Filling Stations

If Nineties minimalism has left you feeling empty and dissatisfied, you’ll be pleased to hear that flamboyancy is back on the menu. Clare Melhuish samples some new flavours

Judging from the recent spate of new cafés and restaurants to hit the London social scene, it seems that the much-vaunted relaxed “minimalism” of the Nineties may, five years on, be on the wane, and the more ostentatious, flamboyant approach of the Eighties making a come-back. Of the six illustrated here, Shoeless Joe’s and Montana demonstrate a theatrical bravado which corresponds with the renewed blossoming of business confidence in certain quarters. Cafe O and Premier are altogether cooler and more elegant, while Coast combines the reticence of a classic car design with the luxury gimmicks of a customised specification. Finally, the Design House Restaurant in Halifax, created by a former London-based designer, incorporates all the classic features of the slicker minimalism characteristic of the late Eighties.

Cafe O

The new Cafe O on Draycott Avenue in South Kensington is the first in what its owners hope will be a series of “modern Hellenic” restaurants in London. The design of the interior and graphics, by architect Barr Gazetas, is intended to express the elegant, contemporary spirit of the venture – in contrast to the traditional British image of the stuffy, dark Greek restaurant.

The total budget of 50 000 had to include everything, right down to the design of the menus, and after the kitchen equipment and sophisticated extract system had been dealt with there was little left for front-of-house. However, the architect has achieved a welcome simplicity. The most striking feature of the space, formerly an art gallery, is an undulating blue wall which extends from one end to the other. It conceals a mess of pipes and cuts, helps to alleviate the impression of the space as a long thin corridor, and provides an anchor for banquette seating. At the street end is a blue steel-topped bar, jutting out into the very small piece of street space and giving the restaurant a visible street presence.

The rest of the facade is set back several metres underneath a low canopy. To gain maximum natural light levels and visibility, the whole front of the restaurant is glazed. The rear wall is designed as an illuminated glass screen, which supplements lighting from overhead spots and illuminated niches in the white-painted second party-wall. The built-in, blue-painted banquettes are upholstered in pale yellow leather, with steel-topped tables, while light timber Aalto chairs and free-standing tables of varying shapes and sizes are used in the rest of the space. The ensemble of hard, shiny metal surfaces, blue and white walls, terracotta tiles, and pale yellows of the furniture could almost have been too literal a translation of sea, sun, sand, and whitewash in the Greek islands, but it is handled in a sufficiently abstract way to make a success of the idea.

Shoeless Joe’s

Sports Bar and Grill

Designed by Din Associates, this is a complete contrast to Cafe O: an elaborately fitted-out “sports bar” in the King’s Road, it is designed to appeal to Fulham yuppies, although the ground-level restaurant maintains a fairly cool demeanour intended to attract business people.

It is also another example, after the supermodels’ fashion cafés, of the new breed of themed, celebrity-owned establishments: the celebrity in this case being part-owner Victor Ubogu, Bath prop forward and member of the England rugby squad.

The restaurant is named after the US baseball hero of the Twenties, and its presence is stamped on the street by a big bare foot etched on the window. The decor is dominated by the turquoisey-green velvet upholstery of the chairs and high-backed banquette seating which curves around the inner wall. This contrasts with the crushed-plum colour of the sand-textured walls and a light timber floor. The bar is of oak and American walnut.

A flight of steps leads down into the Sports Bar from the lobby. This space is split level, presided over by an 8m-long bar made of textured stainless steel and maple. Over the bar hangs a huge video wall which can show split-screen images of up to four different sports events at once. A number of smaller monitors are dispersed around the space. The bar has no natural light, and the ambience created by the flickering of the screens against a backdrop of low-level artificial lighting is emphasised by the dark blue and turquoise walls, red upholstery, and black ceramic floor around the bar.

