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27 Questions: Manuel Palacio, co-founder of Pirata Group

Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date.

In addition to sporting a blazer and brightly coloured pocket square, you’ll rarely catch local restaurateur Manuel Palacio without his signature ear-to-ear grin: In addition to running some of Hong Kong’s most popular eateries, Palacio is one of the most congenial stars of Hong Kong’s F&B scene, as those who know him can readily attest to.

With a deep-rooted passion for hospitality, the co-founder of Pirata Group (TokyoLima, Pici, Madame Ching, Honjo & TMK, MEATS, the list goes on) set path on a hospitality career at the tender age of 13 in his native Madrid, before jet-setting around the UK and the US to cut his teeth at noteworthy establishments around the world. Having travelled extensively since then (he estimates he’s been to around 30 countries), Palacio honed his hospitality skills at international hot spots from London to New York and Ibiza.

After moving to Hong Kong, Palacio noticed the lack of establishments with approachable Western-style service, thus giving birth to his idea for Pirata Group in 2013. Since then, the group has grown to nearly a dozen restaurants, running the gamut from boisterous izakaya to rustic pasta bar — all landing the trifecta for atmosphere, cheerful price points and approachable service. Below, we get to know the charismatic gentleman behind some of the city’s most beloved eateries.

Name: Manuel Palacio

Age: 33
Neighbourhood: Mid-Levels
Occupation: Co-Founder of Pirata Group

1. What is your life motto?

“Be kind.”

2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?

Amber, no question about it. Wait, maybe there are a few other contenders…some dishes at Belon are pretty awesome!

3. Who is your role model?

People who inspire change and who change the way we live. From today’s time, Elon Musk. From the past, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln. I’m also a big fan of Danny Meyer from Union Square Hospitality Group.

4. What was your first job?

Washing dishes at a hot chocolate and churros store in Madrid’s Old Town. This was pretty horrible and very sticky for two years! But I was 15 and got free beer, what can I say?

5. What is your drink of choice?

In the morning, water and a latte. In the evening, Chardonnay. At night, Mezcal.

Late-night Japanese eatery TMK is Pirata Group’s newest restaurant.
6. When was the last time you drove a car?

10 years ago.

7. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?

The sunlight and all of my books filling the space.

8. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I’m a “6am in the morning” kind of person. There is always a big collection of pictures of me sleeping as I’m famous in our group for my power naps while at late night tastings in between dishes.

9. Which phone app could you not live without?

The Activity app from my Apple Watch. It’s fun to see how much your people are exercising – it keeps you motivated and fit.

10. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Oreo Cookies.

11. What is your biggest regret in life?

Each time I get angry.

12. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?

Not having visited earlier. C’mon, we have to admit that Hong Kong is awesome! On the good and on the bad days, everything is just amazing about our city.

13. What is the top destination on your bucket list?


14. How often do you prepare your own meals?

Once in a very blue moon.

15. What is your greatest fear?

Running out of coffee in the morning!

16. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

Candy, sweets, cookies, chocolate… basically anything sweet.

17. What is one movie everyone should see?

Life is Beautiful.

18. What is your typical Sunday like?

A 6:30am hike for two hours and reading a book for an hour, followed by meditation and computer work until mid-day. Brunch walk around our restaurants (mostly the ones on the Kowloon side) and usually Pici food tasting. During the afternoon, I prep for the upcoming week of work and visit our Central and Wan Chai restaurants during the night.

19. What is your unique party trick?

My secret dance moves.

20. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?

My 25th birthday.

Neighbourhood bar Pici serves rustic homestyle Italian food.
21. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

In the summer, I would live in L.A. In the winter, definitely Hong Kong. In the spring, London would be amazing. In the autumn, it would have to be Bali.

22. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?

You know you’re a Hongkonger the moment you are 300 metres away from somewhere but still choose to grab a cab, until then you’re just pretending.

23. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?

Frank Sinatra for a good song, Abraham Lincoln for wise advice, Nelson Mandela for inspiration, Ellen Degeneres for a good laugh and Victoria Beckham… I’ve always wanted to meet her since my childhood.

24. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?

Any Disney song from the 90s, Aladdin’s one of my fortes.

25. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?

That I used to go at 4am to paint trains with graffiti.

26. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.

Everyday when I see Diamond, my girlfriend. 6 years and counting.

27. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
My father. He once told me, “an idiot and his money never last too long together” right before I went bust with my first company. Wise man.
27 Questions: Manuel Palacio, co-founder of Pirata Group

Leslie Yeh

Editor in Chief

Having worked as a lifestyle editor for almost 10 years, Leslie is thrilled to be writing about the topic she loves most: wining and dining. When she's not out pounding the pavement for the latest new restaurant opening or tracking food trends, Leslie can be found at home whipping up a plate of rigatoni vodka and binge-watching Netflix with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand.

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