Café Hanoi

The configuration of the restaurant was conceptualized as a theatre – the kitchen pass as a stage ablaze with action, a long chef’s table as front row, the ubiquitous fours forming the stalls, flanked either side by the more intimate gallery and conservatory- a robust backstage experience leads to the bejeweled dressing rooms below the dining room.

Our project at Café Hanoi relies on the ‘humble-special’ nature of a raw/cooked dialectic, in order to deliver a richness of space from a modest budget deployed amidst real dilapidation. The furniture illustrates this approach: sourced from second-hand shops, the mismatched forms of the chairs are unified by a single blood-red palette. The chairs were cheap, but we took five weeks and a dozen samples to get the red right. Similarly, the simple oak tabletops are not encased in polyurethane, but shellacked and hand-oiled to develop richness, depth and tactility in the timber.

The script writing of a visit to the bathrooms is the most focused example of Café Hanoi’s humble-special ideology. A small door behind the bar opens onto a common service stair over which we have little control. At its bottom, a compressed, subterranean corridor of crumbling concrete and brick, punctuated by three small doors. The darkness is lifted only intermittently by fire-proof mining lights. To complete such a journey satisfactorily, there has to be a jewel at the end. We made entering the bathrooms like walking inside of a boiled sweet, gleaming like an emerald and flecked with gold.

The New Zealand Herald called it the best restaurant they’ve been to this year, Canvas called it a near perfect night out, and Australia’s Habitus Living called it stimulating, surreal, raw and evocative.

2011 Best Awards : Silver

2011 Lewisham Awards : Best New Venue

Photography by Jeremy Toth