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Friday, September 14, 2018, 18:16
Come for the food, stay for the art
By Rebecca Lo
Friday, September 14, 2018, 18:16 By Rebecca Lo

Umberto Bombana chose a giant tomato sculpture by Fan Xiaogan for his Otto e Mezzo restaurant. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On July 19, Cantonese restaurant Yan Toh Heen in the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel reopened its doors after a complete makeover that included not only a new waterfront location but also new art.

Yan Toh Heen commissioned art specific to its new site and interiors with the help of Belinda Chow, managing director of Shanghai-based Willow Gallery. Her factory produced a series of handmade silk screens with Suzhou-style double-sided embroidery for the project. Each screen presents a different seasonal flower, such as magnolia for spring and chrysanthemum for winter, created to enhance the visual appeal of the harborfront in the restaurant’s new backdrop. 

Chow enlisted Hong Kong-born, New York-based ceramic artist Ho Sin-ying to produce Tilt and Flow, a white porcelain and gold leaf vase sculpture to grace the entrance lobby of the two Michelin-starred restaurant. “Belinda already had a theme for Yan Toh Heen and we worked together during the 18-month-long process,” Ho recalls. “I really tested the limits of the material. I knew that I wanted a tilt in the firing, but I never know how something will turn out. I have learned to embrace accidents that the kiln god bestows upon me.”

Umberto Bombana chose a giant tomato sculpture by Fan Xiaogan for his Otto e Mezzo restaurant. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As associate professor at Queens College in City University of New York, Ho spends the academic year in New York and the rest of her time at her Jingdezhen studio. “The gold in the sculpture echoes the moving water of Victoria Harbour at Yan Toh Heen,” Ho explains. “And the tilt symbolizes how we lean or depend on each other — part of the globalization that I explore in my work.”

She has since created sculpture for two hotels on the Chinese mainland. “Owners are thinking more about bringing an artistic side to create different experiences for their customers,” she says.

Relying on gut feelings

Umberto Bombana, founder and executive chef of three Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong, echoes Ho’s sentiment that art enhances the experience of his customers. “I know some of the artists in my restaurants personally and try to support them as much as I can afford,” Bombana notes. 

Ho Sin-ying’s porcelain and gold leaf sculpture in Yan Toh Heen restaurant. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

He went by gut feelings while  selecting most of the art for his restaurants. A tomato sculpture by Fan Xiaogan takes the center stage at his restaurant Otto e Mezzo, referencing an ingredient commonly found in Italian cuisine. “I often visit galleries in Soho and saw this piece in Parkview Art,” he recalls. “I like the feeling of it; the attraction was spontaneous. Since it has been in the restaurant, everyone loves to take selfies with it.”

Bombana worked with the designer Hugh Zimmern to create a private dining room with an entire wall covered by silver birch and a contemporary piece by Agostino Bonalumi in his Octavium restaurant. 

“Art is human expression: rough, strong, beautiful and ugly all at once,” Bombana says. “Art is very important to a restaurant as it conveys a feeling and experience that complements the food.”

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