Simple genius: the perfect kitchen design29 October 2018
Hide was one of the most keenly awaited restaurant openings of the year, and its blend of fine dining with a relaxed atmosphere is just what star chef Ollie Dabbous intended. However, in order to realise his vision, getting the kitchen design right was a fundamental element. Jim Banks speaks to him and Ed Bircham, an associate member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International, about bringing to life a chef-led vision of simplicity, serenity and style.
When Ollie Dabbous opened his eponymous first restaurant in 2012, he quickly became a star of the London culinary scene. It was one of the city’s busiest restaurants and earned him a Michelin star, so when he closed it in 2017 to move on to something new, it was sure to be an innovative and ambitious project.
It turned out to be just that. Partnering with Hedonism Wines and its director, Yevgeny Chichvarkin, Dabbous chose to renovate a three-storey site at 85 Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park, to create a new fine-dining venue called Hide. Set over three floors, each with its own unique style of dining, the restaurant offers a beautiful and relaxed setting for fine dining, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.
Hide is driven by the passion for food that Dabbous has shown throughout his career, and with the extensive refurbishment of the site that was required, he was given the chance to create a bespoke kitchen that would allow passionate chefs to put their hearts into every dish.
“The owner had very defined views of how the restaurant would be set up, and wanted quirky charm with a lot of attention to detail,” says Ed Bircham, associate member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International and director of consultancy Humble Arnold Associates, who translated the initial design into an efficient and user-friendly kitchen.
“When I first met Ollie, it was on a dusty site that had been part-progressed to a previous design, but he had his own very clear ideas from the beginning. It needed great synergy with the layout of the spaces. There were great details in his sketches and it was a privilege to work alongside him because he understands the challenges of a site like this, especially in London. His approach is one of simplicity, using just the right ingredients to create the best design,” he adds.
Through a collaborative process based on a mutual understanding of what chefs and diners need from a kitchen, Bircham and Dabbous took a simple sketch and helped to create the perfect solution for the kitchen.
“We started out with a drawing I made on a sheet of A4 paper with nothing to scale,” says Dabbous. “I gave it to Ed, who put it in CAD and added all of the standards and specs. The kitchen was pretty close to my original brief. Ed and Humble Arnold Associates were very detailed in their approach, and I never felt they would miss anything. I had not worked with Ed before, but I could tell straight away that he got the idiosyncrasies of a chef. I had a clear idea of what I wanted, and he trusted me. I know what I need to do my job.”
Three floors of wonders
Each part of Hide has its own unique purpose, and the kitchen facilities need to showcase this. Hide Above is a light-filled dining room that offers diners tranquil views over Green Park. This is reflected in a menu that is light, elegant and pure. Hide Ground is simple but sophisticated – the beating heart of the restaurant. Serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, it has an extensive à la carte menu full of seasonal food. As far as possible, everything is made in-house, from charcuterie and bread to jams and juices.
Hide Below is the basement bar, for those who like classic and contemporary cocktails, rare spirits and fine wines. There are also separate private dining rooms – the Broken Room, the Shadow Room and the Reading Room, which are located in subterranean vaults, serving up to six people with food from Hide Ground. The Hide and Seek Room, on the mezzanine, offers private dining for up to 20 people, serving dishes from Hide Above.
To serve all of these areas, Hide has a main production kitchen and storage area in the basement to support the ground floor restaurant. There is also a front-of-house bakery on the ground floor, with a solid-fuelburning oven. The mezzanine level, which was made by removing much of the first floor, has a kitchen for fine dining run by the sous chef. It is partly hidden behind glazing, which is frosted apart from a central band that allows diners to see the production area. There is also a small but selfcontained breakfast kitchen, which has been deliberately segregated so it doesn’t interfere with chefs getting ready for lunch.
“The idea was to share the mezzanine kitchen with diners sensitively and discreetly, without being a brash open kitchen,” says Bircham. “All credit to the interior designers for achieving that. The biggest challenge in all the kitchens was the spatial constraints and the service infrastructure, which is true of any project in London. You need to optimise the space.”
“The kitchen is based on the menu,” says Dabbous. “You have to think about the food offering and the numbers first, then you have to consider all of the preexisting factors that you need to work around. One floor is open all day, while the other floors are just lunch and dinner, so you have a lot of food coming through the kitchen. On a busy day, we have 450 covers. The first thought was to simplify the organisation and make it more methodical. For a restaurant in London, you have to be efficient and use every centimetre of space while still maximising storage.”
The necessity of ergonomics
The need for efficiency in the kitchen resulted in some interesting tweaks to the standard design features. For instance, under-counter handwash basins were installed to maximise worktop space. Dabbous and Bircham also worked with specialist manufacturers who understood that storage space is more important than ease of installation. Morrone cooking suites, Rational combi ovens, and refrigeration solutions from Foster and Adande all feature in the final design. Dabbous wanted simple cooking equipment and chose everything on its functional merits, rather than the brand.
“For the main kitchen downstairs, I wanted it to be pleasant to work in, so climate was very important,” says Dabbous. “I want people to stay here. I don’t want a transient workforce in the kitchen, so I wanted the conditions to be as good as possible. That affected things like the distance between the stove and the workstations because I didn’t want people to have to take an extra step. The worktops are also slightly higher because I don’t want people to get backache.
“So much kit has changed since I opened Dabbous, and I had less pressure on the budget this time, so I got equipment that would last, based on quality and capacity. What is good for the kitchen is good for the restaurant, and happy chefs produce better food. There were some limits on what we could do, particularly in terms of space, but this is a new kitchen designed by a chef who will be in it, and we were trying to keep it uncluttered. It is easy to have a kitchen that is over-engineered. I’ve never been one for getting designer kit. I don’t care what the label is on the equipment, as long as it does what I need it to do,” he adds.
Being open to the best ideas
The choice of equipment for the kitchens was based, in part, on the knowledge brought to the table by Bircham and Dabbous, but they also have a desire to learn more. Factory visits and design trips to explore new possibilities were a key part of the process, during which the two developed a strong bond.
“I didn’t know Ollie before this project but he has been very respectful of our advice,” says Bircham. “He embraced our experience in order to optimise his kitchen. We didn’t dictate to Ollie, but we made introductions for him. It was a real collaboration, and it was really enjoyable. He wanted to keep it as simple as possible, and he is delighted with the design and the workflow. As consultants, we have to deliver solutions for the people who work in these spaces for many years, so we need to support their vision.”
Dabbous agrees, “You need someone like Ed. You need a consultant on board who knows how to facilitate everything. He has worked with more kit than I have because I only know what I’ve used as an employee in other restaurants. Ed could give me options. We flew to factories, spoke to engineers and through it all there was a high level of attention to detail. It has paid off – since we opened, we have been very busy and the kitchen has worked how we wanted it to. Ed did an absolutely fantastic job.”
Proof of the successful design process is easy to find. Hide was probably the most anticipated London restaurant opening of 2018, and it has quickly become the hottest ticket in town.