Russell & George

Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese dining experience where courses are curated, crafted and served over several hours. This 16-seat basement diner in Melbourne was designed to celebrate the kaiseki tradition, but with a uniquely Australian take. The interior is bold, unusual, controversial, thought provoking yet in complete balance – just like kaiseki.

The brief for the space was originally for a traditional Japanese dining experience both in interior design and from a kaiseki dining tradition. The design process began without a site; Russell & George assisted in finding the right location and terms. After further discussions with the client about Melbourne and its food scene, the designers advised that the interior needed to be unusual and contemporary to work with both the kaiseki dining experience and the Australian market. This drove an interior design response that would delight and be youthful, yet formal.

Diners are greeted by a large lantern egg back-lit with flora that cast shadows on its surface. Its scale is unusual – compressed within the concrete basement, providing a shelter for diners. A less obvious element is the subtle raise in the flooring. Though barely noticeable to the diner, it provides an important function that is unusual in kaiseki: the diner is able to sit on a chair rather than a bar stool, creating greater comfort and a more relaxed dining experience.

Existing raw and rough elements, such as the concrete piles around the perimeter of the space, have been left exposed, and sit adjacent to highly refined and detailed elements. This project was about celebrating the ingredients (including kitchen flow and ergonomics for guests and staff), and putting them together in perfect balance.

Photography: Felix Forest.