While we’re globetrotting and talking about accommodations that stimulate the design spirit, I’d be remiss not to share a WSJ article that talks about the confluence of design and gastronomy, and in particular, the architecture and design of restaurants. I was pretty keen on this article as I started reading and glanced over the first two striking photos of restaurants in Fez and Strasbourg. But then I started to think about some of the restaurants I consider beautiful and, well, I felt the need to respond (albeit in my own way in the little-trafficked and barely charted territory of texturedmodern.com).
In general, the author’s description of the way design comes into play in restaurants resonated: “the décor carries the same weight as the quality of the food and the service. The most wonderful environments are aesthetically pleasing, reflect the style of the cooking, offer a strong sense of place…”. But the preface to the above sentence threw me a little: it starts with, “At top-tier restaurants, the décor carries the same weight…” and I sort of mentally tripped up. I’ve been to my fair share of “top-tier” restaurants over the years, seen some formidable design, and had some fantastic dining experiences. But I’d argue that there are many amazing local haunts that are far from high-end and where the design and décor is of great import and potentially more interesting than the places with the starched white table cloths and gilded china. So in an effort to both share and discover some great restaurants that nail the elusive aesthetic/deliciousness pairing, I present you Part 1 of what I hope will be an ever expanding series documenting places where the food and design are both strikingly good (and where there’s a notable absence of Michelin Stars and Michelin prices).
So to begin let’s jet to London (oh if only it were that simple….). Zucca, pictured above, is a true gem in the up-and-coming Bermondsey neighborhood of London. This is the restaurant experience that made me want to live in Bermondsey if we ever get our acts together and move to London. Admittedly, my crush is inspired more by the food and less by the design, but that wholly because the food is so spectacular. We ate here with our best friends who live in London and it was a meal I’ll never forget, partly for the extraordinary conversation that night, but also largely because the food was just that good. And the setting was really perfect for the occasion. Clean and simple design that easily suits the business crowd at lunch and the nice-dinner-out crowd in the evenings. There’s an open kitchen softened by a walnut bar (surely you’re familiar with my love for walnut interiors by now) and the restaurant’s walls feature really interesting artwork that thoughtfully complements the rest of the interior. And the food is out of this world. Did I mention that already?
Also in London, Bottega Wapping is the next stop. This was a lunch stop for us as we wandered around Wapping one day. The weather was typically grey and drizzly and walking into this space seemed to draw the moisture and dreariness right out of my bones. The picture doesn’t nearly do it justice; there’s something incredibly warm and inviting about the full brick walls and the big open space. It’s a restaurant, wine bar and deli, so there’s this great half-height counter and display feature in the center of the space for displaying and prepping the deli items, while the restaurant seating surrounds this central feature. Chalkboards specials, gallery lighting, arched windows, and schoolhouse chairs complete the picture. The atmosphere is warm and casual and the food is really solid, making for a very lovely meal.
These two establishments are completely different (although both have good pasta… notice a theme here?) yet each caught my eye for the grace with which the design and food complimented each other in an accessible, local restaurant setting.
So the bottom line for me is that a dining experience that is equally as aesthetically enjoyable and stimulating as the gastronomic experience can be found outside the “top-tier” scene and damask wall coverings, crystal chandeliers or marble pilasters. Clean lines, thoughtfully incorporated texture, and good food will get me every time.
I have some other restaurants in mind to share but I’m going to wait until the next installment for some of the others. Stay tuned.