Hong Kong is very well known as an eating paradise with a quite diverse F&B offer. From Cantonese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, French, to Middle-Eastern, South American, and Carribbean cuisine, just to mention a few, Hong Kong provides its inhabitants and visitors with many options, and experiments new fusion concepts.
The variety also spans from Michelin-starred chef restaurants, to ‘dai pai dong’, and F&B business is characterized by high-margins, but also huge turnover because of the high rent, and difficulties in recruiting and retaining talents. However, restaurant groups are mushrooming, and to survive to landlords, and retain talents, have one choice: create value for people around the business, customers, but also employees.
Among the youngest groups, but rapidly expanding in the city, is Pirata Group, creative project by Manuel Palacio and Christian Talpo.
Manuel and Christian are the unconventional masterminds behind Pirata Group, which currently includes the restaurant concepts: Pirata, The Optimist, TokyoLima, Pici, MEATS, Chifa, Madame Ching, Hugger Mugger, and Chaiwala.
Both Manuel and Christian have years of experience in the industry across the world’s top gastronomic cities and an insatiable love for food in all forms. While founding Pirata Group, they establish a clear and simple goal: create memorable dining experiences centered around quality food, great service, and value for money.
Retail in Asia had the chance to interview Manuel and understand more about Pirata Group’s mission, and upcoming projects.
RiA : Pirata Group has been around for just a few years, but its restaurants already play a dominant role in the HK F&B landscape. How did everything begin?
Manuel : The philosophy of the company was born as a result of our passion for hospitality coming from years of experience in the industry. Both of us started from the bottom and slowly worked our way through the ranks. I started working with Christian a few years before we decided to create Pirata Group. It was a comfortable and natural working relationship, we both had similar opinions on the Hong Kong F&B scene and had dealt with similar experiences in the past. In 2014, we decided to go for it and opened Pirata, and here we are 4 years later with 10 different concepts in town.
Pirata, Source: Pirata Group
RiA : Your portfolio of restaurants is very diverse. Different concepts, different cuisines, different ambiences. How do you choose them, given the fact that HK already has a wide range of concepts?
We are always looking to bring unique concepts to Hong Kong neighborhoods. We look for gaps in the market, and think about what people living in Hong Kong may want, before they even know they may want it.
For us it is not about opening restaurants that are on trend; but looking into being creative and innovative with our concepts to bring something totally new and yet somehow timeless to the market.
Our three core philosophies, the backbone of all of our restaurants, are: good service, great quality food, and affordable prices. We want guests to leave our restaurants feeling like they are not only satisfied with the food and service, but also that they have enjoyed an experience of true value.
Madame Ching, Source: Pirata Group
RiA : You are Spanish and Christian is Italian, how do the two backgrounds converge in the choice of concepts to delight HK’s palates?
Manuel : As well as our multicultural backgrounds, we have both worked and lived in HK for a long time – we have experienced the F&B scene here not just from an F&B standpoint but as diners as well.
The service industry is very people-oriented – being close to the guest means we have had years of first-hand feedback.
We are creative, daring, instinctive and really like to please our guests. At the end of the day, these qualities are more important than our nationalities.
RiA : What is your customer profile?
Manuel : Pirata Group attracts a wide variety of guests, but all of them, in our opinion, choose us based on three core things: quality, service, and value.
We attract locals, foreigners living in Hong Kong, people working in the neighborhoods, and people who travel across the city to visit us. We also serve a large number of tourists.
Our guests come for celebrations, or just because they are hungry. With the small size of local residential properties, people in the city eat out frequently and we see many of the same faces a few times a week.
RiA : Do any of your concepts attract a more specific or unique type of crowd?
Manuel : TokyoLima is a slightly elevated experience, and so it brings in more corporate customers and travelers.
On the other hand, our pasta concept, Pici, was conceived as a neighborhood spot, but attracts people from far and wide.
Meat lovers will return to MEATS time and again, but then we will see them at Chifa or Madame Ching as well, depending on the occasion or their dining companions.
We cater to locals, expats, and tourists equally, and our philosophy of offering true value sees guests returning again and again.
Chifa’s crystal dumplings, Source: Pirata Group
RiA : Chifa and Madame Ching have strong storytelling behind them. Can you explain how this materialized through design and food?
Manuel : Chifa is a cuisine that is new to the F&B scene. The cuisine has a beautiful history behind it – it originates from 19th century Chinese migrants who settled in Peru and celebrates the colorful culture and flavors from two distinct parts of the world. The heart and soul of Lima’s lively Barrio Chino is created through woven bamboo on the walls and ceiling paired with Peruvian touches such as the clay dishware and earthy brick floors.
Madame Ching is a Modern Chinese restaurant named after the formidable pirate who dominated the South China Sea in the early 19th century. Dishes tell a story of Chinese provenance in reimagined way and recreates a feel of the old city. The design features a travelogue of old style photographs and trinkets from local markets paired with wide windows lined with wooden shutters, recreating a feel of old Hong Kong.
RiA : As other restaurant groups are moving towards lifestyle, speakeasies, and bar concepts, is there any plan for Pirata Group in this direction?
Here, we go with Hugger Mugger. Hugger Mugger is a British Salon serving cocktails inspired by Britain’s eclectic cultural legends.
Hugger Mugger is also the gate to our newest restaurant concept Chaiwala, embracing the philosophy that ‘Life is Chai’ and creating a sophisticated and lively new Indian dining destination.
Hugger Mugger, Source: Pirata Group
RiA : What’s next for Pirata Group?
We have recently moved our headquarters to Wong Chuk Hang with a test kitchen, a dedicated space for creativity and innovation as well as a centre for research and design. This is also the place where our staff is trained.
We will focus on offering a service at a standard of excellence across the group.
We have also just opened our third Pici location across the harbour in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui.
Stay tuned for more details on Pirata Group’s expansion!