Cover Firangi Superstar

Besides serving delectable fare, a slew of restaurants are pushing the envelope in interior design to enhance the overall experience

It’s hard not to gape when one steps into modern Indian restaurant Firangi Superstar. Whimsical and OTT in the best kind of way, its lush interiors include opulent wood panelled walls adorned with old photos and antique rifles, a private room designed to resemble a vintage train carriage, and dining booths designed with arches inspired by Rajput architecture and Udaipur palaces.

Welcome to a space that owners Rohit Roopchan and Michael Goodman conceived as a foreigner’s love letter to India. “The design concept is centred around a cinematic journey through India, inspired by the owners’ own experiences and memories, but also with a noticeable Wes Anderson inspiration, so the themes are very curated, transportive and fantastical,” says Piya Thamchariyawat, senior creative director and principal of EDG Design, which designed Firangi Superstar.

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It sets the scene perfectly for the restaurant’s unique Indian cuisine. On head chef Thiru Gunasakaran’s menu are dishes like Prata Waffle (think Madras fried chicken with prata a la American fried chicken and waffles) and This is Not Aloo Gobi (cauliflower cooked three ways), which are a playful spin on the memories of the food he grew up with but through the lens of his own Western culinary training.

Thamchariyawat says, “The details layered throughout the venue help to reinforce the design narrative and cinematic storytelling we wanted to convey.”

The restaurant, with its theatrical setting, is one of the latest in a slew of F&B establishments in Singapore that are harnessing the power of design to elevate the dining experience, by offering a visual and sensorial deep dive into the space.

Rewriting the rules

While fine dining restaurants used to rely on a fairly standard decor formula that included starched white table linens and a hushed atmosphere to convey the rarefied elegance of their cuisine, over the last few years, modern restaurateurs and chefs are increasingly breaking these “rules” to stand out from the crowd.

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Check out the Japanese-inspired speakeasy Here Kitty Kitty, a recent launch by the Zouk Group. Complete with evocative murals and luxurious Japanese-inspired brocade and wood screens, the establishment is a vibrant take on the 1950s vice dens of the Golden Gai in Shinjuku.

“While Clarke Quay is known for its boisterous and lively bar scene, we wanted to go against the grain with a hidden speakeasy that juxtaposes that and, in turn, creating an environment that makes you feel like you’re discovering a secret each time,” says Andrew Li, chief executive officer of Zouk Group.

Over at the decadent wine hall Corduroy Palace, Gibran Baydoun, owner and founder of BYGB Hospitality Consulting and That’s Proper Hospitality, tapped the expertise of creative strategist and designer Jason Schlabach and architect Jin Seow to create a one-of-a-kind space that might just be described as the most indulgent dive bar ever created.

At this unpretentious fine dining space, a Picasso original hangs insouciantly on a bathroom wall while oversized banquettes are draped in original Italian Pontoglio corduroy fabric—where this textile was first produced in the 1800s. Naturally, the menu is an extension of this freewheeling, anything-goes atmosphere. There are xiao long bao dumplings topped with caviar and fancy cheeses from Le Maison Mons by Lauren Mons in Saint Haon le Châtel, France, and also pizza by the slice.

“Corduroy Palace is as familiar as it is unique,” says Baydoun. “We were after being timeless and having a place that felt as relevant to your dining experience today as it would have felt 50 years ago, or 50 years from now.”

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Preserving origins and heritage

One of the early movers was chef Julien Royer who envisioned “a space that was the antithesis to traditional fine dining” when he launched Odette in 2015. “We carefully considered all aspects of the space from the artwork to the uniforms to bring out the story of the people behind it,” he says of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, which was designed by Sacha Leong from Universal Design Studio.

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Local artist Dawn Ng was also commissioned to create an installation called The Theory of Everything, comprising ethereal mobile paper collages strung throughout the space. The abstract forms of the artwork are an exploration of the visual beauty of the raw ingredients found in the kitchen. For thoughtful diners, the installation can be interpreted as another way to appreciate the origins of the chef’s exquisitely plated dishes that arrive on their table. 

Increasingly, designers and restaurateurs are also paying attention to how they can preserve the sense of place and the ambience of a historical building. For instance, when New York-based design firm Champalimaud updated Singapore’s grand old dame, Raffles Hotel, special attention was paid to the preservation of the original colonial architecture throughout the renovation.

When the refreshed hotel was unveiled in 2019 following a six-year renovation, its various F&B spaces, including fine dining restaurant La Dame de Pic and hotel bar Writers Bar, were designed to remain true to the original aesthetics with a combination of old-world charm meets modernity.

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For instance, the 56-seat La Dame de Pic, which serves as the hotel’s formal dining room, is clad in soft pinks, rich plums and grey clay tones with a statement gold chandelier to light up the space. At the Writers Bar, which was conceived to celebrate the hotel’s literary lineage, the moody space features chocolate walnut floors, textured upholstery and library coves.

A spokesman for Champalimaud says, “Woven through the hotel is an element of understated luxury, which is brought to life by beautiful tiles, classic palettes and the layered use of textures and materials, like marble, fabrics, leathers and patterned glass, sourced from countries such as Italy, France and the US.”

The chefs take centre stage

Of course, what better way to elevate the dining experience than to design a restaurant that places the chef and his team at the centre of attention? That is exactly what the team at Revolver, which offers a progressive grill menu that blends Indian and international flavours, focused on in its design.

Owner Sameer Sain says, “Revolver was designed to provide a vibrant connection between our team and guests to showcase the best in hospitality: good food, good wine, warm service and a rocking atmosphere. Fire is a central element of the chef’s three cooking methods—tandoor, tawa and open fire—so we really wanted to bring that alive visually for our guests and make it part of the experience.”

To achieve this, hospitality design veterans Matthew Shang Design Office (MSDO) designed a sunken open-style show kitchen framed by a dramatic copper hood. A glazed brick hearth, where executive chef Saurabh Udinia’s team work their magic, sits at the centre while a handmade earthen and copper tandoor imported from India provides an organic contrast to the restaurant’s sleek black granite open kitchen.

MSDO creative director Matthew Shang says, “The process of stoking the coals, cooking the skewers, the chatting during the preparation, the smoke, the fire, the plating are all done in front of guests. There is an honesty and generosity of spirit that defines the energy of the restaurant.”

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