By now, Lam was regularly spending her time between Hong Kong, Shanghai and back with friends in London: a pattern that has continued. Obviously restless and super-energetic, her three homes in those cities occupy her time almost equally in a jet-setting single life that seems a world away from that of her traditional upbringing.
As the galleries first took shape, she tells me, she was well on her "journey to learn to become Chinese", relishing the newfound culture and using her gallery as a platform for the art and design - "Shanghai Deco!" - she discovered. The art of the moment was "mostly political pop", she says, "which did not interest me so much but I wanted to find art and design that drew on the past."
At the same time, though, her international reputation was growing, with invitations to organise collaborations between Chinese museums and French cultural authorities and other projects. Lam was rapidly becoming the powerhouse of Chinese contemporary culture that she is today, endlessly in motion and with a kind of wild dynamism about her.
She breaks off to exclaim, as my omelette arrives, "Oh! Isn't that beautiful?" It is: a perfectly round fluffy snow-white pouffe sits in front of me. I can't think of much to say in return about her yoghurt, but there's no need: it's clear, despite the fabled dining table in her apartment seating 66 people, that food isn't high on the list of priorities. The omelette is almost tasteless, small squares of industrial ham notwithstanding. The spinach has quite sensibly gone Awol. This is how, I think to myself, you get to be as sparrow-slim as she is.
It really doesn't matter. We're rushing on to 2011 - the year, Lam tells me, when everything really changed. "Interest in contemporary art suddenly started to grow," she says, "and even the government looked at it differently - though it was often about investment." So it was time for her first Hong Kong gallery, in 2012, and for a name-change: the early "Contrasts" became simply Pearl Lam Galleries. The stable was completed in 2015 with her second Hong Kong space, in Sheung Wan, devoted to up-and-coming talents: the opening show, by Chinese artist Ren Ri, showed works in beeswax and acrylic. There's also a foundation, her galleries in Singapore, an artist-in-residence programme and a range of other projects.
I know better than to ask a gallerist about their favourite artists: they would never want to go on the record about that. But looking through the stable of artists linked to her galleries, and her shows of visiting artists from around the area and around the world, it seems that her tastes are broad and eclectic: minimalists side by side with the lavishly decorative; big names shoulder to shoulder with emerging voices.
I do, however, ask her about the clients and collectors, especially those appearing from the newly art-aware Chinese mainland. "The collectors now, they are from the one-child policy time and they might have money from parents and grandparents, and they are collecting not so much for investment any more."
And "new money", she says, loves art. "For status, for everything. Once they start collecting, they are obsessive, that's what Hong Kong people are like. Now instead of talking about golf, they talk about contemporary art." Her laugh is nice - aimed at herself as well as others.
I'm keen to ask - though it's hard to get in a question - about public art in the region. As Hong Kong fills up with more and more foreign mega-galleries (David Zwirner and Pace are just two of the art-world giants coming to the new H Queen's building, a magnificent 24-storey gallery hub now under construction, all chasing the burgeoning wealth of the mainland), what about those missing museums?
"It's so important. The M+ museum [under construction in West Kowloon] is so badly needed, to put us on a par with the west. We have to be on a par. You have to have that, the non-profit spaces."
That week, too, I'd been hearing controversy in the city about the opening of an outpost of Beijing's magnificent Palace Museum. But why would anyone not want that? Soft power from across the water? And surely it chimes perfectly, for Lam, with her mission as a sort of cultural ambassador, bringing each side to the other from her special position on the pivot of eastern and western sensibilities?
"There's quite a lot of anger," she replies. "Hong Kong, for some people, has become more political. In 1997 we produced [a large percentage] of China's GDP - now we are dependent on them for everything. Even our water supply. China is like the parent, Hong Kong the child.
"But I think it will be very good to have that museum [of traditional art] - we all grew up knowing nothing about Chinese culture. We have to do that. I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't gone to [live in] China. Although it still took another 10 years for me to say I'm Chinese."
As we get up to leave, the panorama of Hong Kong suddenly lit up in a burst of sunshine, it occurs to me that Pearl Lam is very like the city itself: a combination of irresistible, impulsive natural energy and improbable artifice. Her career has spanned the entire growth of the art scene in the region, both riding on it and driving it. She is one of a kind.