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Keys to the kingdom

Monday January 17, 2005

Keys to the kingdom

When Andrew Glen of Louis Vuitton Hong Kong took me for dinner when KEE Club first opened, the staff was suitably impressed and fascinated when I showed my identity card and credit cards emblazoned with my name. Even my belt buckle spells KEE.  

Soon, Maria and Christian Rhomberg, co-owners of KEE Club, materialised to investigate the phenomenon of a real, living and heaving Kee. 

Maria, who is Chinese, felt compelled to explain the meaning of KEE. I am Hokkien but, according to her, KEE is slang for “company”, suggesting something that is family run, traditional yet original. The nearest phonetic similarity I can think of in Hokkien means “go”, as in kee ta lok (where are you going?).  

“The prosaic truth is KEE Club is named in honour of the famous restaurant on the ground floor called Yung Kee,” explained Maria. “Many Hong-Kongers grew up with Yung Kee, a veritable institution. KEE Club is not named after a certain Mr Kee. 

“Yung Kee was part of their childhood, where their families would gather to enjoy its gourmet specialty – roast goose. Yung Kee is owned by Ronald Kam whose father started it in 1938. In 2000 the top two floors became available and Ron bought them. Now Yung Kee owns the entire building.” 

KEE Club’s Red Salon, which can be turned into a boardroom or party venue.
Maria married Christian Rhomberg, co-founder of Club 97 and 97 Group, in 1986. She is famous for introducing people who go on to become friends or spouses. There should be at least a dozen KEE children today as a result of her largesse. As for her Austrian husband, Christian was captivated by masked balls as a child.  

“Nights full of mystique and mystery where ordinary life is suspended for a little while,” he grins. “This is the basis of KEE.” 

KEE started when Maria and Kam of Yung Kee were in Shanghai and started discussing their ideal club. “Ron had the topmost two floors in Yung Kee Building and the location couldn’t be better. We wanted a place for people tired of discos but still too young for formal restaurants and stuffy establishment clubs.” 

They roped in David Mok, architect turned multimedia boss, and Darren Shaw, dashingly handsome scion of the Shaw movie family - appropriate considering KEE has a screening room where directors’ cuts and special viewings may be dissected at leisure. Hang Lung Group is the only corporate investor.  

Too hip to hop 

So what are the coveted attractions that await at 32 Wellington Street? First, the location is right next to Lan Kwai Fong, the impossibly hip entertainment enclave in the heart of Central. It is also five minutes’ walk from the ultra-posh Mandarin Hotel. You can easily stagger home after dining, wining and more wining. 

Surprisingly, the entrance is very pedestrian, nothing flashy or fancy. No grand staircase, magnificent lobby or blinking neons so beloved in this part of world. The lift takes visitors straight to the 6th floor where the experience begins. 

Waiting to welcome you is Big Boy, so called because he resembles a Hawaiian chief although he was a bodyguard of the Saudi royal family.  

The lounge is cosy, jazzy and filled with leather furniture. To the right are four rooms in the manner of elitist, 18th- and 19th-century salons. Those weary of stark minimalism are cheered by KEE’s opulent luxury, Parisian chic and downright lavishness. 

The Salons are named after four colours: purple, red, blue and golden. The Purple Salon is a library. Red can be turned into a boardroom or party venue. Blue is a private dining room and occasional game room while the holy of holies is the Golden Salon. This is Maria’s private sanctuary. It is where you might be invited to meet some special guests, discuss a confidential deal or just hang out with the dame herself. 

KEE is not Hong Kong’s biggest club. Conspicuously missing are swimming pool, gym, tennis court, sauna, spa, massage, nursery, shopping arcade and business centre. This is not a sports or traditional recreation club. Space is also a premium in land scarce Hong Kong and tuxedo-clad gentlemen may not wish to bump into buffed-up musclemen in singlets. 

Examples of artwork one may find displayed at the club.
Not surprisingly, there is a lopsided concentration towards feeding your face, an effortless and pleasurable pastime. The Venetian Dining Room is redolent of a bygone era and is KEE’s signature restaurant. Diners sit in original and very comfortable leather chairs from Harry’s Bar in Venice. Surrounding them is an exotic sculpture gallery including an art installation made from a theatre curtain from Vienna’s Opera House in the 1920s. 

KEE serves one of the best dim sum lunches in all Hong Kong. Dinnertime sees Chef Gianluigi Bonelli titillating the taste buds with an ever-changing menu. Permanent favourites are Yung Kee’s famous roast goose conveniently shipped from downstairs and the club’s unforgettable foie gras ravioli. Late guests can drop by after theatre for seductive desserts and rare wines. 

Like London’s China White and The Groucho, KEE has a screening room. Visiting film curators present foreign movie festivals and the latest from global advertising and creative campaigns. 

And everywhere, scattered ever so casually, are valuable works of art from Maria and Christian Rhomberg’s private collection. 

How does a Malaysian get in? 

Normal, transferable membership is RM18,000 and overseas membership is RM4,000, a one-off, lifelong payment with no monthly subscription. Still, RM4,000 is one Louis Vuitton bag. You still have to pay for the meal and there are heaps of excellent restaurants all over Hong Kong clamouring for your custom. 

There is an easier alternative, provided you stay in one of the super five-star hotels – Mandarin Oriental, The Peninsula, Grand Hyatt, Intercontinental (formerly The Regent) and Ritz-Carlton. 

Then you can ask your concierge to get you in to luxuriate in its salons and Venetian Room or cosy up to Maria.  

Dim sum lunch costs about RM100, RM200 gets you a great dinner and RM500 guarantees a sumptuous repast with wine. 

As a genuine Kee, I was given tableware as souvenirs, each bearing the legend “KEE Collection”. 

 

  • The club’s address: KEE Club, 6 Floor, 32 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong  

    ( 00852-2868 3383).  

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