The latest twofer, from the same group behind Elephant Grounds and The Diplomat, includes a “modern European brasserie” and intimate drinking den dedicated to that most sublime of American inventions — the Martini.
Fresh from the success of its ‘American Tavern’ concept at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021, local hospitality outfit Leading Nation has just unveiled two new venues that will open midway through this month — calculated to beguile Central’s thirsty, peckish masses all summer long. Dubbed Kyle & Bain and Margo, the new concepts (a cocktail bar and restaurant respectively) carry the creative imprint of previous Leading Nation efforts: bringing together multiple unique F&B experiences under a single, coolly appointed roof. (For this particular opening, the group enlisted fellow locals Thirty30 Creative in the creation of a space that’s somewhere between the realm of pop art and a design hotel.)
As with Mashi No Mashi — another favourite in the Leading Nation stable — Margo’s broader setting very cleverly acts as camouflage for Kyle & Bain — Beverage Director John Nugent’s much-anticipated follow-up to The Diplomat. A riposte to the latter’s neighbourhood gastropub élan, this Matryoshka of a venue is given entirely to the enjoyment and deconstruction of Martinis — a sub-species of classic cocktail that’s often underrepresented here in Hong Kong. As in 99 percent of mixed beverages (nowhere more so than balmy sub-tropical Hong Kong), ice plays a starring role: so much so that the bar derives its name from two Scottish inventors, William Kyle and John Bain, responsible for patenting the city’s first ice machine.
Nugent’s penchant for forgotten classics and their many inside-baseball permutations is matched only by his passion for the Martini’s longevity. It’s safe to assume then that the menu (yet to be disclosed to the public) will cater to a robust spectra of palettes and proficiencies — whether you’re a strict adherent of the ‘5:1’ recipe or up for something made with all the madcap technology of the 21st century. “Our aim is to establish the definitive Martini bar in Hong Kong”, says Nugent. “To that end, the programming is made to be approachable for novices of America’s most famous tipple, whilst still remaining exciting for long-time devotees of stiff cold beverages.”
Repairing to the mezzanine, diners will find an energetic new take on brasserie cooking at Margo — the latest concept from German chef-slash-photographer Mario Paecke. After nearly four years with Richard Ekkebus’s team at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental (during which time he’d go on to open SOMM) Paecke has been tapped by Leading Nation to work on the group’s neo-bistro concept — galvanised by founders’ Gerald Li and Kevin Poon’s mutual love for classic continental dishes. But in case the pastel-hued banquettes and terrazzo countertops weren’t already telling, that brief has gradually expanded to offer something more naturalistic and cosmopolitan in its influences.
Bright and fresh flavours crafted from what’s in season locally appear to be the order of the day; and in keeping with Chef Paecke’s own journey, take their proof of concept from all around the globe. French dishes of typical Sud-Ouest stock (i.e. fish and staple veg) are glammed up with a range of curing and cooking techniques, culminating in inventions like the 12-month tilapia: flaky freshwater fish that’s aged and served with a simple garnish of grilled peaches and potato mash.
Unsurprisingly, Germany’s diverse culinary tapestry also gets some much-needed recognition within the Margo menu — introduced to Hong Kong diners by as fine a native son as one could hope for. There’s a bite-sized twist on currywurst, one of the all-time great European fast foods of the 20th century; and Königsberger Klopse, an artefact of culinary history named for a Prussian city, boldly reimagined as a kind of sophisticate’s surf and turf with the addition of langoustine. A full wine programme, designed to complement Paecke’s dishes by Leading Nation Group Sommelier Elvis Lo will also be available when the restaurant opens later this month.