Light meal

After the food, lighting plays a crucial part in the whole eating-out experience. Trish Lorenz picks three new restaurants that use it to maximum effect

Lighting always plays a vital part in setting and controlling ambience, but nowhere more so than in restaurants, which are all about atmosphere and event – eating out is, after all, part ritual, part theatre.

As a result, lighting designers face particular challenges in restaurant spaces and there are different approaches that can be taken, as three recently opened venues highlight: the café at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a heritage space used throughout the day; L’Atelier Robuchon, the latest fine-dining experience from French superstar chef Joel Robuchon; and Moose, part café, part bar in London’s West End.

Moose, 31 Duke Street, London W1

Design by Shaun Clarkson ID

Moose is evocative of a rustic lodge, with cream timber, murals of Canadian Rockies-style landscapes and cowhide seating. A two-storey space, the upstairs serves as a café and lunch venue during the day and a bar at night, while downstairs is a nightclub.

Lighting across the two spaces is only subtly different, with the upstairs brighter than the moody, darker, downstairs bar. As with L’Atelier Robuchon, most of the lighting is disguised. The murals, printed on Dibond Aluminium panels, are given a ‘halo effect’ by lighting hidden around the edge of the image, which reflects from the metallic finish into the room. A similar approach has been used to highlight rough-hewn timber features.

‘Spotlights are out,’ says Sasha Filskow, ID project manager at Shaun Clarkson. ‘There’s no dominant, bright, over-the-top lighting. Instead, everything is soft focus and supports the décor.’

Three antler chandeliers, sourced specifically for Moose by Facade, hang above the bar – a focal and talking point that also deliver useful working light.

‘There’s a real trend for lighting to support the design and be largely invisible, except for feature pieces,’ says Filskow. ‘It’s not about flooding the room with light, but about creating intimate, homely spaces.’

V&A Café, Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London SW7

Interior design and lighting concept by Muma, lighting realised by lighting consultant Peter Fordham of DHA Design

The V&A Café encompasses a series of rooms, several of which are of historic importance (including one designed by William Morris and another by James Gamble), along with a more contemporary space leading on to the museum’s new garden.

The more contemporary Garden Room has a lot of natural light at the edges and here Muma has used mirrors to balance the space and reflect light into the room. In the centre of the space, which is much darker, the consultancy has installed seven translucent vinyl lightboxes that run the full width of the café, acting both as a light source and navigation tool. ‘It’s a complex space to understand,’ says Muma director Stuart McKnight. ‘The lightboxes give a visual cue as to the extent of the space – almost like a runway.’

The lightboxes can be ‘fine tuned’ to meet the varied lighting needs and in the evening, when the cathode lighting is too cold, they turn a golden colour, acting as a warm focal point at the heart of the café, drawing visitors in. ‘It lifts the glamour of the space. In the evening it becomes warmer and more exciting,’ says McKnight.

Above the food service area, warm halogen pendant lights have been used to ‘lift the exuberant and colourful fresh food to another level’, he adds.

Two of the historic rooms had listed lighting features, but the Gamble Room, which did not have original lights, has seen some of the biggest lighting intervention. Previously, small glass globes gave off a cold, flat diffuse light. ‘The effect on the room was uninspiring with none of the reflective qualities of the glazed and gilded surfaces being celebrated,’ says McKnight.

Despite the room’s traditional interiors, the group’s concepts were for lighting that had a ‘distinctly modern, almost ethereal quality, sparkling and dissolving’, says McKnight. DHA Design sourced Enzo Catellani designed Fil de Fer chandeliers – 2m diameter aluminium wire spheres, each with 90 Halogen lights, which bear a remarkable resemblance to the original concept. ‘They reinforce the extraordinary glamour of the historic interior, without undermining the distinction between modern and original,’ says McKnight.

L’Atelier Robuchon, 13-15 West Street, London WC2

Interior design by Pierre Yves Rochon and lighting design by Isometrix

Refurbished at a reported cost of £5m, L’Atelier Robuchon is spread over three floors, with a bar and dining space on the ground floor, a first floor dining room called La Cuisine and a private second floor suite.

According to Isometrix senior designer Filip Vermeiren, the key element of the ground floor design is the kitchen – an all-black, open-plan space – and lighting focuses on highlighting ‘the process of cooking and the display of food’.

‘There’s been a trend for some time to create more dramatic light in restaurants, rather than lighting the whole room evenly,’ says Vermeiren. ‘We wanted to create an ambience that didn’t detract from the theatre of cooking.’

As far as possible, light fittings have been integrated into furniture. Around the bar, for example, it is recessed, almost hidden. ‘The source of the light can’t be seen and the indirect, reflected light gives a nice ambience and an intimate atmosphere,’ says Vermeiren.

With the exception of the LED lights that illuminate carefully chosen displays of food and vibrant cast-iron pots, all other lighting is warm, gentle and low voltage.

Upstairs La Cuisine is brighter and lighter, with low voltage down lighting and glass pendants above the tables. ‘There’s less contrast and more ambient light,’ says Vermeiren. ‘The idea is to replicate the sense of being in a kitchen, so lighting is more straightforward, less hidden.’

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