New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant

Apr 15, 2010
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Photography by Andrew Worssam
  • Designer Giant Design Consultants

The theatrics of New Shanghai’s Chinese streetscape, hawker’s stall and the glowing red of back-room decadence are in perfect accord under Giant’s deft hand. Squeezed between the radiant white of food-hall fare, the venue comes as a visual surprise from the start. Framed by a large black stylisation of a Chinese Temple Gate with Chinese characters and an antique bicycle casually resting against a table, the interior is almost entirely black, red and timber. This is broken dramatically by a large glass enclosed kitchen displaying a swarm of bustling staff adeptly folding dumplings at a frenetic pace. Giant’s use of imagery to create illusion is, as always, extraordinary. For this project Chris Wilks, interiors and graphics, Irene Harayonon, Danny Long and Ed Kenny (director), the Giant talent for the cinematic comes most beautifully into play along the lower half of the main bar and upper portion of the counter bar with antique (c1930s) Chinese posters presented in repetition. The charming images featuring lovely-young-things with beer bottles, parasols and gardens, create an effect that is atmospheric rather than the specific focus, while neatly avoiding the look of a poster shop.

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The more ambitious image-driven undertaking is the use of an ancient Chinese painting in sepia tones to clad a support column and the vertical shutters comprising the left-hand wall. As both an image and tonal composition this works exceedingly well as a closed full image or fractured view with the gaps providing a strong vertical within a fairly limited space. On the opposite wall a series of deep black shutters counters the vertical and can similarly be opened or closed to augment the visual space as needs and crowds dictate.

The main room is internally framed by a bar and the glass-faced kitchen, each of which is a slightly variant but delightfully theatrical version of a hawker’s stall. The area has achieved a sense of containment without losing space through a number of visual devices.

First, the floor in square cobble stones (ipave) has two curving, road-like lines running through it, with the majority of the remaining paving following different angles between the divisions. This not only emphasises the streetscape aspect, but also breaks the space into discrete areas of dining activity. The tables and chairs (designed by Giant) are simple wooden designs using traditional shapes with geometrics for a simplified but effective presence. The tables are timber with curving red lacquered legs, while the stools are timber legged with traditionally shaped red lacquered seats. The most internal of the rooms – within the main dining area – features a single long table below a garland of fluttering red flags that zip back and forth. And though it lacks a view of the kitchen activities it remains an enormously charming world of images and screens that posit and facilitate a view to other rooms.

The jutting kitchen zigzags into the dining space as a series of fairly short broad horizontals that are sufficiently robust to anchor the room importantly within the space, while the glass front carries the eye beyond the immediate to generate a grandness of scale. The eye is further pushed within the enclosed space by large black rectangular glass tiles (Tile Technics) set in a horizontal pattern. Overall, the kitchen is delineated above by a broad red lacquered beam with a jaunty overhang of recycled corrugated iron, the whole being given verticality through the twin antique red screens sitting atop it. These red screens appear at intervals throughout the restaurant and work well with the black ceiling to catch the eye (ahead of the utilities) to afford a general feeling of loftiness.

The bar area is again in the style of a hawker’s stall and uses the same materials: Chinese posters in repetitions, brick work and corrugated iron. Image-bearing umbrellas and a black timber set of square shelving displaying an assortment of teapots, urns and oddments add to its theatrical appeal. It also provides a longer sweeping line that draws the eye towards the back of the restaurant and an arched doorway that emanates a decidedly wicked glow.

Beyond the arch of black timber this room is simply brilliant. The wallpaper, comprising a mat-red bamboo print on shiny gold (Signature Prints), glows under the light of a red glass chandelier hanging at centre. The tables and chairs (as described before) are simple and unobtrusive. At seated eye-level a double screen of wood has been placed inside a window framed in broad black timber allowing a view both ways.

Giant’s design choices of the theatrically engaging motifs of a Shanghai street scene and the images of China via the playful posters and large-scale painting are beautifully realised. Its use of space though is the ultimate achievement. It is a directed and considered execution that makes the most of a space that could have become either claustrophobically pokey or barn-like depending on division. By starting the demarcation of space with the floor, then carrying lines through to areas of intrigue and excitement, Giant has made an exceptional environment far beyond the usual expectations of a food hall. Well done!

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