Laszlo and Michele Raphael On Opening Their First Bar Moonkok And The Best Places To Eat And Drink In Kowloon
Moonzen Brewery in Kwun Tong, the brainchild of Laszlo and Michele Raphael, has spent seven years paying homage to Chinese gods—its mythology-inspired beers have quirky names like the Dragon King Fujian Radler and the Kitchen God Honey Porter. So perhaps the husband-and-wife team had some divine help when they stumbled upon a plum site on the corner of Shangtung Street and Hak Po Street in the bustling heart of Mongkok, where they have just opened their first bar, Moonkok.
“We’ve always wanted a bar, but it was all about timing and finding a good location,” says Michele. “And this one is exactly right,” adds Laszlo. “It’s not next to a big road and there’s a real neighbourhood vibe to it: we have a lot of locals who come and bring their dogs. It’s like a corner pub, not like bars in Soho or Central, which are more for partygoers at the weekend.”
This sense of community is important to the couple—and has been since they launched the brewery in 2013. “We have three ‘c’s of the company,” says Michele. “With the brewery, the beer and the bar we want to celebrate community, we want to celebrate Chinese culture and we want to celebrate craftsmanship.”
The latter two are both on display in Moonkok, which has been as carefully designed as Moonzen’s distinctive labels that feature illustrations of mythical Chinese figures. Outside, the bar is clad in vivid green tiles. Inside, red accent walls are lit by rows of warm lightbulbs overhead. “We wanted it to be Chinese-inspired but not kitschy. We didn’t want it to look like a hotpot restaurant,” says Michele. Adds Laszlo: “Having an arched ceiling and the hanging lights emulates the spiral incense sticks you find hanging from the ceilings of temples.”
See also: The Best Cocktail Bars In Hong Kong
Both Laszlo and Michele have been interested in Chinese culture since childhood. Laszlo grew up in Mexico and became fascinated with China when he started learning Mandarin as a teenager, while Michele spent her early years in Hong Kong. “My parents are very cultural,” she says. “And I studied theology and religious studies and worked in academia before I quit to help set up the brewery.”
Michele’s father contributed a work of calligraphy to the bar, painting a message on the wall outside that translates as “Moonkok welcomes fragrant alcohol and tipsy customers to journey in the pleasing and elegant setting”. More contemporary art is hanging on the walls inside. “We are going to have an art programme and host exhibitions by local artists,” says Laszlo. “Every three months we’ll change the exhibition.” First up is local artist Keith Cheung, who is showing four colourful prints.
All eight of Moonzen’s brews are served at Moonkok, as well as the occasional seasonal special. There are also bar snacks inspired by both Laszlo and Michele’s backgrounds, including Mexican nachos and glutinous rice dumplings. Now that the bar is open, the founders are thinking less about themselves and more about their customers. “We really want to use Moonkok as a platform for beer, for the arts, for craftsmanship,” says Michele. “This is a community space.”
Laszlo and Michele Raphael’s Restaurant Round-Up
The Moonzen and Moonkok founders’ favourite places to eat and drink in Kowloon.
1/5 Islam Food
“This restaurant has the best beef pastries in Hong Kong—they’re mouthwatering,” says Laszlo. The pastries in question feature juicy beef enclosed in a pan-fried dough pocket, which is then picked up and eaten with chopsticks, like an enormous soup dumpling. They are recommended in countless guidebooks and legendary among locals. Islam Food is one of the few Islamic-Chinese restaurants in the city and one of the oldest restaurants full stop: it opened in 1950.
Islam Food, G/F, 1 Lung Kong Road, Kowloon City
2/5 Mido Café
“A 1950s cha chaan teng that overlooks Tin Hau Temple,” says Michele. Fun fact: Mido Café is preserved so perfectly that it has been used as a location for many films and TV shows, including Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild and Andrew Lau’s Goodbye Mr Cool.
Mido Cafe, 63 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei
3/5 Australia Dairy Company
“A breakfast spot specialising in heavenly scrambled eggs—and somewhat brusque table service,” says Laszlo. Expect to queue for a table and for your plates to be cleared as soon as you take your last bite, but the eggs are worth it.
Australia Diary Company, 47 Parkes Street, Jordan
See also: The Best Breakfast Delivery And Takeaways In Hong Kong
4/5 Chi Lin Vegetarian
“Chi Lin Nunnery is an oasis in the city,” says Michele. “At this restaurant, try to get a table next to the waterfalls and order the braised tofu.” As well as being vegetarian, all of this restaurant’s dishes are free of MSG.
Chi Lin Vegetarian, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill
5/5 Yau Yuen Siu Tsui
“The only place you can get real biang biang noodles, the most delicious speciality from Shaanxi province,” says Michele. Biang biang noodles are long, flat and served with a spicy chilli sauce. Yau Yuen Siu Tsui is included in the Michelin Guide to Hong Kong.
Yau Yuen Siu Tsui, 36 Man Yuen Street, Jordan
See also: Tried & Tasted: The Best New Cookie Makers In Hong Kong
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