Upstairs or downstairs, Neil Perry’s new restaurants make for a fine dining experience
August 11th, 2009
words Paul McGillick, photography Earl Carter, architect Bates Smart, location Sydney, project Spice Temple & Rockpool BAR and grill
Spice Temple, situated in the previously unused basement of one of Sydney’s art deco gems, is entered off Bligh Street. Here what might have been a heritage constraint has been turned into a feature, creating mystery, intrigue and a mood of excited expectation.
Unable to interfere with the façade, architects Bates Smart have made the entry through an anonymous, recessed street door and down an unprepossessing stairway, angled to disguise the final destination.
After this tantalising sequence of arrival, we reach the bar and reception where a screen of suspended unfinished timber battens allows intriguing glimpses to an underlit, sultry, sensuous world beyond.
This is the central dining area wrapped by a perimeter of polished concrete flooring and unfinished brick walls, penetrated through beaded curtains and lit partly by indirect light from the perimeter and inside by Flaming Beacon’s exotic table lamps and pendants with their hint of Chinese calligraphy.
There has always been a heightened erotic frisson about cross-cultural mating – which is probably why Neil Perry’s unique blend of regional Chinese and western cuisines has carried its own sexy cachet.
Upstairs in the Rockpool Bar and Grill it is not so much a cross-cultural marriage as a union of eras where the saucy elegance of inter-war Sydney meets contemporary taste, the revival of a long Sydney tradition of fine eating. For the architects, this was not a case of generating a new experience as adapting an existing one.
“We didn’t want to compete with what was there,” says Bates Smart’s Simon Swaney. “We wanted to dramatise the volume of the space but balance this to provide a unique and intimate dining experience.”
There are three ways to enter the magnificent volume of the main dining room. You can enter from a side door off Bligh Street, you can enter off Hunter Street through the bar with its amazing glass rack feature (subtly lit by Flaming Beacon), or – ideally – up the steps at the front point of the building, through the original black granite lobby and then into the main space.
Here one is brought up short at the reception desk because, after the constrained lobby, the interior space explodes – massive plaster marble Egyptian columns support a moulded ceiling, splendid walls of back-lit, mullioned, wire-glass panels, handsome windows which look out onto tree lined streets, and the mezzanine at the far end with its wrought-iron balustrade.
Upstairs or below stairs, this is an exquisite dining experience where, for once, the quality of the décor matches the exceptional quality of the food.
(61 2) 8354 5100 batessmart.com Chairs and bar stools all supplied by Thonet, leather upholstery throughout by Pelle Leathers, leather upholstery in Rockpool from Camm Upholstery, custom lighting by The Flaming Beacon, Custom carpets supplied by Brintons Carpets, ‘Eco-panel’ acoustic ceiling baffles from Woven Image, custom wallpaper in Rockpool from Publisher Textiles.
Brintons Carpets 1800 332 694 brintons.com.au Camm Upholstery (61 3) 9555 7580 The Flaming Beacon (61 3) 9606 0255 tfb.com.au Pelle Leathers (61 2) 9460 9222 pelleleathers.com.au Publisher Textiles (61 2) 9569 6044 publishertextiles.com.au Thonet (61 2) 9332 1600 thonet.com.au Woven Image (61 2) 9913 8668 wovenimage.com.au
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