Hong Kong: Ben McCarthy of Charlie & Rose

April 22, 2016

Ben McCarthy designs award-winning restaurants in Hong Kong.  Not the type of restaurants you will find in a guidebook or at touristy main streets.  But the kind you hear from word of mouth, the kind your friends say you’ve got to try next time you are in K-Town, or you must go for the best whiskey cocktail in the city.

Of course Ben also designs other things. Before setting up his own studio Charlie & Rose  (a combination of two of his grandparents’ first names), Ben worked at Australian mega-firm Hassell and UK luxury design house Candy & Candy, firms behind projects from a Panda Forest in Adelaide to a Challenger 605 private jet (worth 27USD million, in case you were wondering!)

The restaurant scene in Hong Kong is exciting; there is always something new to try and locals love to eat out.  But it can also be a stressful environment with rising rent, changing food trends and high turnover.   Having designed much-loved, eclectic neighbourhood restaurants and bars like Brickhouse, Stockton, Fish and Meat and Mr & Mrs Fox, we caught Ben for a quick chat about design, coffee and starting his own studio in Hong Kong.

Original photo from Charlie & RoseOriginal photo from Charlie & Rose

What was your favourite subject in school when you were little?
Science. I was a destructive child. I liked to pull stuff apart and set things on fire.

What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to designing a successful restaurant?
I’m not a fan of anything too pretentious. I like designing spaces that let you feel like you can relax, make some noise and enjoy yourself.

We heard designers and architects in Hong Kong get about 3 hours of sleep a night. Is that true?
Not me. I get 7 hours. I couldn’t function otherwise.

How many restaurants have you designed so far?
Somewhere between 50 and 60.

What are some of your favourite shops or local brands in Hong Kong?
Feather & Bone on Graham Street and the kitchen shops on Shanghai Street.

Do you have a favourite building in Hong Kong?
Anything old with its original character intact.

What’s the most difficult thing about having your own business?
Not ever being able to switch off or not care. However, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.

Do you have any secret talents?
My real passion is food and cooking. I’ve recently started making sourdough bread from scratch as well as some other fermented things – I’ll let someone else decide whether I am any good at it though.

iPhone or Android? What’s the most used app on your phone?
iPhone. Instagram

How do you like your coffee?
Flat White in the morning, espresso in the afternoon.

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