There’s a lot for guests to take in as soon as they step inside Mott 32 (1161 West Georgia Street), the Vancouver version of an upscale Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. From the massive Victorian-style conservatory light fixture above its main dining room to bird-cage-themed booths to abacus wall dividers, diners will feel like they’ve been transported to a different era.
Like those of its sister restaurants in other cities, Mott 32 Vancouver’s interior was created by award-winning designer Joyce Wang, who runs studios in London and Hong Kong. She pays attention to the slightest of details in any given space, which explains why Malcolm Wood, managing and culinary director of Maximal Concepts (the company behind Mott 32), has worked with her on so many projects.
For Wood, the atmosphere and design in his restaurants are as important as the food and beverage offerings. “You have to have great cocktails and a wine program, you have to see the guys cooking and see the bartenders and sit there and enjoy the atmosphere,” Wood told the Straight in an interview at his Vancouver restaurant. “If all three are working, then the customer will come back.”
There are several private dining rooms at this Chinese fine-dining establishment. Each room has a different theme, featuring unique designs and décor. For instance, the Opium Room has a lounge chair and lighting fixtures made from antique pipes.
Authenticity is very important to Wood, who emphasizes that the Chinese vases, Edison lighting, and Victorian chandeliers found at Mott 32 are integral to telling its East-meets-West story. “At every single Mott 32, you could have five meals in five different spots at the restaurant and it’s a completely unique experience in each one of those spaces,” Wood said. “Having a great design with Chinese food and a mixology program is quite an unusual setting. I think that combination is what makes Mott 32.”
The restaurant’s distinctive and breathtaking interior space, coupled with a diverse and consistent menu, is what gets people coming back through its doors. Even with higher than usual prices, Mott 32 is a favourite with many local food lovers.
“There are many different layers and textures to the flavours in our dishes. The backbone of the menu is Cantonese, but we incorporate flavours from other regions in China,” Kai Chung Lai, Mott 32 Vancouver’s head chef, explained to the Straight. He was in semiretirement mode when Maximal Concepts’ headhunting team scouted him, but he’s not complaining.
According to Lai, the restaurant’s bestsellers include the crispy, triple-cooked U.S. Black Angus short rib, signature Maine lobster ma-po tofu, and apple-wood–roasted Peking duck.
“What sets Mott 32 apart from other restaurants is that we really focus on using high-quality ingredients and we especially pay attention to where it’s sourced and how dishes are prepared in the kitchen,” Lai said.
Mott 32’s cocktail and wine program is also unique. Its extensive list of libations has proven popular among those who enjoy tipples around town, and Wood is proud to be able to offer that at an authentic Chinese restaurant. Signature cocktails like the Mott St. Cooler (Zubrówka vodka, Madagascar vanilla syrup, Szechuan chili, ginger, and apple) and Hong Kong Ice Tea (Blanco Avion tequila, Lillet Blanc, blackcurrant, and jasmine tea) are top picks.
When Mott 32 opened in early 2017, it didn’t garner as much attention as a restaurant of its calibre usually would. The lack of press and social-media interaction was down to one factor: it’s located in the Trump International Hotel. Wood understands that some potential customers may have kept their distance from his restaurant because of its presumed association with the controversial building and the name attached to it, but he strongly emphasizes that politics are not involved.
“Our decision in going into this space had nothing to do with Trump. It was a fantastic location, and with restaurants, it’s all about location,” Wood said. “We operate the restaurant independently, but we are at this address. It is what it is. We aren’t in politics, and we try to stay quite neutral.”
At the end of the day, Wood knows what his business concepts are about. Sustainability and environment-friendly practices are close to his heart, hence his involvement with anti-shark-fin organizations and antiplastic documentaries. He wanted the first overseas Mott 32 to open in Vancouver, not only because he has a childhood attachment to the city but also because he believes the city is aligned with his own ecoconscious mentality.
In a city saturated with exceptional Chinese restaurants, it’s hard not to ask whether the co-owner feels pressure from local competition. But Wood is not fazed by other restaurants—he knows his is unique.
“We’re not a mom-and-pop shop just specializing in design or just doing cocktails. It’s a place where you can come for an experience, a casual lunch, and the food is family-cooking food that’s shareable and accessible,” he said. “But you’re sitting in this environment that’s so different. You’ve got to come and try it, basically, to start to understand it.”