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Love Story

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No one knows how to do maximalism quite like Australian designer Ashley Sutton. Whether it's the beetle-bedecked walls of secluded speakeasy J. Borowski or the seductive peacock hues of opulent cocktail bar Ophelia, when you walk into an Ashley Sutton-designed space, you’re immersing yourself into a story. 

The same is true of Dear Lilly, Sutton’s fifth and latest project in the city. Like the rest of Sutton’s Hong Kong venues, Dear Lilly is part of F&B giant Dining Concepts’ stable of offerings. Perched on the rooftop of IFC — a location that attracted Sutton for its stunning view — Dear Lilly is an exercise in old-school romance where diners can enjoy modern European fare paired with a cocktail menu filled with niche French liqueurs. 


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The inspirations behind the restaurant are numerous, but the key concept is 1920s Paris. “My mother was always collecting and pressing flowers when I was a child, so I've always had an affinity for them,” Sutton said. “When I was in Paris, it seemed like every street corner had a hole-in-the-wall florist, so I wanted to do something with that.”


And flowers abound in Dear Lilly. Bunches of real lavender cover the ceiling, their fragrance wafting down to reach even the entrance. Sprigs and blooms in glass perfume bottles teem along the walls. The floral theme continues even in the cocktails and glassware. The Mad Enchantment cocktail, for instance, is garnished with edible flowers and served in a porcelain, floral-print teacup. 


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The name of the restaurant itself was taken from one of the many letters written by WWI and WWII soldiers to their wives that Sutton perused, fascinated by the art of letter-writing in an age where social media predominates. More excerpts from these letters are etched in marble inlays along the floor. 


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What’s perhaps most striking about the restaurant, however, are its layers. The space is sectioned off into a number of cosy, intimate booths and a central bar area, thanks to a series of intricate, ornate structures that call to mind the inside of a music box. “The booths were incredibly difficult to create, as we had to bend the steel at different angles and then laser-cut the design,” explained Sutton. The pièce de résistance of the bar area is a display shelf filled with vintage curios that were sourced throughout Europe by Sutton himself. “I ideally wanted more antiques,” he laments. It’s typical for Sutton to be incredibly hands-on with his projects from beginning to end, even overseeing other aesthetic elements of a project, such as the design of the menu and the uniforms. “It’s impossible for someone else to get into my head, so to get the outcome that I envisaged, it’s better to do it myself,” he declared. 


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But isn’t overwrought vintage nostalgia a little passé? What about the Scandi-chic or Zen, Japanese minimalism trends? “Both [maximalism and minimalism] have their places,” Sutton said. “But customers get bored [with minimalism] if it’s a restaurant or bar concept.” Well, one thing’s for certain — you definitely won’t be bored during a night at Dear Lilly. 

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