By Mili Semlani
With the flurry of Michelin-star fine diners, gourmet restaurants and new age eating experiences, food is no longer a humble chore. Eating out has earned a whole new meaning and consumers are looking beyond the plate. Restaurants thus have to put in a lot more than just food science to appease the consumer’s taste buds.
First impression is the last impression. And the physical look of any restaurant has to set the mode right even before the guest experiences high-handed hospitality or delicious food. Hospitality businesses are going the extra mile right from the apt fragrance to the colour of walls and even lighting, to ensure a unique dining experience.
Bespoke dining experiences call for well-thought-out interiors. Be it a whole new meaning and is certainly moving beyond the average oriental wall art.
AMBIENCE COMES FIRST
“Ambience lends to the comfort of the guest,” says Rajeev Punjwani, COO of Singapore-based Coriander Leaf Grill. Ambience is a big factor in retaining a customer. It is no doubt that restaurants take painstaking efforts to conceptualize and put together a look and feel that not only complements the menu but also resonates strongly with the personality of the said brand or hospitality group.
While oriental bells and wall paintings were the easiest get-up for an Asian restaurant in the past, even modern fusion kitchens in the region are adapting to Asian aesthetics as an ode to their location. Bespoke dining experiences call for well-thought-out interiors. Be it structures or props, Asian décor is getting a whole new meaning and is certainly moving beyond the average oriental wall art. Whether recently launched or redone, the following four restaurants in the region tell us why and how Asian décor is the next big trend in the dining scene:
CÉ LA VI, SINGAPORE
Perched atop Marina Bay Sands, the Cé La Vi Restaurant recently got a massive overhaul sentimentally reminiscent of the Asian tropics. The entrance emulated its South-east Asian roots with lush bamboo and stone lamps straight out of a Balinese rice field shrine. Spanning 7,000 sq ft, it borrowed pillars from the grand Angkor Wat temples, while Chinese-temple-esque coils from the ceiling completed the Asian experience.
Patronised by tourists and expats, the new look is aimed at extending a warm welcome typical of the region and its diverse cultures, says David Sarner, CEO, Cé La Vi, Singapore.
Taking South-east Asia to the world was the underlying principle of this revamp — both with food and décor, says Sarner. Basking in the glory of its rooftop location, Cé La Vi was external facing since its inception six years ago. And this much needed revamp was primarily to lend
it the warm Asian touch that would synchronize with the modern Asian
cuisine. “We wanted to bring the diner’s attention away from the view,” he adds.
The Balinese-Khmer interiors direct to a floor-to-ceiling bar with a rustic bronzed mirror backdrop that holds the alcohol. And on the other side, it stretches out to an outdoor deck space and an ocean-facing verandah featuring its own ‘secret garden’, which sometimes doubles up as an intimate area for private hostings and exclusive Chef events.
“It’s all in the details,” he says. The use of organic materials, such as polished dark marble and raw stones, vertical foliage draping the wall and natural walnut wood, create levels of textures similar to the décor, food and people in the region. Amplifying the depth of greys, greens, light and shadow are relief ceilings with interwoven sculptural brass lighting that bring out the sensual dining ambience. The lighting and music are curated differently through the day and night thus giving it a multidimensional vibe.
KAUM, HONG KONG
The second international outpost of PTT Family, Potato Head Hong Kong is a multi-purpose space that retains its knack for beautifully designed concepts. Designed by Tokyo-based architect Sou Fujimoto and PTT Family’s in-house creative team, it pays homage to the hospitality group’s Indonesian roots.
Award-winning designer Sou Fujimoto’s first project in Hong Kong, this 8,000 sq ft food concept is an antidote to the crammed restaurants of urban Hong Kong. The overall design showcases a deft mix of contemporary and traditional influences through lightweight metal fixtures and heavy teak wood. Starting with Potato Head’s façade, Fujimoto uses steel frames with patterns that echo traditional Hong Kong window frames, which help them to
blend with the hipster Sai Yin Pung neighbourhood while still impressively standing out. But the bar area resonates back to the colourful and tropical feel of PTT’s flagship in Bali.
Recognising the passion of Indonesia’s local producers as well as its unique terroir, Kaum (“tribe” in Bahasa Indonesia) celebrates not just the traditional cooking techniques and culinary offerings of the country’s diverse ethnic tribes, but the décor also showcases Indonesian craftsmanship. A collaboration between PTT Family CEO Ronald Akili, chef Antoine Audran and gastronomy activist Lisa Virgiano, Kaum is set inside Potato Head Hong Kong and functions as a modern Indonesian diner.
More than 700 hand-painted panels from Toraja (a region also famous for its coffee) flank the ceilings and walls. Made by families of craftsmen, this project was commissioned to ensure the skill is passed on to the younger generations of the village that made them. While the black colour of the panels was actual paint, the yellow and orange hues were taken from local stones. The timber (kayu uru) used for the panels was also grown locally in Toraja, thus boasting of its tribal, organic lifestyle.
JI TERRACE BY THE SEA, BALI
Overlooking the Indian Ocean, Ji Terrace by the Sea is a newly-opened contemporary Asian restaurant at Canggu Beach in Bali. Housed inside the Tugu Hotel, it carries forward the art and antiques collection of the
owner family collected from across Indonesia, India, Tibet, Bhutan, China and South-east Asia. “Art and antiques at Tugu properties, including at Ji Terrace By The Sea, are not just decoration but we actually bring them back to life by making them functional again,” says Lucienne Anhar, owner, Hotel Tugu. An example is the antique bronze urn weighing about 40kg and dating back to the Qing dynasty era, which was sourced from a Baba Peranakan house in Lasem, Java but is now used as a wine cooler in the restaurant.
The owners believe that dining out has to be an experience for all the senses, and it has to be memorable. So they use the ambience to tell stories from the past that are beautiful and mysterious.
While it may not have Asian inspirations in structure, the numerous decorations, such as the wooden Wayang paintings depicting Indonesian version of the Mahabharata, statues of Goddess Durga and God Shiva from India, a row of statues of Princess Lara Djonggrang and her dancers from the Central Javanese legend of the Thousand Temples, Japanese mythological statues and brightly painted Tibetan masks, glorify the region’s heritage.
The food is a modern interpretation of ancient Asian cultures. The menu is printed on oriental fans, while sauces are often painted on the plate as Japanese characters in keeping with the restaurant’s predecessor. To avoid looking like a boring old museum, they adapted to the carefree beach life of Canggu with a burst of colour, and lively music.
12 ANN SIANG,SINGAPORE
A heritage shophouse turned restaurant, 12 Ann Siang is more than just a culinary experience. In addition to its much-loved rooftop bar and cinema room, it now has Coriander Leaf Grill — serving “contemporary grilled dishes with Asian influences”, a private event space and an underground bar. This multi-purpose space also has an outdoor terrace area overlooking the string of red lanterns in Chinatown on one side, and the skyline of Singapore on the other.
Owing to its heritage value, the interiors have to synchronize with the external façade. Although a classic white exterior and terracotta window panels have replaced the previous red façade, Peranakan tiles are used at the bar to strike a balance. “The challenge in working with a heritage structure is that we had to restore the look (on the outside) exactly, millimetre by millimetre”, says Panjwani. It was so important to blend in with the neighbourhood while still giving each unique concept inside 12 Ann Siang its own character, he points out. The four storeys of the shophouse structure, however, worked to their advantage to transform 12 Ann Siang into a multiactivity experience.