Montana

This is another new Fulham restaurant offering a sophisticated modern American menu in a theatrical setting. From a design point of view, however, Montana in Dawes Street is very much less sophisticated than Shoeless Joe’s – more a question of decoration than design. Owner Kevin Finch evolved the concept himself, which involved painting the exterior of a double former shopfront purple, and enrolling the assistance of Italian trompe l’oeil specialist Marco Trocchi in transforming the interior into what looks like the set for a light Italian comic opera. The restaurant walls are decorated to look like ancient stonework, with a trompe l’oeil window offering a view on to a rural scene. The walls of the bar area are painted light mauve, and the ceiling throughout is deep purple. Furniture is a mixture of second-hand miscellaneous and contemporary purchased from Viaduct.

Finch’s intention is not entirely clear. He refers to the “distressed Pompei frescoes”, but objects to the restaurant being described as Baroque. He proffers “eclectic” as a more suitable epithet, and eclectic it certainly is.

Premier

Premier is the new Terence Conran-designed restaurant on the third floor of Selfridges and, as one would expect, it is stylish, elegant and relaxed – a pity, though, about the rather tacky name. The strictly orthogonal organisation of the space, previously occupied by the old Selfridge Restaurant, makes the most of the original floor-to-ceiling height glazing along the front elevation on to Oxford Street, through which you can see the grand fluted Ionic columns of the facade at close quarters. The design of the glazing has been highlighted by inserting narrow strips of blue and turquoise glass, and the expanse of window space itself allows the interior to be bathed in natural light appropriate to its lunch and tea-time opening hours.

The main seating area is located directly behind the windows and is screened from the rest of the shop floor by the bar, which runs across the width of the restaurant. It is made of panels of contrasting birds-eye maple with a marble top. The back wall of the bar, reaching to the ceiling, has a large rectangular opening cut into the central portion, allowing a glimpse through from the entrance to the restaurant.

The upholstery of the bar stools, chairs and banquettes is in variegated shades of pink and blue, providing touches of strong colour against a backdrop of natural tones: natural timber, light-coloured carpet and pale stone-coloured tiles. Discreet spots form a star-like constellation over the darker bar area at the entrance.

Design House Restaurant

at Dean Clough Mills, Halifax

The new deli, café, bar, restaurant and kitchen for Sir Ernest Hall’s business and arts venture at the Dean Clough Mills complex has been designed, with a considerable budget at her disposal, by interior designer Clare Brookes (formerly of Wolff Olins), following the success of her schemes for the Design House and Crossley Art Galleries. Brookes has transformed the original industrial space by introducing a suspended plaster ceiling, on the grounds that the original height was “unforgiving”, cladding the structural columns, and introducing curved partitions and drapes. In doing so she has created what has been described as a fresh and welcomingly simple dining environment, but its special qualities of spaciousness and airiness have been lost. The suspended ceiling in particular seems unfortunate, and the partitioning of the space into sections over-zealous, resulting in a loss of long views.

The overall aesthetic is a rather self-conscious minimalist, incorporating classic features such as recessed skirting, plain white plastered walls, flagged stone floor, steel and timber bar, and Elementer fittings. Against these hard surfaces and neutral tones are orange and blue drapes. With furniture by Philippe Starck, Luigi Origlia, George Pensi, Rodney Kinsman and Alberto Lievore the overall effect is intended to introduce colour and formal variety.

Coast

Oliver Peyton has followed up his success with the Atlantic Bar and Grill by opening a high-class restaurant in the more salubrious environs of Mayfair. The premises, in Albermarle Street, were previously occupied by a Volvo showroom, and the ambience of the showroom pervades the restaurant. Despite the recent media coverage emphasising the innovative design aspects – notably the moulded, funnel-like structure holding the staircase, which emerges through the ground-floor level, the interesting wart-like lumps on the ceiling containing the lights, and the daily-renewed Angela Bulloch installation (a drawing-machine triggered by the sound of people in the restaurant to produce a picture which is printed on the bill) – the space is really very spare indeed. The interior, designed by Paris-based Australian furniture designer Marc Newson in conjunction with Grace Architecture (also in Paris), is kept completely open, the only obstructions being the slender structural columns. The high ceiling, fully glazed front elevation containing the entrance, and light oak parquet floor produce an airy, spacious interior, in which the main focus of interest is the furniture itself.m

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