Primary flavours

How a focus on food production created a design worth savouring

Cooking stations create a market atmosphere.
Cooking stations create a market atmosphere.
The private dining room features a glass table imprinted with a Chairman Mao 1000RMB note.
The private dining room features a glass table imprinted with a Chairman Mao 1000RMB note.
A glass chandelier provides an innovative storage solution.
A glass chandelier provides an innovative storage solution.
Visual merchandise was part of the design package.
Visual merchandise was part of the design package.
Brand guidelines for the space help to make sure the design is not diluted once the operator takes over.
Brand guidelines for the space help to make sure the design is not diluted once the operator takes over.

Four years ago, boutique consultancy firm Stickman received a simple brief: to design a food and beverage outlet so distinctive it would be the showpiece of a 300,000m² development of residential and business towers, a hotel, retail and exhibition space.

The result is The Cook The Meet The Brew, a three-in-one venue anchoring the Shangri-La-owned Kerry Hotel near Shanghai’s Century Park.

“They wanted a landmark for the area and wanted the food and beverage outlet to be the anchor for the whole development,” explained Marcos Cain, Stickman’s director and founder. “We worked on the concept from the beginning and wrote the brief ourselves.”

The main focus of the design would be the primary production of food and beverages. “If you look at it conceptually, it’s very much back to the raw essence of food and beverage production, so there’s a gamut of food styles and cuisines that go throughout the space,” said Cain.

The original idea to grow hydroponic vegetables in a specially-designed tower soon developed into what is now the centrepiece of the outlet: a ‘flying brewery’ suspended over three storeys and attached only to a stairwell.

The brewery is visible to pedestrians near the entrance of the hotel, and serves as a focal point of the property. “They loved the idea of a brewery,” said Cain. “There’s a double-height space with full glazing, so we were really honing in on that position to be the visual aspect of the whole development.”

The space around the brewery then developed into The Brew, a pub designed to be both rustic and contemporary. Distressed timber planks and bordering timber rickrack make up the facade of the elliptical bar.

Set on a curve, the bar is pushed in by 150mm every 1.2m, creating the impression of gills. Ten cent Australian coins, set into resin, are scattered on the bar and cascade onto the floor.

“It’s a very tactile, textual three-dimensional bar face feature,” said Cain. “To be honest I haven’t seen a bar facade that’s as textural as this and has as much depth with different finishes.”

A gantry runs around the outlet, allowing guests to view the entire brewery. “We’ve also promoted the concept of ‘meet the maker’, where the brewer takes guests on tours through the circular stairwell and down to the sub basement to look at the process,” said Cain.

Crafted from oversized timber logs, the tables feature white Corian, while leather-strapped bar stools pick up on the themes explored in the outlet’s upmarket steakhouse, The Meet.

Guests entering The Meet are greeted by a butcher’s cool room with a glass facade and leather patchwork walls. After selecting a cut from the full carcass, a chef places the meat on a backlit chopping block to cut and prepare it. “It’s a bit of a take on the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” said Cain, “so it’s very theatrical.”

Tables running vertically down the centre of the venue mimic vertebrae, and can be configured to suit the number of guests. Above each table, bespoke buffalo horn-shaped lights, cut into meat medallions, give a red glow to the outlet and provide diners with direct light.

While one end of The Meet offers views of the brewery vats, the other boasts a 1.5m-high fireplace, surrounded by leather wingback chairs and faux bull’s head hunting trophies.

A retro-fitted butcher’s hook chandelier, also designed to look like vertebrae, stretches down the length of the restaurant to enshroud the space in a red hue.

The private dining room, featuring leather patchwork walls and hunting trophies, is dominated by a large glass table imprinted with a Chairman Mao 1000RMB note.

“It’s a five-layered glass colour process,” explained Cain. “We’ve done it the same way you would when printing money, where there’s a mint and different plates to create the different stamp effects on the note.

“We’ve done the same but in glass instead, and embedded it with a light bleed all around the edges. Because it’s glazed it looks very three-dimensional, so you can see all the different colour styles through the print.”

Separating the kitchen from the dining area is a butcher’s block, used by staff as a service area. “We’ve used meat cleavers and hammered them into the butcher’s block and then housed them in glass as an authentic butcher’s display,” said Cain.

The outlet’s all-day dining restaurant, The Cook has 13 food and beverage stations interspersed throughout the space.

“We wanted to capture the image of an old school delicatessen,” Cain explained.

“We’re trying to get back to the old world, to the market, the local grocer.” Open kitchens allow guests to interact with chefs, while handwritten menus on rustic wooden blackboards emphasise the simplicity and freshness of the food. “The blackboard is integral to our concept,” added Cain.

“It’s about the fresh daily produce and also gives chefs the opportunity to market goods they’ve got in on that day. It really is a primary production kitchen.”

Timber features heavily throughout the space, from the driftwood used in the seafood station, to the timber and white Corian of the tables and chairs, to the crate-stamped dropped ceilings.

Stone floors, open ceilings, white bevel tiles and etched stainless steel range hoods help to give the outlet an industrial feel.

“The main palette we worked on was to display the food,” Cain said. “That’s to be white – think of a white plate; that’s how we displayed our food. The intention was not to control the outlet by design, but that the food would control the design for the outlet.”

The space is punctuated by different seating types, designed to cater to time-pushed lunch guests as well as evening diners. Retail space, meanwhile, has been incorporated into columns at the waiters’ stations. In designing the visual merchandise, Stickman allocated the displays and selected the gourmet grocery goods to be sold.

“They did bring in a retail person to assist in procuring the items,” he said, “but we chose all the styles, the logos, the packaging, everything.”
In designing every detail of the outlet, including the cutlery and crockery, glassware, uniforms, original beers, content of the menus, logo and brand, Stickman provided a full commercial strategy.

“We offer a turnkey solution,” Cain explained, “which is where we give the hotel operator a manual – a go-to guide about the aesthetics, the table settings, the moods, the guest experience, the brand guidelines – to make sure that there’s a seamless integration between project and operator to middle management.

“This is to make sure the concept doesn’t get diluted through to the final process of the person on the floor turning the lights up too much, buying the wrong napkins, playing the music too loud or wearing the wrong uniform.”

The total design of The Cook The Meet The Brew, insisted Cain, is anchored in a commercial strategy. “The initial conceptual phase was about finding an element that is operationally-feasible based on the return on investment with what their facilities are,” he said.

“I looked at it from a purely commercial aspect, irrespective of the design element, because with that comes the commercial side. “Being a primary producer of food and beverage,” he continued, “allows them to minimise the cost of goods and maximise the return on sales.”

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