Pacific Dining Room

July 13, 2009

A year after completion the Pacific Dining Room has become part of the hospitality of Byron Bay. Gillian Serisier sashayed north for a look at Grant Amon Architect’s take on beach side dining.

The Pacific Dining Room, as the name suggests, faces the beautiful Pacific Ocean from Australia’’s most easterly point: Byron Bay. And while attached to the Beach Hotel, the restaurant is a far cry from the Saturday night revelry and party atmosphere for which the parent venue is famous. Rather, the restaurant boasts an elegant resort style that suits a more polished market without giving in to the corporate and safe tones of establishment dining.

Following the lines of the hotel, the restaurant occupies a wedge-shaped section, which maximises the view in what is essentially a small but prime piece of real estate. This is an important design consideration for restaurants lumbered with the drawcard of location. I say ‘lumbered’ as it is often the expectation that the food will be inferior and in many ways the restaurant has to fight twice as hard to be acknowledged for its culinary attributes. Having said that, it should be noted that the food is equal to the view and while Byron Bay newcomers may be in for a pleasant surprise, those in the know are frequenting the restaurant regardless of view.

Essentially a continuation of the hotel, the main room of the restaurant is featured by the curving ceiling of dark-stained timber that flows from the Beach Hotel to form a soft vault above the main room. The proximity to the hotel is not problematic though, neither visually nor in a practical sense. Glass and a herringbone lattice of jarrah (“derivative of the branches of nearby Norfolk Island pines,” according to Amon) have been utilised superbly here to screen and separate without enclosing or shutting the restaurant off. Instead, the hubbub of the hotel is visible though not audible from the restaurant, while those dining are only obliquely visible. In short, the feeling of a fishbowl has been eliminated through lighting, sound minimisation and the screening lattice of timber. Another feature of this dividing wall is an in-built wine room. The use of dark timber with glass carries through from both the restaurant and hotel, making it not only almost invisible from the hotel side, but also a practical and aesthetically pleasing feature from the restaurant side. With space very much at a premium, it is an exemplary solution.

As a continuum of the wedge, the restaurant opens on its left to an outdoor dining area servicing four large (GAA and Cubus designed) curved black wicker booths with bleached cushions and large dark umbrellas. The booths are in effect islands, each being quite private and removed from the others to create intimate areas for dining within a sleekly manicured tropical grove. Lighting and lattice have similarly been used to baffle the view from the main room with spot lit palms catching the gaze, rather than those dining beyond.

The interior furnishings of the entrance room comprise several low arrangements of oak and teak furniture with soft bleached cushions. The light palette is pleasing to the eye and provides a warm contrast with the richly toned timbers, sisal flooring and recycled timber cabinetry. This combination of light furnishings within a darkened space is somewhat reminiscent of the grand colonial architecture European’s favoured in the tropics, and rightly so. The dark wood creates a respite from the glare of sun, while the lighter furnishings dispel any notion of gloom. The floor then rises by several steps to the main room, which is distinguished by a bespoke banquette in muted aqua configured to seat groups of diners with minimal crossover exposure.

The tabletops in opaque white resin that service the banquettes are subtle and pleasantly fresh among the dark timbers. Towards the walls several more of the light suites create a curving line. Interestingly, the low line of the furnishings allows for far more seating than a first glance would suggest and ultimately facilitates a view both ways. Looking out, the view is unimpeded whether in the lower or higher floor area without having an upstairs/downstairs feeling of overview. Conversely, when looking into the restaurant, the lines flow beautifully to converge on the softly glowing aqua bar (Marblo, Opal Lake Blue) at the back of the restaurant. The bar Amon has created is an exceedingly handsome piece of furniture. The concept of beach has been embraced, in that the bar’’s edge has the form of a surfboard rail, but also in the sparse lines and very subtle reference to Hawaiian surfing culture of its volcanic stone lining.

The beach is further referenced in the bathrooms, which feature full-length walls of green ‘Bubble Plastic’ resin. As the name suggests this product has the look of bubble-wrap; however, in situ it is far more reminiscent of seaweed than padding. The interiors are stone-lined with wall-mounted bath ware and waterless urinals. In keeping with the Byron ethos and current thinking, Amon has put a great deal of effort into greening the project without taxing its aesthetics, considering everything from locally sourced materials to green rated plumbing.

The lighting is perhaps the most significant feature of the restaurant’’s design acumen. Technically the lighting, for the most part by Studio Italia, is soft and intimate without being dim and has been clearly designed to isolate and focus attention internally. No mean feat given the enormity of sunshine; however, this too has been addressed with the primary lighting subtly shifting as ambient light fades. Aesthetically a variety of lighting has been used to create interest and define spaces. The feature Jellyfish pendant light of the main room is a large white textured piece by Sally Anne Mills. This works perfectly to lower the vault to a more human scale without denying the lofty curve its grace. It also works splendidly with the white tabletops, which contain and harmonise the space by providing horizontal demarcations without limiting visual scale.

The wire wrapped bulbs by Joost are also a joy, being neither rustic nor corporate, but clearly contemporary. The Giant Anglepoise lamp –– a triple-sized version of George Carwardine’’s classic 1930s lamp, created for the 70th anniversary of the 1227 Anglepoise –– is an odd but charming addition to the room. Its bold proportions and modernist associations counter any expectation of traditional lighting with its own superabundance of scale. Amon aptly describes the piece as an “oversized Planet Lamp on steroids”.

The entrance path is marked by a low dry-stone wall, which allows a continued engagement with the hotel’’s sprawling lawn while clearly defining the restaurant’’s entrance. The inner side of the wall and path are lit by large bulbs wrapped in soft white open weave cloth housed in relaxed metal baskets (also Joost) that sit, at random intervals, along a bed of white pebbles. The effect is reminiscent of the South Pacific motif popular in the 1950s and works well with the large, locally made Tiki figure, which is a lot cooler than it sounds.

The gardens themselves explore a hybrid of Tiki Modern and the concrete style of Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, to present a manicured tropical environment that utilises silhouette and form rather than simple abundance. A fence of limed sapling trunks completes the entrance path by forming a screen between the walkway and swimming pool from both sides. The execution of materials that spatially engage the atmosphere while allowing privacy is commendable.

By referencing design culture traditionally associated with the beach, Amon has created an environment that perfectly suits its location. The atmosphere is relaxed, but refined, casual but metered and decidedly well-groomed. Essentially Byron Bay is growing up and Amon seems to have a deep appreciation for the fact that ‘grown-up’ need not mean corporate or design neutral.

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