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This hip Japanese izakaya in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan is small in size but big on character.



June 18th, 2013

Those looking to find Ronin may easily miss it. The blank facade is one uninterrupted slab of matte anthracite steel, with a floor to ceiling sliding door in the same material. There is no illumination, no windows and no signage; the only detail is a simple wooden door handle.


Attracting customers is not an issue – after all, the place is always packed to the gills with a clientele made up of creative types. If anything, this narrow 14-seat izakaya, which only has room for about 25 guests, needed a nondescript entrance so only those ‘in the know’ would be able to find it.


Ronin is designed by architect and furniture designer Sean Dix (see our interview with Sean Dix) in collaboration with chef and owner Matt Abergel, who serves a refined Japanese ‘tapas’ menu in his restaurant.

The intention was to create an unpretentious but sophisticated space with an ambiance of an updated cigar and whisky bar.


Great attention has been paid to the details. The seats have been specially designed by Dix for this project. The counters are made from thick slabs of kiln-dried, 150-year-old Japanese hardwood; the floor is lined with the same material, and the planks have been obsessively installed to align precisely with the existing pillars in the space. The ceiling, entrance and restroom doors are covered with military heavy waxed cotton duck that subdue the acoustics of the crowded space. It also creates the perfect environment for the old-school jump, reggae and dub music that gets played at the joint.

An internally lit display refrigerator, which houses artisanal sakes and Japanese microbrews for which this restaurant is renowned, has been customed-design to fit into the awkward space underneath the staircase.


A floor to ceiling display shelf incorporates subtle, hidden lighting to highlight the collection of rare Japanese whiskys and small-batch spirits on display in the muted space.

General illumination has also been carefully studied to provide soft, calm lighting throughout with stronger illumination only where needed.

Sean Dix

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