for anyone interested in discussing or learning about it.” Spread over the third and fourth floors above Shanghai Tang’s flagship store, Duddell’s occupies a weighty 10,000 square feet. The challenge of separate floors was overcome with a 4×6 metre silver travertine staircase.
What firm of designers and architects did you choose to create the space, why, and what brief did they have?
I am passionate about discovering new designers for my restaurants so that each restaurant has a very different feeling and a fresh approach. Ilse Crawford is a leader in, and menus there are nods to locale international design and widely recognised for developing a humanistic approach that works on all scales. We wanted something that was contemporary yet warm and inviting and would allow the art to speak for itself. Ilse is great at understanding how to bring cultural spaces to life and communicating with end-users through her use of space. We wanted it to be simple, contemporary and eclectic while bringing together interesting, vintage pieces as well as bespoke furniture. It is not meant to be a gallery. It has its own character and speaks to a certain taste with a personal touch.
What is the basic ethos behind the setting and design of the space?
With Hong Kong’s growth over the last five years as a prominent player in the art world, we wanted to create a space where The increasingly popular salon changes from day to night people interested in the arts could meet socially whether they were local residents or just visiting. And as art lovers generally end up talking about food we decided to create a venue where people could take both food and art seriously.
What is the ethos behind the menu?
Duddell’s serves traditional and authentic Cantonese cuisine. Heading the culinary team is executive chef Siu Hin Chi of Michelin starred T’ang Court fame. Chef Sui pays homage to the traditional roots of Cantonese cuisine, combining textures and flavours with contemporary presentations to excite the taste buds and challenge even the most demanding epicure. Upstairs at the salon and library, guests can enjoy a more relaxed and informal The earthy design palette is achieved with an eclectic mix of materials setting, dining on all-day dim sum, Cantonese snacks as well as Peking duck. The salon is a space for conversation and contemplation over tea, cocktails or wine.
Artworks are regularly displayed. How do you go about creating those displays in the restaurant?
Duddell’s was conceptualised as a social and cultural destination which connected art and people in a fresh new way. We wanted to offer not just good food and drinks but a unique twist of being able to enjoy all that while surrounded by world- class art. The art is very important to our concept as it sets us apart from other restaurants and lounges. Duddell’s features a year-round art programme spearheaded by its Art Committee of cultural leaders Yana Peel, William Zhao, Alan Lo and Chrissy Sharp. The programme includes museum-quality exhibitions curated by respected forces in the art world, as well as a continuous series of art talks, performances, film screenings and other events by cultural innovators. The artworks at Duddell’s are not for sale, but on loan from various museums, galleries and private collections. Participating artists and artworks are selected by curators, in accordance with the curatorial proposal.
What do you think are the most important considerations when designing a restaurant that will appeal?
There are many considerations when it comes to launching and designing a new restaurant – from branding right down to silverware and crockery. It’s important to begin with developing a strong and focused concept, competitive research and branding.
How important is lighting, colour and perhaps music to the ambience of a restaurant?
These factors are all crucial. Ambience can definitely affect how comfortable a guest feels and the length of time they choose to stay at the restaurant, so it’s important to get it right. Colours play a big role in ambience because guests relate and react to certain colours. For example, it’s advised to stick to neutral colours or warm colours which promote positive feelings. Natural materials of oak and travertine, smooth concrete and mohair velvet have been used throughout the different arenas to create an earthy harmonious palette. Guests will notice some distinctive items and furniture such as a vintage dark wood table for tea in the restaurant that appears Chinese, but isn’t. Ilse has employed statement classics like a Le Corbusier Grand Confort sofa and bespoke designs like the Cartegena chair she designed and had made in China as a modern interpretation of a classic Ming chair to add to the ambience. Lighting helps to create an atmosphere for each table, which most restaurant owners want because each guest is paying for their own experience. Music is crucial because it adds to the overall atmosphere we as restaurant owners are trying to create.
Plans for this year?
2016 got off to a rapid start. At the end of 2015 we opened Mak Mak, a central Thai restaurant located at The Landmark in Hong Kong, and we have a few exciting new concepts in the works, including Rhoda, a modern neighbourhood restaurant developed in partnership with Nate Green our executive chef at 22 Ships, which is opening in Sai Wan. We also have a couple of other projects under negotiation – but too early to share any details at this point.