First look: The gourmet renaissance in newly refurbished Eaton HK

Updated on May 23 2018

Opened in 1990, The Eaton Hotel was (and still is) considered one of the most defining landmarks of old Jordan district, if not Kowloon, particularly for its food offerings — for the longest time, it was home to seven eateries and two bars, including the one-Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Yat Tung Heen. Since last year, the hotel has been undergoing an extensive makeover under its new moniker, Eaton HK, with hopes to attract a younger, more progressive crowd back to the true heart of Hong Kong. The first step? Creating a hot new programme of gourmet eats. As they say, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Eaton Hong Kong
Seen here, the old exterior of the Eaton Hotel — now Eaton HK — is yet to unveil the current new entrances and a swish new terrace bar, set to open summer 2018.

Leading the way for the revitalisation is Katherine Lo, founder and president of the broader Eaton Workshop flag, which is under the portfolio of Great Eagle Holdings, chaired by Lo’s father, Lo Ka-shui. A slew of properties are planned to open globally under the Eaton Workshop name, led by an impact- and wellness-driven mission for each locale. The first has already opened earlier this spring in downtown Washington D.C., which particularly champions liberal-minded travellers and thinkers and is, as Quartz puts it, “an antithesis to Trump International Hotel down the street.”

Harking back to the home of Eaton HK, Hong Kong’s refurbishment is decidedly more hyper-local, with an emphasis on conviviality and giving back to the community — on becoming not just another soulless shiny building. It’s a project close to Katherine Lo’s heart. As Lo puts it, “Growing up in Hong Kong, I have a lot of childhood memories of food. My mother would take me to a noodle soup shop every lunch break, when I went to Diocesan Girls’ School in Yau Ma Tei, right next to Eaton HK. Every Sunday, my father would take our whole family to a cha chaan teng. It is in this spirit of nostalgia for old Hong Kong food and family that led me to create the new Eaton Food Hall.”

Eaton Hong Kong
View from above The Astor, Eaton Hong Kong’s all-day-dining venue.

For those in search of authentic Hong Kong flavours, you’ll surely find it here: Just below ground level you’ll find Eaton Food Hall, which brings together a marketplace of 11 diverse and mostly Hong Kong businesses. Choices range from Trusty Congee King’s steamy comfort foods to Honolulu Cafe’s famous flaky egg tarts and giant pineapple buns, to the first Kowloon outposts of local chirashi-don experts Superdon Express, and Sweetpea Cafe, for delicious gluten-free sweets.

Eaton Hong Kong
Mum Veggie Café caters to plant-based and health-conscious foodies.

There’s also the hotel’s Flower Years bar — referencing the Chinese name of celebrated Wong Kar-wai film In the Mood for Love — offering a hefty list of local craft beers, wines, healthy juices and smoothies. “We wanted to be respectful to the old school neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei, and champion nostalgic Hong Kong eats, alongside our Eaton brand values of social and environmental impact, holistic wellness, and community,” says Lo. “Our food hall interior designer, AvroKO, worked with us to create a beautiful retro food hall inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s 1990s films about diner and street culture.”

Eaton Hong Kong
Flower Years, from the outside area looking in.

The casual watering hole, hopefully, will eventually get to open up its doors in the evenings for customers to spill out onto an amphitheatre area at the edge of Eaton’s property, flanked by a municipal map publication centre — almost as if to assert that everywhere you look, you are surrounded by the locality of Hong Kong.

Overlooking this same space and the charming lush gardens across the street will soon be the gem of the entire revamp project: Terrible Baby, (think enfant terrible) a sweeping terrace bar that looks out onto this expansive street corner in Jordan. Set to open by this summer, Edgar Santillan, who used to head the bar at Jinjuu Hong Kong, is now behind both hotel bar concepts, and will be delivering a more mixology-centric programme with what we expect to be a sensitivity to locally-sourced ingredients and flavours, with herbs and spices plucked straight from a rooftop garden at the hotel.

