Designs on fine dining:
This week Georgina Safe speaks to Australia’s most in-demand restaurant designers.
When chef Andrew McConnell refurbished his fine dining restaurant Cutler & Co in Melbourne last year, he drew on the unusual concept of synaesthesia, whereby one sense engages another, such as when seeing an object or a colour triggers a sound or smell.
“Some chefs believe it’s all about the food, but it’s not,” says McConnell. “What’s really important is the built environment and how it makes you feel before, during and after,” he says.
In McConnell’s Fitzroy dining room, synaesthesia meant using marble and crystalline-glazed doors in the bar to evoke saltiness as oysters were served with champagne, and rich mossy suede banquettes and earthy leather in the dining room to trigger herbaceous and spicy flavours over roast suckling pig with Japanese turnips, shiitake and mustard leaf. Created by Iva Foschia of IF Architecture, the redesign was about shaping an almost visceral experience far beyond the food.
“We wanted to create a multi-sensory experience that is about what you look at,what you hear,what you touch and what you smell – as well as what you taste,” says McConnell. “We want you to be stimulated before you start eating.”
McConnell and Foschia are not alone in elevating restaurant interiors to an art form. Coveted by restaurant groups, chefs and boutique operators, the nation’s hottest restaurant architects, stylists and interior designers are setting food trends, increasing turnover, and – above all – making eating out more exciting.
“Restaurant design has become critical to the dining experience, and the standard is now so high that even the most casual place has to have a strong personality,” says delicious. editor-inchief Kerrie McCallum.“This is thanks to a raft of forward-thinking restaurant designers who have taken eating out into a new stratosphere of fashion meets functionality meets food and design.”
Having worked with co-owners Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt on their Sydney restaurants Yellow and Monopole, designer Pascale GomesMcNabb most recently worked on their acclaimed Cirrus Dining in collaboration with architecture firm Terroir. Its soaring glass faÇade and suspended timber screens are breathtaking, but Gomes-McNabb stops short of declaring it her favourite project: “A bit like choosing a favourite child, it’s extremely difficult to choose one over another.” It’s the process she enjoys: “the unfurling of ideas and creating design solutions – it’s extremely rewarding.”
Gomes-McNabb, Iva Foschia,Amanda Talbot, and George Livissianis are among the high-profile interiors specialists proving design can do as much for a venue as good food and drinks, but creating a remarkable restaurant fit-out is anything but easy .Workflow, kitchen requirements, noise, safety, even social media are all considerations.
“It’s all about putting the customer first,” says Talbot,who has magicked Merivale properties all over Sydney, including Bert’s, Fred’s, Queens Hotel and Coogee Pavilion. “You want them to have fun, comfort, a sense of discovery.”
For Bert’s Bar & Brasserie at The Newport,which Talbot worked on with Kelvin Ho of Akin Creative, it was about telling a story: “I came up with the idea that the gardens belonged to an Italian from the Amalfi Coast in the 1930s who had moved to Newport,” she says.
“He set up this place that was about the good life – and that’s the brief we worked to. Create that story [and] people are transported. It becomes timeless.”
It’s clear Talbot and Ho – who also worked on Sydney eateries Ms.G’s and El Loco – are a dream team.
“The work [they’ve] been doing with Merivale is ground-breaking and has taken us in a new and, I have to say, very New York-meets-northern Europe, direction,” says interiors expert and The
Block judge Neale Whitaker,who also rates Livissianis, the interior architect behind a number of Sydney venues. Livissianis requested a one-sentence brief for The Apollo, Cho Cho San and Bondi Beach Public Bar: “Often there’s a single really succinct visionary statement the chef will have.” For Greek restaurant The Apollo that was “polished village food,” while for BBPB, Maurice Terzini wanted “surf punk” with a dash of “Rick Owens comes to Bondi Beach.”
Top designers don’t come cheap, but they boost both the bottom line and the profile of a restaurant.Take Moby 3143, the Melbourne cafe that in February won Best Cafe at the World Interiors News design awards in London.
Melbourne studio Golden gutted the former espresso bar in Armadale, and refinished the space in teal and dusty pink.A white staircase leads diners up and out onto the cafe’s rooftop garden.
“Golden’s refurbishment has had a huge impact on the business,” says Moby co-owner Christina Higgins, who worked with Yotam Ottolenghi in London. “We now turn our tables over six times on the weekend where the previous owners struggled to fill the space, including a rooftop that is packed from Thursday to Sunday.”
According to Ho, the only way is up – and up: “We are seeing more detail and sophistication come into restaurant design, and that ties in with consumer sentiment,” he says. “People today are happy to spend $30 on a cocktail and $60 on a main if the design is considered and no expense has been spared to create a decadent experience.” Explore restaurants across the country and read full reviews at delicious.com.au/eatout