Recently opened restaurant Mott 32, in the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank landmark in Central, Hong Kong, has been gaining attention for its food and dramatic interiors.
The space was created by Joyce Wang, and takes guests through a fantastical tale of an immigrant’s journey, complete with family heirlooms and a history uncovered in the secret lair of a bank vault.
The restaurant tells the story of the basement of an important bank building in Hong Kong and how it has evolved through time. The designers 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. They imagined pieces of history left behind organically. The process of design was to unearth these clues layer by layer to expose an authentic narrative, so the final tableau tells a compelling story that’s not overly styled. The objects are clues to the larger political and social history of Hong Kong.
The furniture designed, and accessories chosen, by the Joyce Wang team are as eclectic as the narrative they wanted to convey. Chinese antique propaganda accessories, Danish cane furniture, British turn-of-the-century tableware to American mid-century chandeliers are seen throughout. Our intention was to make it reminiscent of the previous occupants’ tastes, lifestyles and personalities.
The site itself has no access to any sunlight, windows, or views to the exterior. It could feel claustrophobic, so the designers rectified this by re-directing diners’ attention inwards, and holding it captive through the various design elements. They addressed this first and foremost with a lighting strategy with different mood settings for lunchtime and evening diners.
The accessibility of the site was also an issue, as people would have to walk all the way through the bank building to access the restaurant. This was turned into an asset by the designers by creating a more hidden and exclusive arrival experience, so that the descent into the basement is an experience in itself.
A grand and industrial heavy-metal chain chandelier was designed by the team, which is suspended from the top of the staircase, draping all the way to the basement. The faceted mirror panels lining the stairwell create a surreal descent, while a mirror-topped wait station at the base of the staircase paid tribute to reflection ponds commonly found in traditional Chinese restaurants.
Sitting in the main dining area, the diner’s attention is drawn to a number of narratives, both raw and rich. For instance, the opening into the main kitchen showcases chefs in their environment, with woks frying and baskets steaming. An open display shows hanging ducks in the custom oven. This is juxtaposed with the grandeur and elegance of custom-designed wait stations with inset silk embroidered panelling and custom hardware trims. The form is reminiscent of Qing Dynasty style, paired with modern materials and industrial detailing.
The main feature is the custom-built architectural skylight to give diners an impression of daylight. The shape of this skylight, and layout of banquettes, in the main dining area were inspired by the existing Standard Chartered Bank’s octagonal columns.
There are also other details worth noting: graffiti and propaganda script on columns hint at the passage of time; traditional flooring material used in Hong Kong during the 1950s – terrazzo with gold coins inset – in one of the private dining rooms; tables and seating – a mixture of custom-designed pieces and vintage 1950s pieces; a large feature wall, with metallic thread embroidery on a hand-painted silk backdrop (a floral and butterfly scene).
Images © Joyce Wang