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by Jincy IypePublished on : Jan 09, 2023
The JIGI Poke restaurant in Berlin presents a tasteful experience with an unassuming, visceral, bare, and intimate spatial sensibility. What is surprising though, is the contrast of the minimalist interior with its vibrant menu. The restaurant's design, coming alive with rough-hewn boulder seating and an intended, quiet, sculptural brutalism, makes it seem more like a contemplative art gallery, rather than an eatery serving colourful Hawaiian Poke bowls. Designed by Berlin-based design studio VAUST, the new Poke eatery reassesses, in its gentle, almost sacred design, the parameters and ethics of dining out with regard to the spatial constraints introduced during the global coronavirus pandemic.
"When the opportunity was presented to design a Poke restaurant, we decided to free the concept from what is already known. This project is about re-evaluating the ideas of how hospitality is organised in times of a pandemic,” share Joern Scheipers and David Kosock, founders of VAUST, and the young German designers behind the project. Their hospitality design revises the excessive, multicolour décor of most Poke eateries (mirroring the rainbow-coloured Hawaiian sushi dish and its ingredients), in its solemn nature that is stripped bare, bereft of gratuitous, loud elements.
A black-and-white original photograph from 1925, of a bare-chested Hawaiian fisherman, became the key inspiration for the sparse and minimal design of the eatery, and now hangs on one of the bare walls of the eatery. A soothing yet raw textural space, brought alive by concrete—hefty stones, that double up as rhombus-shaped communal tables and countertops, as well as stools made from rough-cut granite smoothened at the top, invites visitors. A suspended grey boulder, part of the restaurant’s brand identity, spins in meditative slowness at the window, as an arresting visual, accompanying the earth-coloured, stony boulders, and the mostly grey aesthetic of the 120 sqm restaurant, located at Rosenthaler 69 in Berlin, Germany.
The JIGI Poke restaurant chain elaborates on their story—"At JIGI POKE we believe in tradition, but at the same time we feel the need for modernity. We want to keep the original idea of Poke while using the diversity of modern cuisine to freshen up this delicious, but also ancient dish. Because we like to experiment too. The taste fusion of old and new is therefore the core of our concept. Simply Balanced. Stay JIGI.”
Speaking to STIR, the German interior designers share their inspirations leading to the creation of the JIGI Poke restaurant, and its distinctly Berlin-esque design language that leans toward a solemn, monochromatic aesthetic blending industrial and minimal, while staying still and welcoming.
Jincy: A certain raw materiality and quiet power resonates within most of your projects, with exposed stone as a repeated motif. What informs your creative practice? Also, tell us about the thought behind your studio’s name.
VAUST: When it comes to choosing a material for any kind of topic, whether it is for a current interior design project or one of our studio’s own object series, we think a lot about haptics. I guess we use the sense of touch with the same intensity as the sense of sight. When both the visual and the haptic approaches suit our understanding of an artistic outcome, we start deep diving into the potential of that specific material. Our studio's name is based on an internal journey on ‘phonetic aesthetics.’ VAUST has something specifically German in it. The ‘V’ is flirting with the ‘A’, while making sure we are not referring to a certain literary masterpiece (which none of us ever read!).
Jincy: “A photograph of a Hawaiian fisherman from the year 1907 functions as a role model and gave inspiration for the concept.” What elements of the black-and-white photograph co-relate to the overall elements and experience of the hospitality design?
VAUST: We found this original photo of a Hawaiian fisherman from 1925—which was then kindly provided by the National Museum of Natural History, in the United States—which captures a man sitting on a rock with just the very essential bit of clothing on his body, preparing his gear to go out and hunt. We appreciated the intimacy, the balance, and the honesty of this situation.
For the contemporary design, we were very much driven by the historical roots of the dish. During the process of investigating the cultural origins, we came across a certain simplicity and honesty. We translated those creative values into a design concept. The result led to raw materials, such as cut-off boulders (now working as stools) and an industrial tone and earthy palette.
Jincy: How is the restaurant experienced? What is that one design feature that stands apart?
VAUST: The guest room transports the idea of an intimate and meaningful experience. Two curvy concrete tables that compliment each other capture the room's centre attention. Inspired by the fisherman, cut-off granite stones and wooden stumps present the possibility to take a seat. The table has a rough yet pleasant surface and gives the idea of a terrazzo structure. Boulders of different colourways add a natural and warm colour palette to the interior.
