Francesco is an Italian born Korean, he moved to Hong Kong 4 years ago to open a modern concept of fusion Korean with an Italian twits, Moyo. With a warm atmosphere and industrial feel due to the exposed ceilings and black finishing, the restaurant attracts Koreans and expats, becoming a landmark of Central with its unique cuisine and distinctive Moyolisa (Korean version of Monnalisa) on the big wall facing the door entrance.
You look Korean, but you speak perfect Italian and English and you live in Hong Kong… I guess your story has much to be told.
As you know I am an Italian born Korean. I grew up in the hospitality industry because of my family, seeing restaurants and hotels and despite hoping to do another job, I ended up in the same field.
And what was your dream or expectations?
When I was a kid my dream job was being a football player, I wanted to be the first famous Korean. But my parents are very strict and they pushed me to study.
I started university with the idea of being an investment banker, this is why I went to London. With time, I didn’t enjoy it so much, so I decided to open the door to new possibilities and took chances that came to me.
And what where you looking for?
My ultimate purpose was to give an experience to other people, so I started asking to myself what was I good at.
Besides meeting new people, which is one of the things I like the most, my passions are food, art and wine: three things that are very related together and social at the same time. I wanted to build something that could combine all of this.
After few months, I looked at myself and said: I have a Korean face, I lived all my life in Italy and Europe but I never lived in Asia so… why don’t give it a try? I picked up the phone, called my aunt and used her guest room in Hong Kong for few months.
I started working as a waiter in a Korean barbecue restaurant; giving myself time to test the market, to see what people in HK like and want, and what running and experiencing the life of a restaurateur is like.
After few months, I was proposed to be the GM and have share of the restaurant but I refused.
Why? Because barbecue was not my type, it’s too much of a routine, there is no creativity and freedom in food. And it has to be like that: it is a casual concept and people come always for the same experience. I was just looking for something different.
How did you conceive Moyo?
Few years ago, Korea was exploding with the trend of K-pop and Korean drama, and many restaurants were opening up. In the meanwhile, I became friend with people on the Island side, testing the waters: trendy and funky places, not focusing just on traditional flavours but more on giving a unique experience and influencing people somehow.
So, based on what was going on, I simply showed my story: I am Italian and Korean, why not creating something that implements both cultures in one place?
When I had the concept ready in my mind, I went to visit a good friend in Korea, a foodie with a good experience in Italian cuisine, involving him and another one of our friend to be the Chef in the project. We never got apart since then, celebrating yesterday 3 years of Moyo.
How is Moyo different from other Korean places?
The concept itself is unique: we are not extremely and entirely Korean since we use a lot of Italian ingredients, matching textures and flavours. Our strength is also the wine list: 100% Italian (except for some bubbles) and comparing the size of our space and menu, the wine list is pretty wide.
Although it’s a different concept, people like it. We became a landmark for Korean cuisine in HK, above other 1200 Korean restaurants.
What is the concept behind it?
Moyo in Korean means to get together/gather up. The Chinese character 合 also means together and its shape looks like a house at the same time. It embraces all the cultures and has a meaning for everybody. To me it is meaningful because it’s like brining people in my house.
Our aim is to give an experience to the customers, not just to make money but to create relationships too. In the end, we don’t live to be by ourselves, we want to share and be with somebody.
How did you approach wine?
In the beginning, I didn’t know much about it, my parents don’t have wine in their culture and when you are a student you can’t really afford good wine.
Sadly, I have to say that I started drinking more wine when I was in Paris: I was older, my friends where drinkers and I had fun in tasting and building up some skills. I never had so much cheese and wine together as in that period.
Once back in Italy I started to discover more and my palate changed.
When we started with Moyo, we didn’t have a liquor license for the first 6 months.
Then one evening this guy comes with two Korean ladies, he is having dinner. On the table five expensive bottles of wine served in glasses he brought himself. After couple hours, I am in the kitchen “There is an American gentleman that is in love with our place and wants to talk to you” one of the waiter said.
Turned out his name was James Suckling, one of the world's most influential wine critics. It took me a while to realise it was actually him sitting in my restaurant, I couldn’t believe it!
He liked our concept since he lived in Italy for more than 15 years and his wife is Korean, he found a sum up of these things in my place.
Luckily, he helped us out with the liquor licence and building up the wine list, giving us names and suggestions for business and interesting stuff too, including funky wines, biodynamic ones and some labels not easy to find.
The excitement of pairing
The best and most fun thing when you know about wine, is doing the paring, understanding also what people like and what is suitable for your cuisine.
Tasca Chardonnay, nice and refreshing white, can go well with our tuna tartare: the freshness and spiciness of Korean chili sauce, basil notes and a bit sweet aftertaste create a young funky dish in vivid
contrast with the elegance of the wine.
Ceretto Barolo, full yet fresh and agile, with truffle rice cakes, our signature dish. The cheesy taste, chewy texture and fattiness of the rice cakes is washed away by the lively acidity of the wine.
Do you feel more Italian or Korean?
I have no idea... sometimes I feel very Italian some others very Korean. Italy has given me more than Korea but I still believe I am very Korean because I speak Korean everyday with customers, staff, friends and at the end of the story, I own a Korean restaurant.
In football who do you cheer for?
I support the underdog, it is too easy to cheer for the best ones. I am being diplomatic!
If you only had one more night…which wines would you drink?
One Barolo, one Burgundy red and one Champagne.
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