Tucked away in the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank, Mott 32 imparts an intriguing story of a re-imagined past. Martine Beale writes.
As you descend the flight of spiral staircases into Mott 32, you are greeted by mirrored walls and a heavy-metal chain chandelier that drapes from the top of the staircase all the way down to the basement. It is an impressive yet slightly surreal arrival experience.
Stepping into the cavernous 7,500 square foot restaurant is akin to entering another world – or several other worlds. The look is New York industrial-chic fused with Chinese imperial elements.
There is a large central dining area and five distinctly themed private rooms, all of which are tailored to accommodate quiet tête-à-tête meals as well as jovial group gatherings.
The space is designed collaboratively by award-winning designer Joyce Wang and Maximal Concepts, and is based on an idea of how the basement of an important bank has evolved over time.
“We imagined its former life as a storage facility for family heirlooms forgotten by wealthy Chinese immigrants, and later as staff quarters for bank employees and guards,” says Wang.
From this point, the designers embarked on a design process that would unearth clues, expose an authentic narrative, and reveal a larger picture of Hong Kong’s political and social history.
The basement location presented some challenges: with no natural light, openings, or views to the exterior it could have had a claustrophobic feel. “We spun this [around] by re-directing attention inward and holding [one’s eye] captive through the various design elements,” Wang explains. “We addressed this first and foremost with a lighting strategy [that involved] different mood settings for lunchtime and evening.”
Surrounded by wooden dividers, the central dining area features an impressive, custom-built architectural skylight, which Wang says “gives diners an impression of daylight.” This and the royal blue banquettes that sit beneath it are inspired by the shape of the bank’s existing octagonal columns.
One focal point is the semi-open kitchen, which presents a view of culinary experts at work as well as the custom-made duck oven and air-drying duck fridge. These nicely juxtapose the elegant wait stations with inset silk embroidered panelling reminiscent of the Qing Dynasty.
The apothecary-styled bar with various cabinets and drawers in which secret ingredients are stored also draws attention.
There are myriad well-considered details that arouse curiosity: columns adorned by graffiti that hint at the passage of time; the old teller window frame and light incorporated into the cashier room door; and the gold coins embedded into the traditional 1950s terrazzo floor in one of the private rooms.
The smallest of the private rooms is situated at the base of the staircase and has vault doors that open into an intimate space and a mural of Sun Yat Sun. Here, tables with bamboo-inspired legwork and an inset lazy Susan create a homey feel.
In a larger room, a collection of antique chandeliers hint at the narrative of family heirlooms and heritage pieces via Chinese wall vases perched on traditional English moulding shelves, and an abacus-inspired chandelier with wood and metal beading that hangs over mahjong dining tables and emperor silhouette chairs in yellow suede upholstery.
In a nod to Hong Kong’s colonial past, the door to the 10 Downing Street Room has metal lion knockers, and opens into a surreal street scene and an undulating wall pattern formed by Shanghainese brickwork.
The Tangerine Room fascinates with a cascade of Chinese paintbrushes in different sizes mounted on both sides of the wall. A copper metal panelling lines the dome-shaped ceiling, but, as Wang points out, “it is the large antique mirror at the end that elongates the whole room rendering it a rather surreal, cinematic experience.”
Bathrooms are not overlooked. Stalls influenced by private safety deposit box viewing rooms are fitted with original Thomas Crapper toilets and vintage-style urinals. “The communal custom terrazzo sink with copper faucet fittings suspended from the ceiling anchors the space and is a key feature,” says Wang.
An eclectic mix of bespoke furniture and carefully selected accessories extend the narrative. “From Chinese antique propaganda accessories, Danish cane furniture, and British turn-of-the-century tableware to the American mid-Century chandeliers seen throughout, our intention was to make it reminiscent of the previous occupants’ taste, lifestyles and personalities,” Wang concludes.