Project profile: The American Club Hong Kong

Since the 1920s The American Club Hong Kong has been a venue where guests can sample the best in US hospitality. Jim Banks looks at the latest redevelopment in the city’s bustling financial district

When small groups of US businessmen in Hong Kong turned their social meetings into a formal club back in 1925 they could hardly have imagined that over 80 years later The American Club would have become a prestigious venue, renowned for both its cuisine and its decor.

The club quickly outgrew its original location at Rutton House on Duddell Street. In 1936, with over 400 members, it moved to the then new Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building. Since 1985 it has occupied floors 48 and 49 of Two Exchange Square and its membership has grown to nearly 3,000. But, throughout the changes – including the most recent renovation completed in March 2016 – its values are the same as the day it started.

The club’s menu has had many incarnations, including a range of Chinese dishes, but its mainstay has always been traditionally American.

As part of the refurbishment the Clipper restaurant on floor 48 has been updated and the upstairs venue has done away with Chinese food in favour of a new gastrobar. The reason being that although Chinese food is an important part of domestic US cuisine, it can be found all over Hong Kong.

“Upstairs the Forty Niner serves traditional American fare. With pictures of football, baseball and hockey games there is a very American feel to the venue,” says Joshua Goetz, who has been  executive chef at the venue for the last seven years. “It is a high-end steakhouse, which was a little bit of a gamble because there are already many steakhouses in Hong Kong, but it has paid off. Downstairs, we had a fine dining membership venue that was a little dated and, while it suited older members, younger members wanted something livelier. We created a place that is both a family and a business hangout,” he says. “The menu has changed a lot. We didn’t want to serve the same old food, but we could not add new cuisines from around the world. We looked at it as if we were opening afresh, chosing classic American fare with a twist, plus regional dishes.”

Look and feel

Architects CADA were in charge of creating a world-class, modern venue, attractive to younger members. Design and construction took two years for the 3,000sq m space over two floors, which includes dining rooms, a gym and two outdoor terraces. The interior features iconography to capture the spirit and history of America, making full use of the spectacular views of Hong Kong’s skyline with large windows and mirrored ceilings.

For the back-of-house area the owners initially turned to UK consultancy Tricon, where Paul Arnold FCSI took charge of addressing the one limiting factor on the project – the restraints on physical space. “Equipment selection was a real challenge across the two kitchens,” says Arnold. “The Clipper kitchen is more of a showpiece, though there’s still a view into the more traditional kitchen upstairs. European equipment is more compact, which would have helped with the relative lack of space. We had to not only meet the chef’s aspirations, but also the needs of the interior design, which do not always go hand-in-hand.

We had to focus on the logic of the workflow for the chefs and the look and feel of the design. It is always an organic and fluid process and chefs are receptive to our ideas. But we have to understand the flair of individual chefs because they know how they like things to be done. Everyone is very pleased with the results,” he adds.

Arnold and Goetz arrived at a specification that fully met the design brief in terms of vision, appearance and practicality. “I was fortunate because the club gave me a lot of control over the back-of-house area within the constraints on budget and space,” says Goetz. “Tricon did a lot of original layout and we worked well together. We looked at workflow, efficiency and layout and Paul came up with the idea of making the workflow go from the centre outwards. He also specified modular items for things such as sinks, counters with storage space, and ceiling-hung gantry shelves. He proposed some very attractive elements I had not considered.

“The number of covers has been growing by around 12% each year, so I had to make gains in terms of production and storage,” he adds. “We could not add a walk-in cold store, so the primary directive for the kitchen designers was to add as much cold storage as possible, and the solution they found has been the biggest improvement.”

Keeping cool

The cold storage solution came from manufacturer Adande, which provides a range of catering and restaurant refrigeration products based on its innovative technology – the insulated Adande drawer. The technology is based on the principle that cold air is denser than warm air. The system holds the cold air in insulated drawers that can be located anywhere in the kitchen – even in the cookline – and keep food perfectly cool.

Adande drawers can be configured to replace almost all upright and undercounter fridges and freezers. No cold air is pushed around the unit, so less energy is consumed. With precise temperature control at one-degree intervals from -22°C to +15°C the units offer versatility, as well as energy efficiency and easy maintenance.

“Josh has said the units have changed the way the kitchen operates and have cut clean down time in half,” says Paul Harper, international sales director for Adande. “The venue is in an amazing location and the views are mind-blowing. Paul at Tricon was familiar with our technology-driven product and getting into this kind of fabulous venue is what we need to do.”

“We needed updated, modern and more efficient equipment to improve energy efficiency and workflow,” says Goetz. “Paul from Tricon suggested Adande units and we were amazed by the efficiency. We now have 18 of them. Through their energy efficiency they pay for themselves. They make it easier for chefs to cook better food, so we are only limited by our imagination.”

Jim Banks

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