Dining out is rarely just about the food. The scene, the socializing, and the sense of a special event are equally important. When done right, a restaurant’s design enhances all of these elements. A simple meal seems that much more appetizing when paired with appealing furniture, luxurious finishes, and alluring lighting.
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For architects and interior designers, restaurant commissions can be invitations for experimentation. When tasked with creating such statement spaces, a little extra drama or a few theatrical flourishes, which could be too overpowering for a residential dining room, are almost always welcome.
The 10 restaurants in our slideshow top our list of recent openings that go beyond the ordinary.
Visitors to the Astor Grill at the St. Regis Doha are sure to be amazed. Although the restaurant’s name—a tribute to the hotel chain’s founder, John Jacob Astor IV—conjures images of old New York, the interiors, designed by Rockwell Group Europe, are anything but. At the entrance, a 16-foot-tall curved sculptural installation inspired by the work of British artist Tony Cragg wraps across one wall with a spun-bronze profile that has a cutout niche for a banquette.
In the main dining area hangs a striking ceiling installation made from a surprisingly humble material—short strips of pine. By layering hundreds of pieces tightly together, the installation has a rich textural effect that is much more than the sum of its parts. The wood adds warmth, but liberal applications of red—from the leather-clad seating to the lacquered walls—really set the room on fire.
There’s another reason to visit the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, the largest and most famous flea market in Paris, which has nothing to do with negotiating a deal on antique furniture—Ma Cocotte, the bustling new restaurant designed by Philippe Starck. Featuring a casual, eclectic interior furnished largely with objects Starck sourced from the neighboring Paul Bert and Serpette markets, it’s an ode to a world of intriguing and unusual finds.
The restaurant has two levels. The ground floor dining room is enclosed by garage doors that can open up to an outdoor terrace on sunny days. Upstairs there are two additional spaces that feel as warm and inviting as living rooms, as well as an elevated terrace. However, few diners will want to rest for long. Stocked with sculptural objects and distinctive vintage goods, the interiors prime patrons for the discoveries that await them just outside.
At the NoMad hotel, French designer Jacques Garcia has fashioned a restaurant and bar as layered, plush, and richly detailed as a European grand hotel. Using sumptuous materials and meticulous craftsmanship, Garcia conjured a sense of history and tradition. Step up to the 24-foot-long mahogany bar, which is guarded by carved elephants, and you get the feeling this place is here to stay.
Set apart from the main dining area, the cozy fireplace room offers an intimate escape. The centerpiece is an ornate antique stone mantel imported from a French château. Finished in deep reds, floral patterns, and with plenty of lush upholstery, the room exudes warmth—even when the fire isn’t roaring.
The first restaurant outside Spain for renowned Catalonian chef Paco Pérez, 5-cinco is located in the chic new Das Stue hotel. The hotel inhabits a former Royal Danish embassy built in 1939, and the interior public spaces, designed by Patricia Urquiola, feature stately, sober architecture updated with dramatic contemporary details—including a crocodile head sculpture in the lobby. If visitors feel compelled to stay awhile, it’s perfectly natural—Das Stue is Danish for “living room.”
La Maison 1888
Da Nang, Vietnam
Devised by Bangkok-based designer Bill Bensley as part of the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, the interiors of La Maison 1888 offer a spirited take on French Colonial architecture, focused through a contemporary lens. As its name suggests, the restaurant is situated in its own grand “house” on the property. Illuminating the main staircase are pendant lamps made to look like Vietnamese birdcages, complete with the shadows of imaginary feathered friends.
The dining room decor is traditional with a twist, as evidenced by the Louis XVI–style chairs with backs and armrests that have been updated with a fanciful scroll motif. The French Colonial flavor is a perfect match for the cuisine—classic French cooking by chef Michel Roux.
For an intimate dining experience it’s difficult to outdo Atera—a snug restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood with just 18 seats in its main dining room, most of which surround the bar counter. The interiors, by Parts and Labor Design, a New York firm started by two AvroKO alums, are a mix of earthy and industrial, with live-edge walnut slabs, handblown glass, concrete, brass, and stainless steel. It’s an ideal match for chef Matthew Lightner’s experimental culinary approach, which mixes foraged ingredients with inventive cooking techniques.
Downstairs, a study, where Lightner dreams up new dishes, does double duty as a private dining room that can host large parties. A wall of white subway tile and an industrial-style table and custom-made school chairs strike a utilitarian note, but the room is warmed up with leather club chairs and wire-glass–paneled doors.
Brasserie Zédel’s bones are nearly 100 years old. The restaurant was originally part of the Regent Palace Hotel, Europe’s largest hotel when it was completed in 1915. In the ’30s it was given an Art Deco overhaul by architect Oliver Percy Bernard. Although the interiors suffered plenty of abuse in the years that followed, they have been meticulously repaired and thoughtfully updated by London’s David Collins Studio, while Donald Insall Associates, specialists in historic restorations, rejuvenated the fabrics.
Since opening in the summer, the restaurant has become a runaway success, thanks to its authentic design details and affordable French-brasserie fare.
For a bar and brasserie designed by avant-garde architects Herzog & de Meuron, Volkshaus Basel appears surprisingly restrained. But that’s the point. Built in 1925 to house a concert hall, restaurant, hotel, and library, years of renovations and modifications had obliterated the building’s initial character. Rather than add yet another new layer, the architects peeled back as many of the alterations as they could to restore the building’s architectural identity, and then took design cues from the original structure and archival photos.
St. Helena, Calif.
French Blue has an easy, breezy, summery feel that’s perfectly suited to its Napa Valley location. That’s no revelation when you know who’s behind it—the space was conceived by AD100 architect Howard J. Backen, who has designed a number of California’s most distinctive wineries, along with his interior designer wife, Lori. Not only did they create the space, they’re also partners in the restaurant, which specializes in dishes based on local seasonal ingredients prepared by chef Philip Wang.
Sited at the foot of the Trollveggen, or Troll Wall, the highest vertical rock face in Europe, the visitor center and cafeteria has a dramatically angular roofline that was inspired by the craggy mountains that surround it. Designed by Oslo architect Reiulf Ramstad, it’s an eye-opening addition to the pristine parkland.
The dining area is all about the view. A simple cafeteria offers burgers and other casual meals, and visitors are free to pull up a chair wherever they please. In good weather, the best seats are on the terrace or the integrated bleachers. But even when precipitation or cool temperatures force people inside, the glass walls and steeply angled roof ensures that the architecture doesn’t impede sight lines to the sky.
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