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July 28, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2014 issue

Restaurant interiors worth having a look at

Words: Jim Dunn

Some people go to restaurants just to eat. How extraordinary! I go to restaurants for many other reasons… The location (they haven’t opened there have they?!) I also like to experience the ambience of the places where I eat but usually the music in restaurants annoys me.

I love watching the other diners and I am always on the lookout for celebrities. I am afraid I am a bit of a celebrity spotter (yes, it’s pathetic!) and one of my favourite hunting grounds for ‘slebs’ is the world famous The Ivy, in London’s West End or the equally popular Wolseley in Piccadilly. Take any day or evening and you will not be disappointed if you want to see a selection of film and TV personalities. I once sat between, on one table, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and on the other, his friendly competitor Sir Cameron Macintosh, a gentleman not new to Malta. The sound of musicals in stereo.

I very rarely go to a restaurant just because the chef is well known. Rude Mr Ramsey and most of the other ‘celebrity’ chefs leave me cold. Get back in the kitchen I say and concentrate on the food and not the marketing and branding of themselves. If the food is good and not overpriced, I’ll be there and if there is an interesting collection of celebrities due there at any time then I’m in heaven.

I also listen to my friends and contacts about what’s new on the restaurant scene but very rarely read restaurant reviews. Years in the cynical PR trade makes me very suspicious of restaurant reviewers!

High on my list of reasons why I go to restaurants is the interiors. I am always up for a visit to a new place that has good, adventurous and interesting interior design. I’ve heard that a local Fire Station in my area in London has been converted into a restaurant… now that is a must see. That’s why I was intrigued to see a new by book Adam D. Tihany entitled ‘Tihany; Iconic Hotel and Restaurant Interiors’ published by Rizzoli Tihany is widely regarded as the world’s pre-eminent hospitality designer. In this lavishly illustrated book he looks at designs in New York, London, Miami and Cape Town among other places.

For all the credit heaped on restaurant chefs these days (most of it hyped as I believe) fairly little praise goes to restaurant designers. Call it an injustice of the modern age. Great restaurants are, after all, not just about cooking. Restaurants are successful for a number of different factors all coming together to create that certain ‘experience’.

Just take a look at the dining room at the gorgeous Ritz Hotel in London… the most beautiful room in Europe… and the food is not bad either. As far as I’m concerned to eat there in such splendour is a great privilege.

The best restaurants have distinctive aesthetics and vivid personalities that make themselves apparent, not only in the composition of the menu, but in every detail of the dining room. Deciding on those details is the work of the designer and it isn’t always easy. It calls for a trained eye, creative mind and a special gift for collaboration in bringing all the various experts together. Not every designer can achieve this.

One thing is for sure, restaurants around the world are now in the front line of tourism. It used to be that we travelled to see historic sites, churches, castles and the like but now we also want a good meal in pleasant surroundings. We now visit a place because it has a good, interesting small boutique hotel for example or the city has an excellent reputation for its food and along with that come those restaurant interiors. I know of people who never visit an historic site when they travel, only spending time shopping, eating and experiencing their chosen hotel.

Just leafing through the beautifully illustrated book, The Definitive(ly) Best Restaurants in Malta and Gozo, with photographs by Kurt Arrigo, will show you some adventurous local restaurant interiors. Top of my list would be Tarragon, St Paul’s Bay, Rickshaw, Attard, The Lord Nelson, Mosta and TemptAsian, Sliema.

There is also a growing market for people asking that their homes be decorated to follow a particular style of restaurant they have been to. This is not recommended. So says Hassan Abdullah creative director of the famous Les Trois Garcons in London.’ A restaurant or bar is somewhere you go for two or three hours. You cannot possibly expect to live like that all the time. It is too charged. Going out is escapism from the humdrum life. Homes need to be much more user friendly.’

But, of course, the fastest way to learn about another culture is to taste it. So here are some holiday food break ideas for you.

Try the lobster in Sweden. The cold, clean and clear waters near the small town of Grebbstad in west Sweden allow the local lobsters to develop slowly; try the wine everywhere; and don’t forget the whisky in Scotland. There’s one Island on the west coast of Scotland, Islay, which has seven of the world’s top distilleries, and they are all open to the public, serving great food; taste the lovely gianduja tarts featuring that world famous chocolate hazelnut paste in Piedmont in northern Italy; in the UK visit the coast in Kent at Whitstable and buy and eat the local oysters.

Venice usually means overpriced pasta and cardboard pizza, but search out the small bars, bacari, with their counters strewn with cicchetti or snacks. Don’t forget Spain’s famous food town, San Sebastian. The town has a number of restaurants with Michelin Stars and a host of small family run Pintxos Bars…their version of Tapas. There’s Turkish delight in Istanbul to be sampled and Real Ale in Britain’s Lake District. The list is endless.

Have a good meal, take in those neglected restaurant interiors and don’t forget to visit the churches and castles wherever you go.

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