Fireball duo Christopher Mark and Syed Asim Hussain, the founders of Black Sheep Restaurants hospitality group, seek out the unexpected plot twist. Not long ago, when the dining scene in Hong Kong was thirsting for a renaissance, the restaurateurs understood that in a space of cultural diversity which hundreds of thousands call a home-awayfrom-home, the neon lights are only as bright as the span of night. To deliver a sense of belonging, Christopher and Asim surround guests with memories and stories so they might feel that much closer to those they dine with.
Their dynamic array of culinary haunts extends from edgy pockets of SoHo (Ho Lee Fook, Belon, New Punjab Club) to budding favourites in Wan Chai (Le Garçon Saigon, Osteria Marzia). Now the duo have moved up in altitude to Mount Austin for their newest venture, Rajasthan Rifles, a reimagined British Indian army mess hall serving top-notch Anglo-Indian dishes.
The Peak, as residents call it, bedrocks the island’s most elite, the crème de la crème. With a single sweeping view that could encapsulate Hong Kong, Rajasthan Rifles positions an all-day dining affair for locals of leisure and those well-travelled looking to lose track of time. The pedestrian approach might have been for a minimal site that simply heroes its prime location, but Rajasthan Rifles in typical Black Sheep manner goes well beyond that.
Enter Sydney-based interior design studio Melissa Collison Design. Having ample experience in creating Australian hospitality knockouts – Rosetta Ristorante, Saké, Saké Jnr, Fratelli Fresh – Melissa took the brief and flew with it.
Says Christopher, “In our search for the right designer we wanted to receive a better version of our vision.” And that vision was to create a destination reminiscent of a time when AngloIndian regiments stationed in 1920s Rajasthan bonded over comical banter, unpretentious and hearty food servings and endless happy hour, forgetting their circumstances for a moment. “It was a very unfortunate time, but people made the most of it,” says Christopher, unpacking the extensive research Melissa had undertaken for the restaurant concept.
Strong utilitarian elements lay the foundation of the interiors. Dust-red bricks pave exterior qualities inside the restaurant: covering the floor, extending up the walls and wrapping around silo-style pillars. Dark timbers service the rest, from ceiling to tabletop. Rattan accents offset the brass finishes, a nod to what would have been copper materiality. Panels of gridded glass create booths that partition diners from the real world. Handsome window frames stand tall, welcoming plenty of natural light and warm breezes. Ceiling fans spin to a subtropical beat.
Asim says that chef Palash Mitra’s authentic menu (Black Sheep has been awarded two Michelin stars so far) is close to his heart. He explains that too often there is an injustice done to South Asian cuisine, with the countless regions and subcultures lumped together. Rajasthan Rifles specifically sheds light through a window at the intersection of Anglo-Indian cuisine in its sophisticated execution of informal food. Pineapple raita, an Indian yoghurt-based condiment and a refreshing panel of chutneys that take you from sharp to sweet cut through a satisfying line-up of delectables steaming from the depth of tandoor drums. Don’t underestimate the club sandwich which threads together tiers of chicken tikka, masala omelette and cheddar from English organic farm Rhug Estate. Cooling cocktails also await-gin and tonic could be what the doctor ordered. Quinine, an ingredient of tonic water, was once widely consumed to ward off malaria. If a chaser does not appeal then linger for a fragrant chai.
“There is a very generous spirit here,” says Melissa looking over the soaring bar. A glorious stretch of curved counter is embellished with an impressive antique bottle collection. Vibrant bouquets glisten between glass reflections. Uniformed gentlemen align forks with plates and chairs to tabletops. A sense of pride whistles over the background jazz. Rajasthan Rifles is bustling and it is only 10am. rajasthanrifles.com, melissacollison.com.au, blacksbeeprestaurants.com