Hide the food and the tell-tale sushi counter and it would be hard to guess the cuisine served in many Oriental restaurants from their decor. Overt, stereotypical references to the country of origin are seemingly on the decline, replaced with stripped-back, contemporary design that gives just a few hints of what’s on the menu.
Both Glasgow noodle bar Soba, designed by One Foot Taller with graphics by Lorne Bourhill, and new restaurant Ubon by Nobu, designed by United Designers, avoid overtly Japanese motifs in their design.
United Designers creative director Linzi Coppick puts this trend down to the increasingly cosmopolitan consumer. “We’re appealing now to people who are well-travelled. Who don’t require all the trappings of the traditional interior,” she says, keen to let the food, rather than the decor, take centre stage.
This was the philosophy at London restaurants Itsu, branded by Wolff Olins, which came up with a visual concept developed from the restaurant’s food conveyor belt. “It’s not overtly Eastern,” says Wolff Olins designer Karen Strutt, who aimed instead to create an international visual language.
But alongside the cool, stripped-back approach of many Oriental restaurants, there’s always the exception that proves the rule. “A lot of restaurant design is getting more and more generic in terms of white-washed walls and etched downlighters,” says restaurateur Alan Yau. His latest London venture, Hakkasan, cannot be accused of this trait. It embraces its Chinese heritage with gusto, using red silk lanterns and lattice screens within a chic, contemporary design by Christian Liaigre.
Meanwhile the original sushi conveyor-belt concept, the Yo sushi group, is planning to double in size with sixteen outlets over the next six months. New locations include London’s County Hall and Edinburgh. With a new menu being developed and a tradition of award-winning design, there is a good chance it will satisfy Britain’s increasing taste for the Orient.