architecture : urban : visual culture

Some good nothing has the greatest value

How does good design serve professional gastronomy? A recently opened fine-dining restaurant in Budapest is the perfect example of how certain chefs and restaurateurs present their work to patrons in a more direct and informal manner. The kitchen in this particular Budapest establishment is an altar, a central element, a focal point of energy that the owners are not afraid to show off.

Dishes of high-end gastronomy, that are in essence works of art, are ordinarily prepared discreetly behind closed doors, and guests are served the culinary miracles after a lengthy wait. But is it possible to see a friendlier, more intimate and indirect atmosphere at a fine-dining restaurant? The experts working in the kitchen are true professionals, meaning they are not afraid to show us what they are best at. They treat us well, feed us and showcase all phases of cooking with cool confidence, starting from preparation all the way through the intricate process of serving.

Placing the kitchen on a pedestal

The interior designers of restaurants that are created in this friendlier spirit have their work cut out for them: how can they put the kitchen on a pedestal, giving it the place it deserves; how to showcase the restaurant’s soul? Architect and interior designer Dóra Fónagy uses the example of Budapest’s Stand Restaurant to show what good restaurant design looks like, serving the high expectations of professional gastronomy.

“The kitchen, for us, was a strategic element of design, one which we treated as a holy place, similar to an altar in a temple. By opening it up instead of hiding it, it became visible and tangible. It’s also visible from the street, slightly showing and teasing.”

There were a few obstacles in the case of Stand: namely the low interior height, and the dining floor with a capacity for only 50 people. We are talking about a fine-dining restaurant where, as a fundamental rule, guests require comfortable chairs that are always slightly larger and, as such, require more space. Another challenge was that the interior designer had to work with differentiated spaces, as in addition to an entrance area that is more directly open towards the street, there is another area in the back, which is more isolated and separated but features slightly less light. “If a given space has unfavourable features, that is a problem for the interior designer to solve. Our task is so much more than overcoming obstacles. The visual component cannot be over-dominant, because the service provided is equally important here. The know-how, for instance, that the two chefs working here represent – who were the first Hungarian chefs to be awarded the Michelin star – should be made more emphatic. The professionals are confidently calm, and not afraid to reveal themselves, creating an environment that oozes tranquillity. This is a way of thinking, a way of behaving the characterises both professional chefs and professional designers, or essentially anyone who are true professionals in their given line of work. I believe that some good nothing has the greatest value,” says Dóra Fónagy.

According to the interior designer, gastronomy communicates its messages at two levels. One is how fashion and trends are manifested in a given space, which here is primarily realised through flavours, and also supported by colours. The other is how professional kitchen materials are used. The latter category comprises three material qualities: copper, stone and stainless steel. When these are present in any given restaurant design, they convey a message. “At Stand, stainless steel appears in the kitchen, the Carrara marble on the floor, as a light layer, and we were also able to incorporate references to copper as a material at the coffee counter, the facade panels, the shelves, the flower holders and the standing closet,” adds Dóra Fónagy.

Lightness and ethereality

The architect/interior designer dreamt up a light and ethereal space. This helps guests surrender themselves to high-end gastronomy in a truly tranquil setting, that is not too harsh or overly dominated by design. “Emphasis must be placed on strategic elements only. The standing closet and bathroom are not such elements. This is why we made these disappear, while still managing to emphasise something. We added a mirror to the standing closet which expands space, all the while communicating to guests that they are also in focus here. The bathroom is hidden behind the traditional bar and coffee counter, but placed in a glass box. It doesn’t look like a bathroom from the outside, but by framing it with an illuminated cover, the space became even lighter.”

Space at a restaurant, where guests are eating, frequently comes across as cramped and overcrowded as table-legs and chair-posts are visually dominant. The restaurant of Hotel Omm in Barcelona is a positive example that also inspired the designer of Stand: “If we keep the floor, the table and the tablecloth in a given single colour tone, we are able to achieve a more ethereal effect. Here, light seeps through the tablecloths, in harmony with the light-coloured stone and carpeting and the light-coloured table-legs. This is how the chair can become the focal point instead of the table. By using chairs selected by VITRIN, we present a lifestyle at the design level, one that the top-tier gastronomy also represents through the dishes served. They emanate quiet tranquillity and calmness.”

Reliability, confidence, tranquillity

“Foreign guests visiting Budapest are introduced to modern Hungarian gastronomy at Stand Restaurant, under the supervision of two chefs with track records at Michelin-starred restaurants: Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll, with the latter winning the 2016 European Selection of the Bocuse d’Or. People visit the restaurant from all walks of life, all nations and all ages. Good restaurant design conveys the following key values: reliability, confidence and tranquillity. These are messages all people like to receive, making the few hours they spend at the restaurant pleasant and enjoyable,” emphasises Dóra Fónagy.

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