Andrew Wong: Design Wunderkind Turned Accidental Restaurateur

28 August 2019

For many people, the first cup of coffee is the highlight of their morning – it’s the only way to start the day off on the right foot. And for Malaysian restaurateur Andrew Wong, it’s no different: “Every morning I have a latte sent up from the restaurant to my office. I need coffee to kick start my day.”

As part of our ‘Local Heroes’ campaign for Malaysia’s Hari Merdeka, we sat down with Andrew to pick his brains on what inspired him to take the leap from architecture and interior design to opening his own restaurant, and the connection between a good meal and a good cup of coffee.

It’s All in the Details

a pan of Salted Egg Yolk Chicken Strips
The menu at Acme Bar + Coffee is extensive, offering familiar dishes with a creative twist such as the Salted Egg Yolk Chicken Strips. Photo from Acme Bar + Coffee

The first thing we asked, of course, was about his daily coffee routine – here’s how Andrew describes the “perfect” latte: “I look for what I call a ‘soft pillow’ in the foam of a latte. And then when you sip it, the nutty, smoky flavour with a hint of bitterness to wake you up. And not too hot or cold, either. I bring out my inner Goldilocks when I taste a latte.”

Learn how to foam milk at home here.

It’s no wonder, then, that Andrew and partner Brian Quirk decided to name their first culinary brainchild Acme Bar + Coffee (ABC) – the word “acme” means “the point at which something is at its peak or pinnacle”. No matter if it’s food or coffee, there’s no doubt that Andrew brings the same level of precision and attention to detail to ensure that the absolute best is served to customers.

“We are more than just a place to fill a hungry stomach. People come to us because they want a special environment to create those special moments – be it with friends or by themselves.”

After spending years working on design and lifestyle projects for various clients, including F&B brands, Andrew thought it would be fun to throw his hat into the ring. In 2012, ABC’s first outlet was unveiled at The Troika, located in Kuala Lumpur City Centre. The outlet received many accolades for both its industrial-chic design and creative twists in the menu (think Salted Egg Yolk Chicken Strips and Kicap Lamb Shoulder). Two other outlets have since opened – one in Suria KLCC and another in Pavilion Elite – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Inspired by Americana

An aerial view of a restaurant
The interior of every outlet was meticulously designed by Andrew, giving each one a unique cohesive design narrative. Photo from: Andrew Wong

Unlike most cookie-cutter chain restaurants, no ABC outlet is made to look the same, thanks to his frequent travels to the United States to visit family. “Each of the ABC outlets was inspired by different parts of the cafe-restaurant scene in America,” explained Andrew.

He drew heavy inspiration from Portland, Oregon and its signature “vintage industrial” look for the inaugural restaurant, while the other restaurants were modelled after the thriving culinary scenes of the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana and the smokehouses of Lubbock, Texas.

Ever the foodie, Andrew insists on serving diners as he would like to be served: made to order dishes cooked using fresh ingredients. None of the pre-cooked, microwaved shortcuts. This means that the wait for your meal may be longer when the restaurant is busy, but Andrew promises that the wait is worthwhile.

“We have always wanted a place for comfort food, nothing complicated, yet familiar in flavour.”

(Speaking of worthwhile waits, Andrew also shared that a number of ABC’s customers have met their to-be spouse while dining at an outlet.)

Weaving a Story Through Design and Coffee

a cup of latte with a biscotti placed on the side
To Andrew, like design, every cup of coffee has a story to tell. Photo from Acme Bar + Coffee Instagram

As for the similarity between his love for design and his love for coffee, Andrew said, “I think in both cases, there’s always a story to tell.” Whether it’s enjoying a meal in a favourite restaurant or trying a new type of coffee, it always begins with the question, “What story do we want to tell?”

“The provenance of the beans, for example, or the farmers working the highland soil, and how each cup of coffee evokes a scent, taste or conjures a memory,” muses Andrew, noting that not only is ABC a place to come celebrate with friends and family, but it’s also the perfect cosy spot to escape with a good book and great coffee.

With a focus on quality beans, sourcing, roasting, and brewing methods, here’s what makes a brew “specialty coffee”.

Working closely with coffee partner DeGayo, Andrew makes sure that every step of the coffee-making process, from farm to cup, is controlled to get the best from each bean. He believes in letting the coffee speak for itself, without all the frills and gimmicks that have become commonplace in coffee culture.

“It is all a journey – from beans to cup, and from entry into our restaurant to sitting down and enjoying a meal.”

Hungry for More

a plate of beef ribs, peas, and fries
Innovation never stops for Andrew – he constantly seeks creative ways to venture deeper into the F&B industry. Photo from: Andrew Wong

Constantly seeking to innovate, Andrew has explored beyond ABC in recent years with the opening of Delirium Café and OpenHouse – both very different ventures.

Delirium Café is the franchise of a well-known Belgian craft beer brand, carrying a vast catalogue of the best craft beers from around the world, while OpenHouse is a modern Malay restaurant reimagined as a fine dining establishment. Located at Suria KLCC, both bear beautiful, carefully-designed interiors – one is fun and whimsical, while the other is intricate and opulent.

But don’t think that Andrew is done with ABC. “We are looking to grow the brand. ABC has been our beacon for the last 8 years and I think it is also time for us to refresh the brand.” When pressed for further details, he cryptically added, “It is too early to reveal this now, but we have started work on it.”

Whatever is in the works for ABC, we’re sure it’ll be far from conventional.

In the meantime, you can check out ABC’s website, or visit their Facebook page here.

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