Eaton Hong Kong
Interior view of the cosy Flower Years bar.

Enlisting international design firm AvroKO to take the reins on interiors, designer Phillip Pond tells us that the nucleus of the Eaton Hong Kong — the food levels and lobbies — is very much influenced by motifs found on the neighbouring streets. Pond says, “The strategy for this project is tying everything together as a holistic experience in one space. [Having] lots of good social friction between hotel guests and the neighbourhood community and the co-working community here. Even though this space is hotel-operated on the bottom floor and the next level up is all third-party vendors, it’s meant to be presented and experienced all together.”

The previous bottom floors of the hotel used to be ballroom facilities, and these have been completely gutted, and the kitchens completely refitted, to create a sprawling open space for the food hall, as well as the hotel’s all-day-dining venue The Astor on the basement atrium. The centrepiece tying these multiple floors together is an immense lighting design, featuring steel pipes and taut canvas drapes that almost echo market tent panels. “The inspiration for the lighting here is the makeshift enclosures that you find on the street, for outdoor dining spaces, and also the stage set design of Chinese opera you find in the neighbourhood,” says Pond.

Eaton Hong Kong
The mammoth lighting fixture, forming the focal point in the heart of all the food levels.

He adds, “All the lighting is custom throughout the hotel. There are some textural quotations that we find very much inspired by the public fixturing that you find in lobbies and alleys and small restaurants.”

Stepping into The Astor, tan and blue tiling is balanced with the familiar green tinge of retro mosaics and decorative metalwork. “Design-wise: we are familiar with Hong Kong, and the heart of Hong Kong feels like this neighbourhood of Temple Street, Kowloon, the Mido Café nearby. These were the touch points that started our deep dive into this highly graphic, very colourful vernacular that we feel is native Hong Kong architecture,” says Pond. Laid out like a marketplace, The Astor combines the nostalgia of cha chaan tengs and outdoor dining stalls with the convenience of an Asian hawker centre, offering a wide selection of chilled seafood, freshly shucked oysters, Cantonese noodles, Indian, Japanese and Korean cuisine, and more.

Eaton Hong Kong
A peek into the private dining space of Yat Tung Heen.

Also on the second basement floor is storied Yat Tung Heen, which has retained its one Michelin star for the past two years. The Chinese eatery got the first wave of refurbishment within the hotel, closing for just six months for its extensive makeover along with the infrastructure of the rest of the eateries. Its grand re-opening unveiled moody, modern interiors, contrasting spacious, elegant dining tables and minimalistic furniture, with retro folding Chinese doors with delicate stained and textured glass detailing closing off private dining rooms to the side. At a lunch featuring classic dim sum and more innovative dishes — such as a pumpkin soup with a delicately prepared tomato stuffed with a Chinese mushroom medley — we noted impeccably attentive service, particularly catering to vegetarian and special dietary needs.

More than just a hotel, Eaton Hong Kong is also the first of its kind to bring a hybrid model of hospitality: Beyond guest rooms and F&B, Eaton is also home to a co-working members’ club — Eaton House — spread across two floors and accommodating up to 320 members, with a mix of private offices and shared desks.

Two other pillars of the brand are wellness and media, with bases covered by a gorgeous new pool-facing yoga studio and top-floor fitness room adding potential to a slew of future community events. There’s also a screening room and a hotel radio station, curating fresh and eclectic music that can be accessed off-site as well as within any venue in the hotel, as well as providing a soapbox for local creatives to share their stories.

Eaton Hong Kong
Playing anything from old school funk and blues to 2018 post-post-rock, the Eaton HK Radio Station invites a steady roster of DJs and guests to curate its programming.

 

Jordan, it seems, is set to be the most exciting place to be for foodies and culture hounds alike this summer, especially those who wish to explore where Hong Kong’s true roots unfold. Lo says, “I hope that it will be a place where local DGS girls, artists, creatives, community members, and more can come to the food hall to gather, hang out, work, have a coffee, make art, and make the world a better place.”