Even when celebrating his recent birthday in mid-March, Aqua Group’s David Yeo prefers to downplay his uniquely successful career
“I don’t have a good-enough business head on me, so I’ve just been really lucky,” he says wryly. “You just follow your passion and you tick a few boxes.”
The Singapore-born Yeo, now a British citizen who splits time between London and Hong Kong, founded and still runs the Aqua Group with his business partner Richard Ward – 26 restaurants and counting. For 13 years, Yeo has been instilling his own aesthetic sensibility, wielding his influence less like a corporate big cheese than a proxy head designer. “I try to see whether I can sense a restaurant,” he declares, when investigating potential new sites. “You walk in and you can either see the kitchen and the possible operational flow, or you can’t. And if I don’t feel I’ve got something to say about a particular cuisine or aspect of dining, I won’t go looking for a space.”
Yeo’s current eatery empire includes the Aqua trio on London’s Regent Street (Aqua Spirit, Aqua Nueva, Aqua Kyoto), two in Beijing (Agua and Fez Bar), and those in Hong Kong (notably his French bistro La Marmite, recent recipient of a second Michelin Bib Gourmand).
This month, he opens two new restaurants in London, in no less an exalted venue than the Shard, the 306m-high tallest building in western Europe. Yeo’s creations occupy the 31st and 33rd floors as Aqua Shard and Hutong respectively – a parallel universe to his two Hong Kong restaurants at One Peking Road in Tsimshatsui, his flagship Aqua and Michelin-starred Hutong, renowned for their high-end cuisines and floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views. This time, however, the equally massive windows will overlook the magnificent Thames rather than Victoria Harbour.
“The Shard, as you know, is designed by Renzo Piano,” Yeo notes. “Seventy-two floors, and the unique thing is it’s named because it’s like a shard of glass. The core is right in the middle and there are hardly any solid walls on the outside, so that’s why it’s completely wrapped in glass. Right at the top, there’s nothing supporting it except cantilever floors, so it’s quite amazing. There are only three restaurant floors and we felt very honoured to be invited by the landlord to take two of the three floors. I felt completely at home because of what we’ve done at One Peking.
“Coming from Hong Kong, from a design perspective, it was something I was so comfortable with – in a way that most Londoners probably aren’t. We’re used to not designing on the glazing, doing all the lighting so that all the view comes through, so it was a coming-home for me because London is my home now, as well. It’s the first Hutong overseas and at Aqua Shard, we’re serving modern British food.”
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