Hong Kong’s colonial past continues to serve as design inspiration for new restaurants, including the recently opened east-meets-west styled Lai Bun Fu, writes Martine Beale.
Located just off of Lan Kwai Fong, Central’s lively entertainment district, On Lan Street has quietly transformed from quiet back street to one lined with trendy shops that attract well-heeled fashionistas.
More recently, it has also attracted a string of up-market restaurants, such as the newly opened Lai Bun Fu, which serves traditional Chinese food with a modern twist.
In Cantonese, Lai Bun means “hospitality”, while “Fu” refers to “sifu” or master, in this case master chef, a title befitting of Head Chef Chung Kin-leung, who formerly served as Executive Chef at Hong Kong’s Government House where he prepared dishes for world leaders, including former US President George Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Perhaps it is also befitting then, that Lai Bun Fu’s interior captures the spirit of the city’s colonial past with the addition of modern touches that represent Hong Kong as it is now.
“Our biggest challenge was to find a balance between our client’s expectations and customer needs,” says David Sung, Director of Hands Hospitality Limited, which designed the interior. “Our goal was to keep the design modern but not trendy, and elegant without being stuffy.”
The restaurant’s flooring features classic beige and white checkered marble, while forest green wall panels are adorned with elaborately decorated ceramic plates featuring architectural themes and colonial buildings that previously stood in the city, such as the Royal Building, Hong Kong Bank, and King Edward Hotel.
To provide contrast to this classic décor, Hands Hospitality incorporated a variety of whimsical pieces such as the top hat and coat rack by the windows, a collection of antique walking sticks that pay homage to Hong Kong’s British history, and antique-style compass trinkets that adorn the dining tables.
There is also a striking chandelier made of crystal cut glass ice buckets and ‘ice cubes’ and amusing lamps made with bowler hats.
“We didn’t want to create another formal dining venue so we decided to incorporate design elements that add humour to the space,” says Sung.
“Both the ice bucket chandelier and Jeeves bowler hat pieces were specially designed for this project, and both symbolise Hong Kong’s colonial days.”
According to Sung, Lai Bun Fu’s owner wanted a signature chandelier with a difference. “Whisky is symbolic of English culture, and so I used ice buckets manufactured by John Lewis (the British chain of department stores) and flew them in from London to create the lamp shades. I added falling ice to create motion.”
The Jeeves bowler hats form the shades on both pendant lighting and a floor lamp. “These are made by a UK company called INNERMOST. The floor lamp is actually dual purpose as coats can be hung from its rack.”
The 2,000 square foot restaurant seats 52 people in its dining area and another 12 people in its private VIP room, the Lai Bun Room, which is surrounded by a glass and brass frame.
“The brass frame idea was kind of inspired by the windows on colonial houses. We wanted to add a contemporary touch to it by using brass instead of wood,” Sung explains.
A Chinese gong stands at the entrance to the restaurant to recreate the tradition at Hong Kong Government House, where dinner was announced with the striking of the gong.
Does Sung see a rising trend in east-meets-west styled restaurant interiors in the city?
“I have seen more of these restaurants popping up lately. It is probably because the public’s dining habits have changed; consumers of high-end restaurants are younger and they no longer want to dine in stuffy Chinese hotel restaurants.”
Hands Hospitality Limited