Our Team



Chef Balaji Balachander, known to his friends and colleagues as Bala, is heading the kitchen at Chaiwala where he leads the culinary direction and menu development. A long-time friend of Pirata Group co-founder Manuel Palacio, opening a Hong Kong destination together has been a dream in the making many years.

Chef Bala is known internationally for his experience at Michelin-starred Benares, London. He has since returned home to Chennai where he opened his own restaurant SALT in 2015, much to the delight of his friends and family. Now with three locations in Chennai and Bangalore, SALT’s “Indian soul food” has become a favourite amongst locals and visitors alike.

Bala’s culinary journey started at a young age in his mother’s kitchen, and after catering college in Chennai he was appointed to his first position at the Taj Coromandel, where he was promoted to running the kitchen at their award-winning restaurant Southern Spice.


Born and raised in the beautiful Balearic Islands, Ismael Herrera joins the Pirata Group team as Restaurant Manager at sophisticated dining destination Chaiwala. With a sommelier course under his belt, as well as a hotel management degree from prestigious EAE Business School and a one-year stint at bartending school, Ismael will be making his first appearance in Asia’s restaurant scene with Pirata Group.

Previous General Manager at global lifestyle brand Pacha Group, Ismael brings over ten years of F&B experience to Hong Kong. Starting off as a General Manager for fine-dining restaurant El Ayoun in Ibiza, Ismael’s love for food and determination for success led him to thrive as an F&B Group Director at Muscat Hills Resort and Beach Club in Oman. While away from the energetic restaurants, you can find Ismael relaxing by the beach with a glass of wine in hand, soaking in the sun.


Manuel Palacio and Christian Talpo are the creative and unconventional minds behind Pirata Group which include restaurants Pirata, The Optimist, TokyoLima, Pici, MEATS, Chifa, Madame Ching, Hugger Mugger and Chaiwala. The pair have years of experience in the industry across the world’s top gastronomic cities and an insatiable love for food in all forms. Dedicated to introducing fresh concepts and dining experiences to Hong Kong, Pirata Group brings the city what they want before they know it. Ranging from a casual neighbourhood pasta bar to a late-night Nikkei restaurant and bar, each concept is brought to life by their fiery passion and unique vision. For them, Pirata Group’s goal is clear and simple – to create memorable dining experiences centered around quality food, great service and value for money.