Fish School, a fresh and unique concept created by award-winning hospitality entrepreneur Yenn Wong and esteemed Hong Kong-born Chef David Lai, brings the local wet market to the back streets of Sai Ying Pun via the design of Hong Kong-based creative team Paola Sinisterra and Ignacio Garcia.
The concept of Fish School grew from Chef David Lai’s lifetime love of seafood and knowledge of local produce. Inspired by thehere and now of Hong Kong, the restaurant brings modern, contemporary Hong Kong culture to the plate and aspires to redefine what is Hong Kong food.
The restaurant celebrates Hong Kong’s fishing heritage which stretches back for generations. Not far from the harbour front in Sai Ying Pun, Fish School is located in the heart of Hong Kong’s fishing roots, where bustling local markets and fish stalls can be found on many street corners.
Noting their hands-on approach and eye for design, Yenn Wong appointed Paola and Ignacio to create the interiors, logo, and uniforms for Fish School. “Working with the husband and wife duo gave us the opportunity to use their combined talents to bring the concept of Fish School to life,” said Yenn. “Their fresh ideas and designs give the space a truly unique feel, yet are still reminiscent of the Hong Kong wet market. When I first started to develop the project, I knew the duo’s creative energy was perfect.”
Fish School entryway
At Fish School, guests enter through an inconspicuous entrance off of Sai Ying Pun’s Third Street and walk through a lush jungle of rubber trees and other plant species often seen in Hong Kong’s natural surroundings. Pairing grit with greenery, the access creates an oasis away from the city’s bustling rhythm and calls for diners to unwind and change pace.
The main room articulates around an open kitchen and an aquatic tank which houses seasonal fish, shrimp, lobsters and crabs. Every morning Chef David Lai personally trawls the local seafood markets of Hong Kong to hand-pick the “catch of the day” which is then featured on the blackboard that hangs above the bar. Diners at the bar can enjoy the sinuous activity of the tank and observe chefs at work.
In search of an authentic, minimalist feel, Paola and Ignacio have chosen noble materials and kept them as close to their original state as possible. The oak plywood wall cladding pays homage to the traditional wooden crates used to transport fresh fish from sea to market and served as a backdrop for Rocky Yip and James Woodward Jr. of Hong Kong’s Entendre Studios to draw fish species which are featured in the ever-changing menu. The rest of the interior details are rendered in hues of blue reminiscent of the sea, while the warm-toned ceramics developed with FlowPlus Ceramics evoke a scene of the sea bed while letting the food take centre stage. The whole fish tray was designed in collaboration with Latitude 22n to create the perfect vessel for one the restaurant’s signature dishes.
The bar at Fish School
Nearly a third of the 50-seater restaurant’s dining area is at the bar, which surrounds an open kitchen where the chefs casually share freshly prepared dishes. A predominantly blue-hued private dining room, which comfortably seats 20, features a wall-sized window that peeks out onto one of Hong Kong’s oldest stone walls and the roots of the trees that hang off them. One wall of the private dining room features a gold leaf silhouette of Sai Kung representing the local fishing culture with a layer of white corals to remind guests of the importance of preserving the fragile marine ecosystems.
Fish School interior – graphics by Rocky Yip and James Woodward Jr.
Paola and Ignacio’s design is a celebration of multiculturalism and a shared interest in issues of sustainability and locality. Since moving to Hong Kong years ago, the pair has enthusiastically immersed themselves into the city’s way of life, drawing inspiration from the vibrant daily life and creative energy of the city. “We were very excited when Yenn asked us to be involved in the project as we thoroughly admire David’s work,” said Paola. “We wanted to use materials that resonate with the history and aesthetics of Hong Kong while trying to capture the appeal of the wet markets and traditional local shops that we love so much. As with other projects we had done with Yenn, this was also a fabulous opportunity to reach out to creatives and craftspeople working in Hong Kong to define, together, what local design can be.”