Loh Lik Peng on The Old Clare Hotel
Diving down under
Few people can imagine the possibilities of a dilapidated building forgotten by time. But for hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng of the Unlisted Collection group, an old warehouse or dilapidated shophouse forms the perfect backdrop for his next boutique hotel. With seven properties spanning three countries, the group's latest venture — The Old Clare Hotel — sees its portfolio expanding down under to Sydney, Australia. Come August, the foundations of the old Carlton United Breweries will set the stage for a 62-room property nestled in the heart of Sydney's gypset-approved Chippendale neighbourhood.
The Old Clare Hotel will also play host to not one but three highly-anticipated restaurants: Automata, fronted by Momofuku Seiobo alumni Chef Clayton Wells; Silvereye, headed by Sam Miller, the former executive sous chef at Noma; and Kensington Street Social, British Chef Jason Atherton's first Australian digs.
Loh lets us in on the details.
Tell us about The Old Clare Hotel. How did it all begin?
Dr. Stanley Kwek, the chairmain of Frasers Property and an old family friend, approached me and said, "I have an interesting project in Sydney and it seems to be right up your street." So I flew up, saw the property, and found it to be, well, right up my alley. Stanley was working on developing the Carlton United Brewery, a pretty very large site, and The Old Clare Hotel will be taking a small part of that building.
I like the idea of working in an old brewery in a heritage building. On top of that – I love Sydney. It all came together and seemed like something that would work for us as a group.
What possibilities did you see with the building when you viewed it for the first time?
It's an old industrial building and architecturally very interesting. The brewery has been largely unused since early 2000 and hasn't been updated for decades. There are lots of brick and steel against old original features. There was even an old boardroom still standing. But what is more interesting is that it's so rich in culture and history. I've sited previous hotels in town halls and old warehouses – and having one in a brewery is something that appeals to me very much, especially since the Carlton United Brewery has such a long association with New South Wales and Sydney.
Above: The Unlisted Collection group boasts seven properties across Singapore, Shanghai, and London
Given that The Old Clare Hotel is your eighth hotel to date, how has your approach to hospitality projects evolved over time?
I wouldn't say it has changed but you learn to be more sympathetic to the building. You come to realise what you can or cannot do. You get better at knowing what the pitfalls are likely to be. The Old Clare Hotel in particular had a lot of issues. We had to work through massive amounts of engineering. We faced many structural issues with the basement and ended up spending more time on the engineering of the foundation than we anticipated at the start.
Traditional barber shaves are one of the services available at the hotel. What other unusual touches can guests look forward to?
We're going to have three pretty interesting restaurants on site. There're not many boutique hotels with three restaurants spanning three very different concepts.
Which cities would you like to open more hotels at?
I've always loved London. One day, I want to plant a flag in the United States. I would love to do something in Paris, Melbourne, and Jakarta as well.
What's your favourite hotel to check into?
My all-time favourite resort hotel is the Post Ranch Inn in the Big Sur, California. It's one of the most stunning properties I've ever stayed in. I love the fact that it's set in a natural park and so well designed. You're overlooking cliffs while backed by a gigantic forest featuring redwood trees with unimaginably large trunks. It's really awe-inspiring.