Q&A: Malcolm Wood
In Vegas, 2018 was a year full of changes, and one of the most anticipated was of the Mott 32 opening at The Palazzo. The high-end Chinese restaurant, part of an expansion of Mott 32s worldwide, was designed with custom artwork, wallpaper and lighting, creating a luxurious feel throughout. Las Vegas Magazine’s Nina King talked with founder and managing director of Maximal Concepts Malcolm Wood about the restaurant and what to expect in Las Vegas.
So why bring Mott 32 to Las Vegas?
Las Vegas sort of represents the hub of great cuisine and of all the famous guys in the U.S. who have restaurants out here. It’s a really competitive landscape in for food restaurants. We feel we can compete with what we have here and we think it’s unique as well. We’re really happy to bring it to the U.S. and share the concept.
Why not open in New York, where the name comes from?
We’re being very selective about where we go, the properties we go into. Mott 32 is our flagship; it’s our baby. We want it to be in special areas. Not every day do you get to have a special location like this in a restaurant space this big. You know, if we find an amazing location in New York, we’ll take it, but for us Las Vegas is as good a place we could start as any place in the U.S. And we’ve got a great partner and a great location here.
It looks pretty intense.
We’re quite unique in the way we do Chinese food. For us, the food is the most important aspect of the restaurant. In Asia, the first thing was to create it an atmosphere that you could only see in a Western restaurant. So, put the bar just as big a centerpiece as the kitchen, have the beverage program just as important as the food. And so, it’s more about the whole experience, and really, no one had done that with the sort of high level of Chinese cuisine.
The other thing is, for a Chinese restaurant in Asia, you don’t often see good, high-quality Chinese cooking in a place where they care just as much about the interior decoration. Mott32 in Hong Kong won the Inside Festival World Interior First Award. We also used the same designer—she won best interior decorator worldwide that year—Joyce Wang, so she’s doing the design here. Everything is really intricate. The wallpaper is actually from an old Victorian wallpaper company from the U.K. and shipped over here. We’ve gone down to really finite details to the function of the restaurant.
It’s probably our biggest wallpaper feature that we’ve done in all of our Mott32s and probably the most expensive as well. (The embroidery is) hand-stitched; it’s silver thread, it’s hand-painted, it’s a really beautiful piece. So, when we do the interior design we really care about the finished product; the authenticity. Vegas is going to be unique in the sense that it has its own sort of design, its own little USPs that you won’t find in other Mott32s. We’ve also not designed a restaurant in a space this big where it’s a restaurant—it’s not a club or a bar—it’s a restaurant, it’s about the food. So, I think this is going to be a really, really special restaurant in terms of Asian cuisine for the whole of the United States, not just Vegas.
What does the designer, Joyce Wang, take as inspiration for this particular restaurant?
So, Hong Kong was designed around a Hong Kong family that collected artifacts throughout the century because it’s a port community. The different locations are like the outposts of these families going traveling; and Hong Kong is a very international community, they don’t mind traveling. That’s kind of seen throughout the design; it’s very eclectic. By being eclectic, it becomes timeless, rather than by being too specific to a time or a style. You’ll see it here in the Victorian wallpaper and the lamps and the things we have done. Vegas is more modern, and we’ve tried to add more modern things into it. It’s been really fun seeing how that works on paper and seeing how it’s come to life in reality. You can’t ever imagine what you do with $100,000 wallpaper and a neon duck. You can’t imagine how that’s going to get to reality from a computer screen, and that’s kind of what’s going on here. I hope people enjoy that mix and eclectic vibe.
You have new dishes just for Vegas; how did you decide what you were going to have?
Well, as a restauranteur, you can’t expect that if you have an amazing concept in one city, it’s going to work in another city. As a culinary team, we know this. We know that the core of our menu is well recognized—people travel and we have tourists who come to the restaurant. We’ve kept the core the same; it’s part of the DNA and we won’t change that. But we like to be unique in the different locations that we have gone into, so we’ve done this. We like people who live in the city to say, “Oh, Mott 32 has a dish that Hong Kong doesn’t have; you should come try this one.” And we’ve done that by doing dishes that we think the locals will like a little bit more; we like to have a little bit of fun and try some new things that we wouldn’t necessarily do in another location. For example, we’ve taken a signature Iberico pork dish that we have—in Hong Kong, it was one of the most Instagramable photos when we did that dish—it’s Iberico pork pluma cut from Spain; it’s slow-cooked like traditional char siu and it literally falls apart. Here, we’ve done it so it’s more charred, almost a little bit Texas barbecuey… We tried it today and almost thought it was better than Hong Kong. When I said that, the Hong Kong team all started going, “Oh, no, no, no.” We’re excited about the menu we have here, and have (adjusted) about 10 to 15 percent of the dishes.
So, people can really search for those special, different dishes.
Yeah, we have a lot of citron dishes, maybe when we’re in Northern Asia, maybe it will be more spicy…more heavy. We just play around with what items we put on the menu so it works for the local community.
Have you eaten at other restaurants yet in Vegas?
Not extensively. We’ve mainly been eating in the kitchen and you try to limit other food. You’re trying up to 40 different dishes in a day. That brings me to another point. We’re very specific about the ingredients we use, like the designers we use. When we come to a different city, we have to make sure we can find the product we cook the dishes from. Everyone asks me, “How do you get the Peking duck to taste so good?” You find that duck, and it’s probably the hardest dish to emulate in different cities, and you have to go through the suppliers. In Hong Kong, it was 120 different ducks before we found the one we wanted. We’re getting better at it, because we have more contacts. I think Vegas is up to about 50 different suppliers, and we found an amazing product. It cooks really well and it gets a beautiful skin. It’s a local U.S. farm that makes it. We try to localize the products as well; we’ve got a good farm-to-table ethic about what we do, which is kind of unique for Chinese restaurants as well. We try to source sustainable seafood and things like that.
We’ve eaten at Catch; super buzzy. Really great atmosphere, interesting rolls and a nice eclectic menu.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
I like our Burnt Juniper Negroni. It’s based off a traditional Negroni, but it has different flavors in it. I love the smell of juniper; gin is one of my favorite spirits. We just opened the second-largest gin collection bar in Asia. It has more than 450 unique gins. We’re massive gin fans. Any cocktail that comes out with a smoldering juniper bush on top—I love that flavor. We have it here as well; it’s one of our signature cocktails.