It’s only April in Hong Kong, and the air outside is sweltering. But inside the Lee Garden Three, a shopping development in Causeway Bay, the air is crisp and fresh. The brand-new luxury mall is lined with shops like Fendi Cuisine, Sub-Zero & Wolf, and BoConcept. Tucked in a corner, a nameless check-in desk with dramatic terracotta and rattan arches catches the eye. This is the last place you’d expect to find a dim sum parlor, but here we are, standing at the entrance of John Anthony, a new Cantonese restaurant.
The world over, these oft-traditional establishments are rarely quite as ambitious and avant-garde as this one. My fellow travelers and I are ushered down a long staircase to the basement level, which reveals a space that’s not unlike a Wes Anderson–esque wonderland, with ribbed arched ceilings, stacked hand-glazed tiles, bold floral patterns, cane paneling, and green terrazzo floors.
Downstairs, the place is buzzing with activity. “The concept for the restaurant was drawn from the historic figure John Anthony, the first Chinese man to be naturalized as a British citizen in 1805,” says Alex Mok, a Chinese-Swedish architect and cofounder of Linehouse Design. “Anthony, an employee of the East India Company, embarked on a voyage from East to West, arriving in the East End dockland of London. His job was to ensure lodging and food for arriving Chinese sailors.”
The architect drew inspiration for the space from the fusion of styles on Anthony’s journey. The result: a blend of Colonial-era British tea hall and modern Chinese canteen. Ahead, Mok shares her best tips for creating a lightless but ultra-cool space that draws on history and current trends. And, yes, for those who can make the voyage, the food is just as much a feast for the taste buds as it is for the eyes.
Create Light Where There Is None
“The restaurant is located in the basement, but we wanted to create the illusion of natural light,” Mok tells Domino. “We used high-level clerestory diffused glass windows that are backlit, allowing for shifting light qualities throughout the day and night.” Though the space is dimly lit, you quickly forget you’re in the basement. The explosion of color, texture, and pattern is enough to distract from the lack of natural light.
The multiple light sources were all custom-designed by Linehouse, as well. Pleated lanterns with cane detailing, small round backlit sconces, and large rattan-wrapped globe pendant lamps help set the mood.
Retire Trends; Recontextualize Instead
Though the space is trend-heavy, it also feels cohesive and steeped in history. “When we design, we try not to think about trends or styles, but rather, we adopt the idea of recontextualizing,” says Mok. Getting inspired by the story of Anthony wasn’t hard, but it involved a certain level of research. “The main dining hall in the restaurant is an interpretation of the storehouses in the docklands,”she adds.
Though influences are historic in nature, the restaurant itself feels modern: The ribbed arched ceilings play on verticality and create intimacy; the cozy booths, with their floral banquettes, draw on the past; and the floor, made of antique terracotta tile, is undeniably now.
Draw From Your Personal History
The private dining rooms are lined in tiles featuring large-scale illustrations of the commodities traded between the British and Chinese in the 18th century, such as medicinal poppies and exotic animals. “The tiles were hand-painted by our team, and each one is a unique piece of the puzzle,” says Mok.
On the dining banquettes, floral fabric from London’s House of Hackney tells another side of Anthony’s story: the Western influences of his arrival in the U.K. Each design choice was made in reference to the rich East-meets-West history. Even the stacked green and pink glazed tiles on the walls refer to Hong Kong’s colorful architecture.
Adopt Sustainability Wherever You Can
“Rattan is a locally sourced material that we wanted to incorporate as much as possible,” says Mok of the panels used on the millwork and seating areas. “The restaurant has a sustainable message woven into every aspect of the interior and operations. We worked really hard to source materials from suppliers and manufacturers that supported this across the whole design.”
Some materials, for example, were sourced from a Chinese company that recovers them from old abandoned buildings in rural China. “We used them for the reclaimed terracotta tiles on the floor,” explains Mok. “In the kitchen, traceable ingredients from sustainable food suppliers and wines and spirits sourced from environmentally responsible vineyards and craft distilleries were the norm. At the intersection of design and gastronomy, this East-meets-West Hong Kong establishment is forging a path for the next generation of dim sum parlors.”
Editor’s note: This trip was provided courtesy of Marriott Bonvoy. All opinions are the editors’ own.
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