When JJ Acuna / Bespoke studio designed the recently opened modern Chinese vegetarian restaurant Miss Lee, two things quickly became apparent: James JJ Acuna’s fresh, nuanced interpretation of the culture and space, and the shared interests between him and his client — ZS Hospitality Group — in exploring the world, experiencing different cultures, meeting chefs and architects and experimenting with cuisines. This match swiftly earned Acuna another opportunity to collaborate with the hospitality group, this time on Hong Kong’s newest fine-dining destination Hansik Goo, by award-winning Korean chef Mingoo Kang of Mingles fame.
While the client has a taste for casual, contemporary, yet refined and elevated elegance — as Acuna’s describes, ‘all things Danish, Nordic and mid-century modern’ — Hansik Goo doesn’t overtly fit that bill. Instead, Acuna and his team subtly filtered that overall character into the space with clean-lined architecture inspired by Nordic aesthetics, and layered it with references to Kang’s plates, flavours and experience working in Seoul. The result is a narrative about the balance of ‘Sky, Earth and Bounty’, reflected in the restaurant’s three zones, each defined by architectural forms and specially selected materials.
Acuna and his team used colours and materials to define the space and distinguish the Sky Zone, the main dining room wrapped in two shades of handmade blue ceramic tile, the Earth Zone, a brushed copper-clad bar area, and the Bounty Zone, the private chef’s table with curtains and wall coverings in lush shades of green. Acuna matched the walnut tables in Seoul’s Mingles to the new space in Hong Kong, while the natural travertine and poured-in-place terrazzo flooring reflect the boundary walls of traditional hanok homes. A variety of bespoke works by contemporary Korean artists add a modern touch to the interiors.
‘Every Korean restaurant in Hong Kong that’s beyond a fast-casual or casual price point is designed like an old Korean home,’ Acuna explains. ‘But if you go to Seoul, the city has managed to move to the next century, with their K-Pop, their embracing of new technologies and their fashion.’ Acuna notes though that while the city is decidedly contemporary, ‘all of this is underpinned by tradition, a strong sense of community and family, and they honour their old architecture.’ With this in mind, Acuna looked to Seoul’s ancient Bukchon Hanok Village. ‘We wanted to capture the essence of Korean tradition by referencing the screen patterns and stonework in these hanok, but also make the space part of the contemporary narrative. It’s not about looking at the past and preserving it, but working with the past to create new things,’ he says.