You have no idea what you are in for as you drive into the gates leading you to the street front of the restaurant - except of course, that it is chef Rahul Akerkar’s newest fine-dining venture. And yes, given that, the expectation bar is already set high in your head.
Our first impression of Qualia was that we could have stepped through those large glass doors into anywhere in the world - and then we look back over our shoulder to the street front, and Clark Quay, Singapore, was the first place that came to our mind. So we turn back around slowly and gape unabashedly around. The sheer length of the space, a dramatic open kitchen, generous bar, contoured seating, chain curtains, glass-window frontage, deliciously warm lighting…and we had not even looked at the menu!
Our meeting with Rahul's wife Malini Akerkar is finally taking place after a lot of rescheduling - on both our parts - so, you can’t blame us for wanting to make the most of it, no? Settled into a cozy cove at the far end of the restaurant, shut away behind the tinny rustling of the chain mesh curtain, we can’t help admire the intimacy of the location with the street. The shallow plan of the space works beautifully with the length of it. The choice of colours - dark olive and deep burgundy with metallic highlights - marries like red wine and a mild blue cheese. The place is veritably glowing…and there is culinary magic in the air as the restaurant gets ready for show time!
Just as our intrigue piques, architect Kapil Gupta, one half of Serie Architects, walks in with a wave for the busy restaurant staff and a welcome greeting for us. Aren’t we glad to see him too? Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects started work on Qualia’s design and architecture with Malini and Rahul Akerkar almost around the same time as Rahul acquired the property, towards the end of 2017.
“The brief was clear - Qualia needed to be an experience. It was dreamt of as a stage for Rahul’s art of cooking,” said Kapil. Rahul agreed, “There was no question about that!”
The kitchen is open to the main seating area, allowing diners to witness all stages of food preparation. Each section of the kitchen is framed, “Like a proscenium in a theatre, drawing the eye through a series of preparatory layers,” explains the architect again.
The proscenium itself is made of shelves displaying, in refined presentation, the ingredients that make up each dish. In front of the kitchen is a long continuous table where the final touches for each plate are made. Along the line of the table, moves a gold, chain-mail curtain, alternatively revealing and concealing the theatre of the kitchen. The main seating area is defined by a row of banquettes, a sophisticated and discrete type of seating. The seating area is naturally divided into a bar area, main dining area and private dining area by the curtain, where guests can enjoy a dining experience personalised by Rahul himself.
Speaking of the dining experience, we turned to Rahul expectantly. “Qualia is the quality of your experience! And that is what we have focused on,” he said to us, waving in a tray of cherry martinis. “The food has always been part of the experience with Rahul,” said Malini, savouring her martini. And as we savoured ours, she went on, “The lighting and the acoustics play a very important role here at Qualia. They are the unsung heroes. We have worked really hard to get both these elements right.”
Again, as the conversation meandered, and the discussion on lighting ensued, we let our eyes wander and soak in the inviting warmth of the space. From the green marble tabletops to the timber-framed ceiling, the attention to detail, we believe, could have only come from the Chef’s love of his diners. We realised as we looked around, that the design strategy was to seat guests as close to the windows as possible for glimpses of the garden across the street. It was nearly dinner time, and the tables around us were filling up. We couldn’t help but marvel at the way the soft light seemed to envelop the diners in a warm hug as they walked, waiting to be shown to their tables. So, how does this work out during the day? “It’s the best light to be had in the restaurant,” said the Chef, his wife and the architect in unison. Does that mean we are going back for lunch? Very soon.