The floor and wall plastering pick up the warm tones and give a natural and earthy atmosphere. Linen curtains with a bespoke hanging system, made of aluminium, complete the seating situation gently.
A stone, which is part of the restaurant's corporate identity, slowly spins in the window at the most prominent place of the restaurant. Hand-crafted concrete applications with a rough texture go hand in hand with stainless steel kitchen counters which are separated from the guest room through a large glass. The inside of these given spaces is reminiscent of a fish market hall scenery with its steel and tile surfaces.
Without patting ourselves on the back too hard, the restaurant has turned out to be quite special and definitely has to be experienced in person. Sitting on non-movable stone stools is quite an experience.
Jincy: Why did you stray so far from the colourful items on the menu for the restaurant’s minimalist interiors?
VAUST: One has got to be careful with colour. Very careful. It is not that we are afraid of it, but we very much strive to keep a soothing calmness in our projects, where hues or elements do not overpower the setting and zen of a space. The colourful dishes add a well-needed pop of colour, and really complement the hospitality interiors, and work well together. The weighty objects and the reigning monochromia also draw parallels to Berlin’s distinct aesthetic, through concrete and stone in textures and tones of grey and soft beige.
Jincy: Was this your first project catering to a gastronomy-focused space? Please tell us about your experience of designing a spatial programme with Hawaiian food as its protagonist.
VAUST: It was, yes. To be honest, Hawaiian food wasn't our primary focus. Pleasing people was, creating a comfortable space for them, was. Putting that as a goal and working together with the right people to implement specific knowledge to design such a space goes off hand naturally. For each project, we develop a strong narrative. This tool helps us to make decisions in the process.
Jincy: What was the client’s brief to you?
VAUST: The clients relayed that—"(We) want to do a Poke restaurant and we want to be different to the others. We concentrate on providing the best food quality and kitchen service, you do the rest."
The restaurant was thus, divided into two functional and slightly contrasting zones—inspired by the fisherman’s photograph, the dining area comes alive with its warm and earthy tones, while the food preparation area with its white tiles and stainless-steel surfaces takes the typical model of classical fish markets and trading places where raw fish is processed.
Jincy: “This project is about re-evaluating the ideas of how hospitality is organised in times of a pandemic.” What were some design decisions pertaining to the same?
VAUST: When facing the task of designing a restaurant during a critical peak within the pandemic, it was a no-brainer to move in a different direction and rethink hospitality as a concept. Usually, you would go for maximum utilisation and organise as many seats as possible; we created something entirely different. The idea was to create desire through well-thought-out design and to focus on the out-of-home business: the takeaway. We didn’t want to host too many people at the same time and therefore reduced the number of seats down to a third of what was initially planned. At the same time, we optimised the kitchen process with a focus on delivery people.
We strongly reduced the number of possible guests taking a seat at the same time, and increased the distances of people sitting across from each other. The majority of the seats are fixed to have a clear and manageable structure within the restaurant’s design.
The guests place their orders at a free-standing cash desk, which transfers the task to an isolated preparation lab where the bowls are processed. The customer takes a seat and picks up the tray once informed, a process that avoids unnecessary crowds and waiting around.
Jincy: Rough-hewn stone, as well as textured concrete, seems to take centre stage within the design, contrasting yet complimenting the light curtains, fair wood, and silvery steel—What informed the quiet brutalist materiality and almost ascetic colour palette of the interior design?
VAUST: We love honesty in our projects. We also love to disrupt and provoke. Mostly that leads to contradictory material combinations which might seem weird at first sight but complement each other well—in our perception.
The dining area is dominated by two monolithic concrete communal tables with cut granite stones from Norway, as well as wooden stumps serving as stools that sit on polished cement flooring. Exposed concrete ceilings and plastered walls in earthy hues accompany bespoke, simple furnishings that help create a solemn yet sculptural spatial composition. Sheer white curtains curl around the dining area, billowing gently, and hit by the natural light streaming in from the glazed façade.
We have also created a series of several interior sculptures and objects inhabiting Berlin’s architectural influence. The story of a brutalist liaison between exposed concrete and raw aluminium is our take on giving a nearly forgotten material a cultural renaissance.
Jincy: How does your uncluttered design appeal to customers?
VAUST: Luckily, we hit a sweet spot for some people. We are a bit like coriander. You hate it or love it. Good protection from being mediocre.
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