First look: Dear Lilly is an homage to old-world romance from designer Ashley Sutton

Through an ongoing collaboration with local restaurant group, Dining Concepts — now spanning six distinct restaurant and bar concepts around Hong Kong — we’ve been lucky enough to become familiar over the past few years with the whimsical and wonderful works of Ashley Sutton, the designer extraordinaire who first made a name for himself creating some of the hottest nightlife concepts in Bangkok.

From the Hans Christian Andersen-inspired underground mines of The Iron Fairies to the elaborate peacock-feathered spectacle that is Ophelia and the samurai-themed late-night club, Yojimbo, there’s no denying the fantastical genius of Sutton, whose works have catapulted into the limelight as some of Asia’s most famous bar concepts. But just when we thought we’d seen it all, Sutton has dug deep into his sensitive side to bring us what could be his most intricately imagined project to date — an old-world fairytale romance brought to life at IFC mall’s new restaurant and lounge, Dear Lilly.

Dear Lilly
Dear Lilly has sprouted up from the fantastical mind of Ashley Sutton, a ‘mad florist’s house’ filled with vintage music boxes, love letters and lavender bouquets.

Staging is everything when it comes to an Ashley Sutton design (which sometimes comes at the expense of the food and drink playing second fiddle), and at Dear Lilly there’s no denying where the scene is set as soon as you step through the doors: It’s the early 1900s in war-torn Paris, wives wait anxiously for news of their beloved soldiers, and all that’s left of hope is manifested in a collection of faded letters that speak of joy and sorrow, love and longing. In fact, these carefully reproduced letters have each been individually sourced by Sutton himself, and are scribbled across the flooring, menus and table placemats. (Bored on a date? There’s plenty of reading material to keep preoccupied).

And that’s just the start: endless artifacts and heirlooms can be found in the cosy nooks and vintage displays at Dear Lilly, as we discovered on a recent visit to the newly soft-opened restaurant.

Dried rose petals and old love letters create an aura of romance.

The restaurant is housed in the old Zentro Loft space on the podium level of IFC, the glass-walled venue providing a fitting structural base for a restaurant that seems to be plucked straight from the flower-lined boulevards of Paris. In daytime, natural light floods the space, illuminating the three metal and wood curved domes that dominate the interiors.

These structures were inspired by a child’s fantasy world filled with vintage music boxes (a popular trinket with Sutton’s seven cousins growing up), and feature elaborate cut-out designs. Originally, Sutton had meant to install a hydraulics system for the tops to open and close like real music boxes; however, this was abandoned due to tight ceiling restrictions. Still, the overall impression is impressive, with each ‘music box’ housing private booths and tables as well as the main bar, above which floats a kinetic ceiling of dried roses and love letters (the latter can be replaced with customised pieces for weddings and special events).

Antique trinkets were individually hand-sourced by Ashley Sutton from all over Europe.

Upon closer inspection, the details fill every square inch of the space: antique wooden tables hold precious relics from the past, from silver music boxes filled with tiny china cups to old picture frames of widowed war survivors; teapots and Parisian perfume bottles are filled with dainty sprays of lavender and hibiscus. Hundreds more perfume bottles can be found along the back wall and up to the balcony level, while the ceiling is composed of hanging dried lavender and hibiscus bouquets. The alternating bushels of purple and orange give the dining room a real Alice-in-Wonderland feel, as if you’ve been turned topsy-turvy with the garden suspended overhead.

The smell of lavender perfumes the air.

With so much thought put into the décor, it’s often the case that the food and drinks become an afterthought; luckily, Dear Lilly has put together a solid menu that’s enough to sustain a drawn-out meal for preoccupied lovebirds roosting at the cosy two-top tables. A set lunch menu is available for HK$138 for 2 courses and HK$188 for 3 courses, plus HK$28 for tea or coffee — not unreasonable considering the fairly hum-drum range of dining options in and around IFC.

Dishes are mainly inspired by the Mediterranean, offering light and shareable starters such as mezze and seafood platters, tuna tartare, and grilled padrón peppers flaked with sea salt and olive oil. Mains include a short selection of burgers (smoked short rib or veggie), pasta (puttanesca pappardelle), and risotto (wild mushroom drizzled in tarragon oil), and a list of grilled items from thick-cut ribeye to lamb chops, Norway salmon and rosy pink pork chops.

For dinner, we’d recommend the corn-fed chicken (HK$168), a substantial half bird cooked sous-vide for optimal flavour and texture. It arrives gleaming at the table served with a trio of delicious sauces: horseradish cream, providing an ample kick; chimichurri in a flurry of fresh herbs; and a luscious peppercorn which spills onto the plate like a thick gravy. The bird is juicy and tender, and a satisfying option for those watching their waistline.

Dear Lilly’s slow-cooked octopus with peppers and seaweed-infused hummus.

We also enjoyed the slow-cooked octopus (HK$128), cooked in a hot water bath and seasoned lightly with smoked paprika. It’s accompanied by a bell pepper and piquillo pepper relish, with dots of seaweed-speckled hummus adding a creamy counterpoint to the toothsome tentacles. The mezze platter (HK$178) is recommended for larger groups, arriving with smoky grilled flatbread and thick slabs of halloumi, although we found the hummus and baba ganoush to be overly thin and watery.

Two forks, one dessert: The Dear Lilly Heart.

Desserts pair well with the signature cocktails on offer (all HK$120), with the drinks veering towards the sweet side (we’ve also found this to be the case at sister establishments Iron Fairies and Ophelia). The Dear Lilly Heart (HK$88) may be slightly cheesy, but is nonetheless delicious with its white chocolate mousse and raspberry gel core. We washed it down with the Mad Enchantment, a foamy pink concoction hiding a rather tart base of apple juice, lemon and blackberry puree with Calvados apple brandy; and the Mademoiselle Lilly, a vodka-based number which is pepped up with lychee liquor and homemade hibiscus syrup. The glassware and garnishments are as charming as the surrounds: the Mad Enchantment arrives in a teacup-turned-cocktail-glass with a gold spoon holding a powder-dusted raspberry, while the Mademoiselle Lilly is Insta-ready with its ornamental rim of dried hibiscus and sugar.

Cocktails are presented in whimsical glassware. Pictured: The Mad Enchantment

For those seeking a stiff drink, you can opt for the Orient Express, a head-spinning twist on a negroni stirred with Glenmorangie whisky; or the Nymphéas, which despite being tinged purpled with violet liqueur, hits all the masculine notes with a strong hit of smoky mezcal. The New Look is a refreshing number to end the night — a vodka base stained pink with almond and grenadine syrup, topped off with a splash of bubbly.

The Mademoiselle Lilly is garnished with a dried hibiscus and sugar rim.

While we visited during the daytime, we can imagine that the charm is amplified at night, with the glow from the chandeliers and the tinkling metal trinkets reflecting the glittering cityscape in the background. While you might be tempted to take a seat next to the windows, we reckon the best spot in the house is at the bar under that mesmerising contraption of floating roses and love letters, where the perfume of lavender and the potent cocktails are enough to lure you into a heady daze as you fall back in time to turn-of-the-century Paris.

Dear Lilly is now open from Mon-Sun, 11am-3pm for lunch, 6–11pm for dinner; Happy hour, brunch and afternoon tea menus coming soon. Email info@dearlilly.com.hk to enquire about special events. 

1 LOCATION

1 LOCATION

Dear Lilly

Dear Lilly

Shop 4010, Podium Level 4, IFC Mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong

+852 2771 6060