Dining in Style: How London restaurants became interior design’s most coveted commission.
The past decade has seen a complete overhaul of London’s gastronomic scene with the city now home to 65 Michelin starred restaurants. However, the cuisine is only half the story: any restaurant worth its salt must have an interior to match. With more focus put into the experience, dining out has become one of the best platforms for interior designers to flex their creative muscles.
The effect on the design industry has been significant and instantaneous. Indeed, this trend was instrumental in the formation of one of the UK’s most successful online furniture ventures of the past five years. Discover-Deliver, launched in 2012, was born from the founder’s quest to buy the statement furniture and furnishings she saw in high- end restaurants, bars, and hotels. Isabella Rutland explains, “…in the design world; I think great restaurants and bars are what the catwalk is to fashion – the best international designers are doing cool, inspiring stuff with big budgets.”
So what has driven this transition?
Mostly this comes down to catering for an increasingly educated consumer base. The adage ‘you eat with your eyes’ has never been more relevant than it is today. Diners now expect an immersive experience when it comes to eating out and this extends beyond the plate. Equally, with more restaurants opening each month, the need to stand out from the crowd is vital. Enter the interior designers, hired to translate the restaurant’s concept from the kitchen and into the interiors. These commissions offer the designer greater freedom of expression and a chance to push the creative envelope: a challenge that many relish.
We present our shortlist of London’s most exciting venues.
1. SCANDI CHIC: STICKS N’ SUSHI BY DIENER & DIENER AND .PSLAB
Having first opened in Wimbledon in 2012, Sticks’n’Sushi is a relative newcomer to London. Already one of the most successful restaurant groups in Denmark, they have continued their creative approach that sees each restaurant individually designed within the context of its surroundings. Its the interior of their Covent Garden restaurant, which opened in 2013, which we are particularly keen on.
German-Swiss architects, Diener & Diener and .PSLAB produced the interior scheme which seamlessly merges the restaurant’s Japanese and Danish influences with the urban characteristics of the site’s location.
The design team have combined natural materials with a muted palette to transform this previously narrow, multi-storeyed layout into an airy yet intimate dining room and bar. Featuring exposed brick walls offset by a fabric panelled ceiling, the framework of the interior scheme is brought together by the lighting arrangements. Formed using a grid system and broken up by statement light features, this approach emphasises the existing spatial characteristics of the restaurant. The elegant combination of raw finishes, including black and powdered steel, brass and copper provide the visual interest. The minimalist timber furniture offers a subtle nod to the restaurant’s Danish heritage.
The entrances demonstrate a particular attention to detail. Guests entering from Henrietta Street are welcomed by the only break in the lighting grid: a large chandelier strikingly arranged in a bouquet of cylinders. On the opposite entrance from Maiden Lane, interest has been created via a set of parallel steel tubes beginning from the wall behind the bar and ending with exposed bulbs above the countertop. Their dynamic alignment adds rhythm to the bar and strengthens its face.
2. OLD WORLD ELEGANCE: THE WOLSELEY BY DAVID COLLINS
Located in St James, the Wolseley is one of London’s landmarks. Built as the showroom for the Wolseley Motor Co in 1921, the original design by William Curtis Green drew on Venetian and Florentine influences, as well as incorporating the Eastern exotic touches that were then in vogue. Unfortunately, the expense that came with the vaulted ceilings, pillars and marble floors proved too excessive and ultimately bankrupted the company five years after.
Acquired by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King in 2003, the two restaurateurs had the vision to transform the building into the grand European style cafe we know today. They appointed the late David Collins, the much-celebrated designer behind J Sheekey, Delaunay and the Corinthia hotel.
Collins drew inspiration from the art deco era, taking a sympathetic approach to the redesign. His team retained many of the original architectural features designing in a manner that not only emboldened the original architectural features but brought the space into the 21st century. The result is an opulent evocation of Vienna’s fin-de-siècle cafés which combines London’s heritage with a decidedly Viennese grandeur.
Those that step off Piccadilly and pass through the elaborately draped doors are immediately cast under the Wolseley’s spell. Upon entering guests are greeted by vaulted ceilings adorned with antique chandeliers and supported by ebony pillars accented with gold trim. Black-clad waiters transporting Fruits de Mer and lobster bisque on silver trays glide across the geometric marble floor. To the back of the room, the staircases with brass capped bannisters lead to two viewing galleries and on to the private dining room. The simple, yet elegant, colour scheme serves to enhance the main room’s extraordinary proportions while remaining faithful to the period.
London may be an epicentre for haute cuisine, but in a city where new restaurants are now a dime a dozen, sometimes those places engineered to recall a past era with such vivid realism prove to be the most beloved. The Wolseley is such a place and as one of the most successful restaurants in our capital, it helps to remind us that occasionally, nostalgia can be a positive quality.
3. THE AVANT-GUARDE: THE GALLERY AT SKETCH BY INDIA MAHDAVI
Launched in 2012, The Gallery Restaurant at Sketch has forged a reputation for its highly stylistic approach to fine dining. A combination of art gallery and avant-garde interior design, the restaurant’s latest renovation continues their collaboration with artists that began with Martin Creed. This time, the works of celebrated British artist, David Shrigley are presented in a scheme developed by India Mahdavi.
The main dining room, playfully presented in a Laduree-esque dusty pink, provides an elegant contrast to Shrigley’s witty and occasionally outré artworks. “I was talking to Andre Balazs about it and he described it as very Beverly Hills, a bit of Beverly Hills in Mayfair. But I think of it as a feminine brasserie, a contemporary take on the brasserie”, explains Mahdavi.
While Mahdavi’s design may display some similarities to the traditional brasserie; this has been elevated by a style that is very much her own. The banquettes, upholstered in luscious cotton velvet, are positioned so as to hug the outer walls and are complimented by bespoke, 1970’s style club chairs. Copper serves to accent the soft, organic shapes of the seating whilst the geometric marble flooring laid in a zig-zag pattern (reminiscent of Missoni’s signature weave) defines the space.
Looking past the decor, closer inspection reveals a room expertly designed to train the eye towards the 239 new works that line the restaurant’s walls, forming the largest group of original drawings David Shrigley has ever exhibited. Mahdavi reveals, “The location and space are the starting point of any of my projects and each project is like an open question, for which there is a unique answer. Each project tells that inner story.” Shrigley’s exhibition isn’t only limited to the walls, though. Working closely with the Sketch’s Head Chef, Pierre Gagniere, the artist’s work extends to the ceramic tableware, adorned with the drawings and scribbles that characterise his artworks. This interaction between the food and design concept is one of the eclecticisms that sets the restaurant apart from the crowd.
Additionally, renowned fashion designer Richard Nicholl has been commissioned to create the uniforms for the staff. Keeping with the diner/brasserie theme, Nicholl’s designs subtly reference his own signature t-shirt dress for the women and smart boiler suits for the men. He explains that, “For the sketch uniform project I liked the idea of creating elegant and utilitarian uniforms for the staff that reference a diner look but in a very modern and sophisticated way.”