Ando Restaurant: Flavors of a Big industrial City
The striking design for a new restaurant in the mid-section of Hong Kong whets appetites for the feast to come.
Restaurant designs are precarious balancing acts. Tip the scales too much in one direction and it’s a recipe for kitsch. Aim for more subtlety and you may baffle potential diners as in what kind of culinary experience is on offer. And it should go without saying that restaurateurs must also beware the kooky kind of novelty design that ends up being the “flavor of the month.”
Ando gets the balance right. Courtesy of the JIA Group and the acclaimed chef-founder Agustin Balbi, this newcomer to Hong Kong’s fine dining scene serves up a mélange of Spanish, Argentinian and Japanese dishes in an atmosphere that incorporates elements of these distinct cultures, without slavishly trying to reproduce them or pandering to the more obvious motifs.
Brewin Design Office, bastioned in Singapore, and its lead designer on the project, Robert Cheng, masterminded the design and oversaw its creation. In the process, they came up with some singular choices for both the materials and showing off the small space symmetry to its full potential.
For starters, the restaurant is located in the kinetic Lan Kwai Fong part of Hong Kong, home to boozing and gourmandizing options aplenty, and awash with a multi-nationality contingent of expats, locals and tourists (the Covid-19 era aside). So the owners and Chef Agustin Balbi wanted an inimitable setting that would complement the cuisine and also fit into this part of Hong Kong.
The interior is stunning. In its press release for the launch, Brewin Design Office mentioned how the design was inspired by “an eclectic fusion of styles, cuisines, cultural influences, traditions and urban settings.” For this article we asked the designer to elaborate on that statement.
“We were inspired by parts of these cities’ physical forms, where Hong Kong itself is an extremely dense urban environment, fully manmade and with multiple layers. This led us to the restaurant’s concept of a ‘slice of the city’, using materials that can almost reflect the inner linings and fabrics of an urbanized, manmade city – rough concrete, patinaed metals, shades of greys and blacks, paired with robust and monolithic forms,” Robert Cheng said.
That’s an apt description of a restaurant that seems both slick – just the place to talk business – but also depicts the nitty-gritty of this cosmopolitan metropolis and is cozy enough to be a nest for lovebirds on a date or friends up for a good night out.
Working within the confines of such a small place proved to be both challenging and invigorating. In his design, Robert Cheng turned that shortcoming into a strength, which also helped to bolster the “slice of the city” motif. In a message the firm writes, “We designed the layout to take advantage of the double loaded frontage that the space has, especially because of the restaurant’s small footprint. Outside of Hong Kong, it is unusual to work into a floor plate where 1,500 square feet represents the entire footprint of the building.”
The space considerations yielded other discoveries. The kitchen window morphed into another aperture, bolstered by lava-stone walls, which provides what the firm calls a “fish tank” effect. To separate the main dining hall into a private room for small gatherings or parties, Robert Cheng and company erected a floor-to-ceiling central fixture that neatly divvies up the space and affords diners some added privacy.
The palette for the restaurant mixes charcoal grey volcanic stone with some darker concrete textures, as well as greens and browns to create an industrial ambience that’s still earthy and homey. To achieve that harmony, the hard surfaces and muted colors are skillfully balanced through the use of softer elements like the drapery, patinas and layering.
Brewin Design Office specializes in both interior designs and architecture. The firm executes work of varied typologies, from hospitality projects and F&B spaces within hotels such as the Capella in Hanoi, to high-end condominiums and select private homes, as well as commercial towers in Asia. For the Ando project, the design team put many of its skills to the test and passed with flying colors.
A glimpse into the firm’s dedication to quality and originality can also be seen in some of the furnishings too.
Brewin writes, “There are a few furniture pieces we designed especially for the restaurant, one of them being a long verdi alpi green marble table for the private dining room, which sits beneath a Lasvit crystal pendant light fixture. The green marble table pairs perfectly with the private room’s thick, textured earthy mocha brown stucco, to relate back to Chef Balbi’s food as so much of it is about where it is grown.”
In the end, it all comes back to the food. No matter how ingenious the design, restaurants rise or crumble on the strength of their menus and the quality of their cooking. That said, an often-repeated adage in the restaurant business states that location is crucial. Perhaps the “secret sauce” of any such venture’s success is the design and ambience.
Brewin Design Office