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Underground style but not over the top

JING'AN District's well-heeled elite can now clink glasses in style at the newly opened The Aquarium by Kee in Plaza 66. The lounge and bar are part of the new Alfred Dunhill flagship store in the mall, and distill the designer label's luxurious gent's stylings into a 40-seater space for after-work drinks or a simple meal.

Of course, simple is highly deceptive in this case, as anyone familiar with the brand is bound to tell you. The bar looks right off the set of a James Bond flick, all suits and cigars. Dark, aged leather dominates the underground den, while those with an eye for taste will identify Persian rugs, oak and crocodile hide paneling and polished brass. There is almost a moneyed air of olde English decadence in the 1970s-styled room, designed by Gavin Tu in collaboration with Kee co-founder Christian Rhomberg - so thick you want to cut it with a knife.

The elegant bar is modeled after Albert Loo's swank American Bar in Vienna. Here, the target audience of Dunhill patrons, office executives and nearby hotel guests can get rowdy and sip on old-fashioned but well-made cocktails like a Manhattan or the ever-reliable Martini (best shaken with gin, of course) for 70 yuan (US$10.24) plus 10 percent service. The drinks list, complete with 42 premium whiskies, may not win any prizes for originality or funkiness, but what else would you expect from a stiff upper-lipped grown-up bar? Leave the fruit juice for the kids, as they say.

The food menu is also concise and well-considered. With just a 20-square-meter kitchen to work in, one should hardly expect impressive towers or elaborate tiens to be plated. Instead, mis en place is done off site, and the finishing touches are done a la minute (oh, the paradoxes of modern cuisine). What you get are straightforward, elegant and rewarding dishes like Parma ham and melon (75 yuan), black truffle potato soup (40 yuan), sauteed lobster and tomato linguine (150 yuan) and sliced veal tenderloin and potato puree (135 yuan). Each of these dishes, and the many more including English roast beef sandwiches (85 yuan), assorted dim sum (50 yuan) and e-fu noodles in soup (50 yuan), are just what a gentleman requires for midday sustenance or a quick evening meal to mop up the alcohol.

Of course, the lounge is not looking to alienate the fairer sex, and ladies are more than welcome in this subterranean men's world. The modern lady is never out of place with a single malt or cocktail in hand, and if it's sweets they're after a dessert platter of tiramisu, chocolate cake and cheese cake can be had for 40 yuan.

The second of its ilk in Asia (the original was set up at the Alfred Dunhill three-story flagship store in Tokyo's luxury capital, Ginza), The Aquarium is also the brand's second collaboration with Hong Kong's Kee club after the success of Kee at 796 Huaihai Road.

Project manager Eva Lee believes the two brands to be perfect bedfellows. "We have guests coming in to tell us 'this is very Kee,'" says the Hong Kong native. "Still, The Aquarium has a totally different feel to 796."

For starters, The Aquarium is open to the public. While 796 is still welcoming non-card carrying members, the honeymoon period comes to an end on August 1 and memberships will be sold starting at 38,000 yuan. While this seems like a tremendous amount of money to part with for the use of a restaurant and bar, the fee includes 20,000 yuan worth of food and beverage certificates, 40,000 yuan credit towards Dunhill or Vacheron Constantin purchases at 796, and 10,000 yuan at the ShanghArt Gallery. Members also get reciprocal rights at the Hong Kong Kee Club and the Roppongi Hills Club in Tokyo.

Address: Unit 111A, 1266 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 6288-3822


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