Rethinking Japanese dining: an izakaya that draws on music and social interaction for a warm and contemporary space. Tamsin Bradshaw reports.
Koko means “here” in Japanese, and this word is at the heart of the design for KOKO, a new izakaya by private members club KEE Club. “We want KOKO’s guests to be ‘here’: to be present in the moment; to meet new people, and to immerse themselves in the atmosphere, drinks and food,” says Mara Rhomberg, Creative Director of Koko.
The atmosphere is designed to bring people together in an intimate environment – something Christian Rhomberg, Founder and Chairman of Kee Club, views as one of the restaurant’s best features. “[It has] typical Japanese alcove seating, but at the same time, the terrace and bar area also offer people a place to see and be seen,” he says. “Most restaurants today are designed around one sole function – dining. Whereas Koko is a social meeting and dining place – it combines three functions: dining, lounge and club atmosphere.”
Koko’s club atmosphere comes from its carefully curated music offering. “Simon Pang, Kee’s Head of Music, has created an eclectic music persona for Koko that reflects the eclectic style of music popular in Japan,” says Mr. Rhomberg, who envisages Koko becoming a “hub for musical creativity” in Hong Kong.
Along with music, art and sake are part of Koko’s DNA. Kee’s design team, headed by Kee Signature Architect Gavin Tu, installed metal wall panels, which will serve as a backdrop for rotating art exhibitions. First up is Love is Wild, a series of photographs by Sean Lee Davies for Project C:CHANGE. The series features Chinese models and actresses with endangered wildlife in a bid to raise awareness of and to combat endangered wildlife trade around the world. “We wanted to lead with a Hong Kong-bred artist with a cause,” explains Mr. Rhomberg. Next up is a series of Japanese photographs from the 1960s.
Former footballer, fashion icon and sake lover Hidetoshi Nakata plays a starring role at Koko, too. A partner in the restaurant, Nakata brings to Koko his own sake, as well as a range of unique sakes from small breweries around Japan.
As with the drinks menu, Koko’s careful, creative approach to food pays homage to its Japanese roots, as do the interiors. “We used typical Japanese materials – black stone, charred wood, orange light filters, leather, natural linen, dark metal and golden copper surfaces,” says Mr. Rhomberg.
The restaurant also has a leafy, lounge-y terrace illuminated by textile lanterns. Overlooking the newly revamped Central Police Station Compound – which is set to be an F&B and design hub – Koko is right in the heart of the action. At the same time, though, its warm ambience, and chilled-out terrace make it the perfect retreat from hectic city life.