Even before the dust has settled on the original House of Mao at China Square, Tung Lok president, Andrew Tjioe, has opened a branch at the Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade. The newest addition to the gourmet dining group, House of Mao II, duplicates the success of the theme restaurant albeit in a slightly different form. While the original restaurant recreates the mood of a banquet at the Great Hall, Mao II depicts the mood of a rally at Tiananmen Square in the evening. Interior designer, Ed Poole from Poole Associates, has managed to replicate the feel of the first outlet through design details such as retaining the signature elements of House of Mao such as the stools at the bar counter. The most prominent item in the 2,180 square feet space is the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong smiling and waving to the crowd. This is complimented by a delightful painting of Chinese school children waving back with their little red books. Both airbrushed works were executed by Willy Baet from Poole Associates. The giant portraits are complimented by almost 200 pictures of Chairman Mao which adorn the walls. As befitting the rally theme, the main wall posters revolve around speech-giving and crowd scenes.
Reinforcing the Mao concept are 200 porcelain pieces and other memorabilia which are on loan from Dr. Yeo Seen Huat, an avid Mao collector. Television sets located at the bar and dining areas show video clips from the life of Mao, creating an interactive backdrop. Poole says that the design intention for Mao II was to create a more active and vibrant feel as befitting the mood of a rally. To do this, he has taken advantage of the high ceiling which is painted blue to depict the night sky while bright yellow walls provide contrast. An important aspect of rallies are flags so these have been faithfully added at strategic locations. Also included are Chinese lanterns which give the sense of an outdoor setting.
Lighting-wise, spotlights have been strategically placed to focus on the tables only and as the light is not diffused, there is the feel of darkness, i.e. evening. To maintain the active feel, the "intelligent" lights are programmed to pan the crowd. Last but not least, there are neon signs which are a typical element of rallies in Tiananmen Square. "Mao II may appear different from the first restaurant initially because the layout is one big room as opposed to a z-shaped space," said Poole. But like its predecessor, it relates to the neighborhood and this design is more suitable for a street side restaurant along Orchard Road than one in Chinatown. Other design elements that contribute to the theme are a series of display cabinets flanking one wall of the restaurant. These are modeled after the cabinets in the traditional friendship stores in Shanghai. While serving as display areas for the Mao artifacts, the cabinets also act as a divider from the corridor outside, thus giving a sense of privacy to diners. Adding to the atmosphere is the piped-in music which was specially created by blending Chinese and Italian melodies.
However stunning the decor, the main draw for any restaurant is still the food. Here at House of Mao II, the menu is an adventurous blend of east and west features the eclectic Hunan-inspired cuisine of Chef Susur Lee. While there are several Italian dishes such as pasta and pizzas on the menu, it is interesting to note that pasta was introduced to Italy from China. Owner, Andrew Tjioe, discloses a little-known fact: pizza was originally invented in Szechwan and brought from China by the Italians. The themed decor and food of the House of Mao II has been very successful, and if the crowds "rushing to join the revolution" are any indication, we can be sure that there may soon be plans for Mao III.