Cover Manuel Palacio is the brains behind Pirata Group. His newest concept, The Sixteenth, will house four different dining experiences: La Favorita, Honjokko, Tempo Tempo and TMK Funk & Rolls (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

Manuel Palacio, co-founder and CEO of Pirata Group, launches The Sixteenth— an 18,000 sq ft, multi-restaurant dining experience, opening this month in Quarry Bay. He talks to Tatler about the new concept and why he's been so ambitious this year

How did you come up with the name The Sixteenth?

It’s a homage to an area of Hong Kong we love very much—the Eastern district, which is the sixteenth district of the city.

What can you tell us about the dining concepts you’re opening?

We wanted The Sixteenth to embody the same principles as the rest of the Pirata Group restaurants: good food, service and value for money. The Sixteenth will have four different experiences. La Favorita is the closest to my heart, as it’s the name of the first Italian restaurant I visited with my father, when I was four. It’s an eccentric Italian trattoria and has the most distinctive design, and it is the most theatrical. Our gut tells us that La Favorita will be the signature concept of The Sixteenth. Tempo Tempo is our rooftop terrace inspired by a summer in Italy, with simple bar snacks, great aperitivo drinks, music and everything you would expect from Southern Italy. Honjokko is an intimate version of our Japanese restaurant, Honjo, and is mainly centred around modern sushi and raw dishes. Finally, our third TMK outlet is inspired by jazz and dance records from the 1970s. Music is essential to me and TMK Funk & Rolls will be the most music-driven venue. Together, we are putting together more than 150 new dishes across these four concepts as well.

How long have you been planning this?

Some [aspects] for as little as six months and others as long as three years. A few of these concepts were originally meant to be independent venues. We were never planning to do a food complex that would house four restaurants, but when we visited the space, we fell in love with it and decided to start working on it immediately. 

Why did you choose to open in Quarry Bay?

In 2019, we started flirting with the idea of moving further away from Central and Wan Chai, where the core of our restaurants is located. We believe the best thing after travel is to discover experiences in places where you don’t live or work. We are in the business of experiences, not just food. It’s healthy to open restaurants in areas with a large population that has not been challenged for many years. We want to create restaurants for everybody.

You launched in Shanghai this year. Was opening in another city scary during Covid-19?

Opening a restaurant remotely and not being able to visit has been very challenging, and it feels strange to see the fruits of our labour by video only. However, there has been a lot of positive learning from our side and it’s a testament to our team’s trustworthiness and hard work.

Why have you been so ambitious in 2021?

We love pushing boundaries and seeing how far we can go. Every time we complete a new restaurant, we ask ourselves why we put ourselves through all this hardship. But as soon as the opening craziness fades, the next question is always: ‘How can we do it better?’ Hong Kong has one of the most competitive restaurant scenes in the world and we consider it a privilege to be a small part of it.

You’ve been leaders in the F&B space for eight years now. What has been your greatest achievement so far?

We are far from being any sort of leader. We try to keep learning and hopefully entertaining Hong Kong along the way. We prefer to replace the heaviness of leadership with the lightness of doing what we love, regardless of the results. Our motivation is not to be the best, but to be one per cent better each day. In this business, the hours are long and can be only fuelled by passion and dedication.

What’s next for you and Pirata Group?

In 2022, there are a lot of new projects on the way. We will potentially grow Pici and Pane e Latte [two of the group’s brands] and we are looking to expand abroad post pandemic. The team is very excited. We like to set moonshots and see how close we can get to unattainable goals.

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