Hong Kong draws up culinary canvas for hungry art lovers

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's Art Week will consume the city for the next few days but creative displays will not be confined to galleries and exhibition halls - they will also be splashed across plates and in cocktail glasses.

The city's restaurants and bars have drawn up their own culinary canvas to tap the growing interest surrounding Art Week, which centres around Hong Kong's Art Basel fair and sees art shows pop up all over town.

More than 65,000 people from across the world were expected to attend Art Basel from Friday - the biggest art show in Asia - and thousands more will visit satellite events of the fair ending next Tuesday.

But visitors increasingly expect their creative experience to extend beyond the main event, says chef Uwe Opocensky of the city's Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill + Bar, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Opocensky has created an Asian art-inspired menu with dishes including "Jade" - what look like vivid green gems on a grey rock but are actually salmon and scallops covered in gelatin flavoured with yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit; or "Warrior" - a chocolate dedication to the Terracotta Army in China's Xian.

"It is not just artists or gallerists or collectors that come here for the special menu. We have businessmen, young couples, ladies who lunch. Even if you are not directly involved in Art Basel, I think people like to feel they are still taking part," he says.

At rival luxury hotel The Peninsula, chef Yoshiharu Kaji of its Felix restaurant has put together five courses celebrating the arts, including a replica of the Taj Mahal.

The Mira Hotel - made famous when American whistleblower Edward Snowden used it as his initial refuge after his explosive leak of National Security Agency (NSA) documents - is serving drinks inspired by Andy Warhol and a dedicated Art Basel menu based on the different elements of the exhibition.

Prices for most art-inspired set menus start from around HK$1,000 (S$178) per person, and wine pairings will add around 50 per cent to the bill.

"Perhaps they won't buy an expensive piece from a gallery, but they can buy some art on a plate," Opocensky says.

With smartphones an almost requisite utensil in Hong Kong as diners take pictures of their food, photogenic dishes explode across social media and are a valuable marketing tool.

"In a social media world where cameras take the first bite or sip, it's important to work on new ways to wow and intrigue," says Victoria Chow, co-owner of The Woods bar.

Her venue has created cocktails inspired by Damien Hirst, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol to coincide with Art Basel, but she says the fusion of art and food in the city has been growing for a while.

"Eating and drinking are becoming multi-sensory experiences. People expect more from their plate. We frequently turn to art, architecture and designers to influence our presentation," she told AFP.

Hong Kong is now the world's third-largest art market by auction sales and the number of galleries has grown from fewer than 10 to 90 in the past 15 years, government figures say.

Greater China, grouping the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, maintained its market-leader status in 2014, accounting for US$5.6 billion in global art sales, according to data firm Artprice.

The boom has fed through to other industries in the city, with the fusion of art and eating a prime example.

New French restaurant Bibo is packed with works by some of the art world's biggest names, including Jeff Koons, Banksy, and Takashi Murakami - and with just 14 tables, diners are guaranteed a blockbuster view.

Duddell's - a two Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, which is part members club, part gallery - displays rare collectors' pieces and has hosted exhibitions curated by internationally acclaimed artists including Amelie von Wedel, Ai Weiwei, and Danh Vo.

"It's not just about hanging a few pretty pictures on the wall," says Duddell's co-owner Alan Lo. "From day one, we strived to present an exhibition programme that is both international and critical, to instigate conversations and debates." AFP