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Day in the Life: Restaurateur Brian Woo

The story of Cô Thành began back in 2013, when Brian Woo planned a three-week trip to Vietnam. Captivated by the energy of the country, he decided to stay longer in Ho Chi Minh City, which led him to finding his daily lunch spot at a stall in District 1 called Lunch Lady — an Anthony Bourdain favourite famed for a flavour-packed rotation of Vietnamese noodle soups. Eventually, Brian befriended the Lunch Lady herself, Nguyễn Thi Thành, who agreed to teach him her recipes, and he stayed in Vietnam for three years perfecting dishes like bún mắm, a fermented fish and shrimp soup. Brian went on to share these recipes with the world through his Hong Kong-based Vietnamese restaurant named in her honour, Cô Thành.

Cô Thành founder Brian Woo
Cô Thành founder Brian Woo

After five years in a small space in Sheung Wan, Brian has recently relocated the restaurant to a spacious premises in Pacific Place. To celebrate the new beginning, we asked the restaurateur to take us through a typical day in his life, which revolves largely around the Admiralty neighbourhood. (The restaurant’s proximity to lululemon is a happy coincidence too: Brian’s entrepreneurial story and adventurous spirit have made him an ambassador, so you’ll typically find him kitted out wearing the athleisure brand from morning to night.)


Morning


‘After I get ready for the day, I make myself breakfast, which typically includes homemade sourdough with eggs or avocado and freshly pressed green juice. I head out and start my mornings with a walk through Hong Kong Park, which connects to Pacific Place. I usually stop by Fuel or Between Coffee to grab a cappuccino before stopping by Cô Thành. After I connect with my team and attend to any urgent business, the team and I set up the restaurant for lunch service before we have a daily briefing.’

Cô Thành founder Brian Woo with a coffee from Fuel Espresso and working in the Pacific Place store
Left: Brian gets his daily coffee from Fuel Espresso. Right: Brian at Cô Thành Pacific Place, where he’s often found working alongside the team

Lunch


‘At lunchtimes, I usually work the lunch service alongside my team until the rush is over, then I grab a quick bite before having a few afternoon meetings. I have a few favourite things to have for lunch; bún mắm has been one from when I first tried the noodle soups from the Lunch Lady’s stall in Saigon. Its super unique and balanced flavours of sweet, savoury and umami from all the different fermented shrimp and fish pastes are always a delight. And lately, I’ve been really enjoying our new phở bò. It’s just simple, delicious and nutritious, and I can have it any time of day. But many times when I’m in a rush and need to grab something on the go, I’ll get the classic bánh mì truyền thống and a rau má đậu to drink, which is packed with vitamins and minerals to keep me powered while on the run.’

A selection of dishes at Cô Thành Pacific Place
Cô Thành's faithful recipes have won the hearts and tastebuds of Hongkongers

Afternoon


‘Afternoons are usually reserved for meetings and errands, which take me all over the place to pick up ingredients or any extra supplies we might need, meet with suppliers or catch up with industry friends to plan our next collaboration — every day is a little different!’

Cô Thành founder Brian Woo exercises in lululemon from Pacific Place

Evening


‘I do my best to maintain discipline and keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle, so in the early evenings you can find me at the gym or on a run. This helps me clear my head and reset for whatever the evening has in store. Normally I work dinner service at the restaurant, but if that doesn’t happen I work on things in the restaurant itself or on admin or other work — there’s still lots to do.’

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