Congratulations on the new restaurant! How did this Armani and Aqua collaboration happen?
I met Mr [Giorgio] Armani for the first time at a dinner party he was throwing at the new Aqua when it opened at the end of 2003. At that time, he was bringing Armani Bar to Hong Kong. We wanted to work together and now after eight years it’s finally happened.
So what’s the concept here?
The design concept is very much mine with the exception that Mr Armani wanted it to be at least Italian. He said that It had to be ‘mi casa, su casa’ (my home is your home). I told him that Armani is an international brand but we’re doing this [restaurant] in my home and I wanted people to know straight away that they’re in Hong Kong. This is not Armani Dubai or Armani Milan. So, for example, we’ve used screens that look like Charles Mackintosh but they also look like Chinese screens. We’ve woven Eastern signatures into the Western design.
Where do you usually get your inspiration for your restaurants from?
One gets inspiration from everything they see every day. Having designed our own restaurants now since 2003, I think I am constantly absorbing ideas subconsciously without actually thinking about it. Design comes from the most unexpected places.
When did you know you wanted to get into the restaurant business?
I’m still not sure I want to get into this business [laughs]. I was a banking lawyer for many years. I used to cook as a form of relaxation. It was born out of my days in England when food was that great. I used to throw a lot of dinner parties and my friends told me I should try opening a restaurant. I started Aqua in 2000 when I was still a lawyer. I wasn’t cooking there but I knew what I wanted with the food as well as the design and it just rolled on from there.
How do you ensure all your restaurants stay on top of the competition?
With this business, you have to make sure you really are truly happy with the standard of the food you’re doing and that the service is at the level it should be. If you get both of those right then you should be doing alright regardless of what other people are doing. One of the things about food is, no matter how good you are, nobody’s going to come and eat at your restaurant every day. But if you do everything right, you will build up a repeat customer base and that’s what we really try to capture.
Are you planning to expand into other international markets?
Anyone with money can open a place. But it’s difficult to culturally understand a neighbourhood. Just look at Hong Kong – when we first moved Aqua over to Kowloon, we had to make some serious adjustments. It’s just across the water but it’s already very different. So you can imagine opening anywhere else calls for a totally different mindset. We’re very careful with this. London is very different because I come from London and I know it like the back of my hand. The next expansion will be in cities that we know best. But my dream destinations would be Paris and New York.
This is our Style Issue and we’ve covered a lot of women’s as well as men’s fashion. What do you think is the quintessential gentleman’s wardrobe?
It’s hard to say these days because men’s fashion has become very metrosexual. If you look at Lane Crawford for example, the menswear department has different sections for different types of guys. So I wouldn’t say that there’s anything that’s quintessential in the wardrobe; although, I would say that guys are using more accessories than before.
So which type of guy are you?
I’m a Neil Barrett and Raf Simons guy because I like the detail. I also like Balenciaga for the thinner cut. But I started off as an Armani junkie. I don’t think I’ve ever been without any Armani in my wardrobe.
Aqua at One Peking has closed for renovation. What can we expect when it relaunches?
It’s being done by David Collins and the interior is going to be absolutely amazing. The design is quite timeless and I love the fact that we’re working with one of the best furniture designers. Every piece is custom-made for the restaurant. They’ve really insisted on a lot of detail, like the floor – the minute you enter, it’ll be like walking into the British Museum.
Armani/Aqua 2/F, Chater House, 8 Connaught Rd Central, 3583 2828