Glass meets interior design duo Ed Ng and Terence Ngan of AB Concept

SINCE 1999 Ed Ng and Terence Ngan have built a reputation as the go-to practice for luxury hotel and restaurant interiors. Founded in Hong Kong before expanding with outposts in Bangkok and Taipei and with a 100 strong team of designers, AB Concept had certainly made their mark in southeast Asia. More recently, and with a seemingly similar popularity, AB Concept has started to make their mark on Europe with projects completed in Milan (Papermoon Giardino) and the project we’re concerned with here, their first project in the UK, restaurant Mei Ume in the Four Seasons Hotel (London) which opened early last month.

Situated in the 1922 headquarters of the Port of London Authority, Mei Ume is an Asian restaurant that aims to balances east and west in both design and menu. Steeped in heritage, Ng and Terence have given a nod to the importance of this location, featuring embroidered silk screens on entry – a typical material brought in via this gateway – while resorting main features of the original building. With an approach that combines preservation with modern installations with the finest details at the fore while drawing on significant cultural influences, goes some way towards understanding AB Concept’s popularity as the design powerhouse that they are. We caught up with NG and Ngan on the opening of Mei Ume, located at Ten Trinity Square (London) to discover their ambitions for their first UK project.

AB Concept2053Ed Ng and Terence Ngan of AB Concept at work

Describe your creative process behind starting any project.
With all of our projects, we like to start with a story. We believe every client that approaches us hopes to see something unique from the space, and not just a generic design. The location, the brand, the client, the target audience, the architecture – all of these factors contribute to the story. Once the narrative is created, the rest is driven by our design expertise.

Tell us about the concept behind this restaurant, Mei Ume.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, the site of Mei Ume, used to be London’s Port of Authority Building built in 1922. It was the centre of trading between Britain and the Orient, where goods such as tea, silk and porcelain were being traded and where the Oriental cultural influence began to reflect in lifestyle objects.

This strong storyline helped us tackle one of the most challenging factors – designing an Asian restaurant within a classical Western architectural building.

AB Concept1902 (2)Ed Ng and Terence Ngan

So it was important for you to pay attentions to East and West when designing?

Yes, the Western context of the hotel naturally leads into a contemporary Chinese aesthetic in Mei Ume, seamlessly bridging the gap between the two distinct cultures. This story is reinforced by our own story; our design education was unmistakably British, whilst being deeply rooted within Chinese culture.

The setting of Mei Ume is where the inspiration came from – the crossroads where goods were traded between East and West. We wanted to fuse this in a way that celebrated both cultures.

What was your inspiration behind this project?
The inspiration really came from the history of the space. Being the former Port of Authority in London, it was a trading hub and this story is translated into the space with the original distinct Western architectural features intertwined with Asian-influenced details.

When entering Mei Ume, guests are met with a glass screen that has been embellished with plum blossoms. The screen is suspended from two metal columns encompassing the design of typical portholes that are repeatedly seen throughout the restaurant. Strategically placed at the reception, this piece fuses the two worlds – East and West – into one, allowing guests to feel as if they have entered a different era in time.

Mei Ume 9

Interior of Mei Ume, Ten Trinity Square (London)

When designing for restaurants, how important is it to create a synergy between the menu and the experience?
Extremely important. People now go to restaurants for both the gastronomic experience as well as the mood and atmosphere. As they are constantly seeking “Instagrammable” spaces when dining or socialising, we as the designers have to adapt to fulfil diners’ experiential expectations.
 
What materials and textures where important for you to focus on?
We wanted to design something that expressed the charisma of the Orient, whilst remaining relevant to modern day. By doing so, we included red ceramic wallpaper that represents good fortune in Chinese culture and which blends in with a Western damask pattern whilst the paint finish offers a porcelain appearance. We also included acrylic water-colour-like wall panels to represent traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

The most notable feature of the restaurant and central focal point is a red lacquer frame holding an ornate three-layer gilded triptych. Each panel depicts a story and has been created through a multi-layer painting technique with glass overlays, allowing the viewer to see the work from a different perspective depending on the angle of viewing. On the opposite wall, we used another piece of art, using the same layer painting technique which is suspended and depicts a market scene from the Song Dynasty in China – an era of Chinese history dating back to AD 960.

The bar is another important space and is covered in a pavilion-like structure that is illuminated with custom lanterns framed in black metal with patterned glass, we also used bamboo here to create the live sushi station.

Mei Ume 14

Interior of Mei Ume, Ten Trinity Square (London)

Where does craftsmanship come into play on a project like this?
Craftsmanship is extremely crucial to the success of this project, especially when the storyline is about celebrating the cultural and lifestyle exchange through trading in a past era. Such goods were considered as artisanal objects, so we needed a high level of refinement in the craftsmanship to help us make the story convincing.

Would you change anything about how this project has turned out?
As a creative person it is always natural to critique your own work as any artist would, but we are particularly proud of the result and very much see it as an honour to be tasked with such a special project.

by Stephanie Clair