With hip-hop on the menu and in the speakers, Candour is the latest opening from Common Abode co-founders, Nelson Htoo and Elin Fu.
Release dates are a tricky thing in hip-hop. A curious, if not altogether nebulous, part of the album process, those in the industry and those who cover it know those dates are never truly set in stone. 50 Cent’s debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, almost never saw the light of day — before going on to earn two Grammy nods and sell 12 million copies. DMX battled his own share of label politics before It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot went on to become both a critical success and commercial best seller, then he gave us Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood as an encore, landing another hit with fans and critics in the same calendar year.
A record isn’t finished until it’s in the hands of the public, and even then — as any Kanye West listener knows — that’s still not always the case. Chalk it up to “the best laid plans…”, the relentless pursuit of perfection or simply record labels generating hype without having to actually do anything, the release date serves as little more than an announcement that something is coming, and as fans, we can only hope it’s worth the wait.
A Tough Decision
Nelson Htoo understands the wait. The co-founder of Common Abode (Club Rangoon, Hjem), Htoo had to delay the planned summer opening of his newest hip-hop bar and lounge, Candour, when the design didn’t turn out as he and his team had envisioned. Restarting the process took months — an eternity in the F&B world, where rents are staggering and bills don’t care if you have customers coming in or not — but for Htoo and his team, there was simply no choice but to get every detail right.
“It was a tough decision and a tough process that followed — to do an entire design overhaul and delay our opening — but it was important for us to not make any compromises in that aspect,” says Htoo. “At the end of the day, the physical environment that you are in can make or break an experience — and our goal is to ensure our guests can have the best time in Candour’s carefully designed space.”
Ready to Dine
That careful design extends beyond the physical: Like a top producer, Htoo assembled a world-class crew of F&B veterans to inject style, truth and soul into each of Candour’s offerings. Beverage consultant Chanel Adams paid homage to the culture with a cocktail menu inspired by rap’s greats both then and now, from Dre and Snoop (“The Chronic”, HK$118) to Migos (“Bad and Boujee”, HK$128) and Saweetie (“ICY GRL”, HK$98).
Common Abode executive chef Karisa Cheque put her spin on Orange Chicken (HK$88), a staple of American-Chinese food, rapped about by everyone from The Fugees to the late Biz Markie, while dropping some collaborative classics of her own, such as Cha-Siu Tacos (HK$118) and Mapo Tofu Tater Tots (HK$88) with chili doubanjiang and sesame seeds. And what’s a hip-hop lounge without, well, hip-hop? For that, Common Abode enlisted veteran music director Surge G. of Surge Entertainment, who brings a supreme clientele of DJ talent that will keep the vibes high on Peel Street for nights and weekends to come.
Htoo and the team have done their part. With opening day — and an aptly named “Boo Tang Clan” Halloween Bash — already behind them, Candour’s future now lies in the hands of the fans: the diners, the drinkers and the partygoers of Soho. Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong linked up with Htoo to talk about the inspirations, the challenges and, naturally, his all-time favourite tracks.
What’s the concept of Candour?
Candour is a hip-hop bar-lounge concept, but with a full-fledged restaurant menu for all your feasting needs. While the imagery of the siren is used to signify the appeal of the space and concept, hip-hop ties it all together across our menus and music programming. Whether you’re looking to kick back or to party, Candour is the place for either — with good food, good drinks and good tunes to accompany you through it.
What does the name signify?
From the beginning, we knew we wanted Candour to be a hip-hop lounge. The one thing that we wanted to show appreciation toward was the origins of hip-hop and how it began as a creative outlet for communities to express dissent and critique. With the word “candour” also denoting truthfulness and honesty, we wanted to instil that same sense of openness, and embrace the expression of different lived realities through hip-hop music.
What made you want to launch a hip-hop lounge?
Hip-hop is no doubt a global phenomenon. All of us here have grown up listening to hip-hop, and while we appreciate the depths of its elements, it’s the type of music that we see ourselves always drawn to. The concept of Candour also emerged from an introspective look at what our ideal nightlife spot would look like, and we found hip-hop music at the center of that reflection.
What were the influences on the menu?
There are definitely influences from around the world, ranging from Chef Karisa’s Brazilian roots such as our Leite Frito with Doce de Leite for dessert, to our take on the infamous Panda Express favorite, Orange Chicken, that is quintessentially American-Chinese. Hip-hop influences, too, seep into both our food and cocktail menus: Our Notorious B.I.G. Burger is an indulgent “b.e.e.f.” burger that takes on a Biggie reference. We wanted our menu to be filled with the satisfying classics that people know they enjoy or view as “comfort food”, but to find a new love within our unique twists on those dishes.
Orange chicken! Tell us everything.
The Orange Chicken is a riff on the same popular dish from the American-Chinese fast food chain Panda Express. Although not truly “local”, the glaze on the chicken is the perfect combination of sweet, sour and spicy, and with the crisp that follows, the Orange Chicken is undeniably satisfying and one not to be missed on a visit to Candour.
How did music inspire the cocktail menu?
The cocktail list follows a tracklist format, where each drink has been influenced by a fundamental idea or value that is inherent in hip-hop culture. Each drink pays tribute to a hip-hop song or artist, and the menu is accompanied by a Spotify playlist that guests can listen along to while sipping on their cocktails. The menu was developed and curated by Chanel Adams, who has done a tremendous amount of research into hip-hop, its origins, and its fundamental ideas to craft these drinks in a considered way that even the ingredients used are ensured to fully capture the essence of the song or artist that the particular cocktail is inspired by. Ultimately, the unparalleled spirit and energy of hip-hop is at the heart of this cocktail list.
What are your plans for music inside the space?
We’ve been working really closely with Surge Entertainment for our music programming. While it’s early days, DJ Crystal So has been our resident DJ for Friday nights, whose infectious hip-hop mixes include a great balance of old-school hits and crowd favorites alongside her signature scratches that we love. We’re looking forward to solidifying the music program further, with more parties and events on the horizon to invite guest DJs to play at Candour and push what it means to be a hip-hop lounge.
What are your all-time favourite hip-hop tracks?
This is a tough one! There’ve been a lot of amazing releases over the year, but just off the top of our heads, all-time favorites would include “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube, “Passin’ Me By” by The Pharcyde, and “A Milli” by Lil Wayne, just to name a few. All of these are classics that have played a large part in pushing boundaries within the genre and shaping the music that has come out thereafter.
How much have you changed the venue from the previous tenant, 65 Peel? Is there anything that you kept?
To be honest, we changed up almost everything! With food being one of the key offerings at Candour, we built up a closed kitchen that is efficient in both design and functionality. We switched up the layout of the bar, and added in a DJ booth as well — an important component for the full Candour experience. We also reconstructed the entryway into the iconic arched entrance that people have come to associate Candour with. Full of charm and visually captivating, the arch has found its way into our brand identity too, as a doorway to a unique, new experience.
Is there anything about the design that people should look for?
Each part of the space has been carefully considered in terms of design. It’s the small details that not only stand out on their own, but also bring the entirety of the space together — such as the lighting, the textures of the wall or the marble countertop — making it whole and cohesive. Another focal point of the space is a commissioned piece of art by local street artist Szabotage. Using his signature pixelation technique on canvas, Szabotage has rendered an image of Tupac exclusively for Candour — a great way of paying homage to a hip-hop legend through art.
Lastly, what do you want the world to know about Candour?
We would love for everyone to come through and check us out! We hope to spread our love for hip-hop not just through music, but also through food, drinks, design and a growing community of like-minded people.
Candour, 65 Peel Street, Soho, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2362 8100
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.