Flashback: 'The dream restaurant'

Back to the future: Terry Durack's fantasy restaurant.
Back to the future: Terry Durack's fantasy restaurant. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

Twenty years ago, food critic Terry Durack described his dream restaurant design of the future.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, September 21, 1999.

The dream restaurant

This is a fantasy, ok? It's about taking the things I like from my favourite restaurants and creating one fabulous experience. In reality, it would be a mess. It would be like taking all my favourite dishes and putting them together to create one truly great meal. Would I really want to follow Banc's sweet corn and basil soup with MG Garage's coulibiac, Shimbashi's soba noodles, Golden Century's congee and Rockpool's date tart? Of course not, but that's not the point. The point is to identify all those little things that contribute to the dining experience, and the part they play in making that experience special. It's about anticipation, setting the scene, and feeding all the senses, as well as our more fundamental appetites. It's about how you feel when you walk through the door; when you slip into your chair; when you pick up a glass; and when you glance at the menu. The ideal restaurant would have style and energy to burn, but would be as quiet as a chapel. It would be a short walk from home and office, yet take you miles from your routine. It would be familiar and welcoming, yet sensual and stimulating. It would leave you with the warmth of the sun on your face, and the glow of an open fire on your back. It would make you feel like a movie star, yet respect your privacy. As I said, it doesn't exist. But if it did, it would look something like this:

Flashback to 1999.
Flashback to 1999. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

THE ENTRANCE bears a striking resemblance to the ancient Chinese temple doors of Chinta Ria Temple of Love, swinging open on rusted hinges to reveal a smiling, benign four-metre-high Buddha sitting in a lily pond.

THE VIEW is of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House, of course, particularly as they are seen from the upper dining level of Quay, in the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

THE CHAIRS are the subtly curved, fully upholstered Barceloneta from Banc, with their luxurious velvety touch and inbuilt ability to cushion one's body for hours.

THE TABLE is the rock solid, no-nonsense communal table from bills. This would be occupied by writers, artists, and a sprinkling of the sort of people who appear in the pages of Who Weekly.

THE FLOOR is a hard one. Either it should be the lush chocolate carpet of Marque, or the gloriously rustic woolshed-style floors of bel mondo. Or a bit of both.

THE KITCHEN is also from bel mondo. This is the kitchen as theatre, raised on a glittering dais like a stage set for a sizzling performance piece.

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THE LIGHTS are the Poulsen artichoke lamps from the Bennelong. They don't light all that well, though, so I would also have the softly glowing battery-operated white oval table lamps, as plain as hard-boiled eggs, from Marque.

THE TERRACE looks just like the front veranda at Catalina, with its sunny disposition, pet pelicans, and high-tech awnings.

THE BAR would be snug, modern, and glossy, just like Fix at the Kirketon, but without the cigars.

THE WALL would be the tactile feature wall behind the bar at Longrain in Surry Hills, bringing to mind a never-ending Chinese bamboo steamer lid.

THE LOOS are those of MG Garage. Sleek, generously sized, with flattering lighting, these are loos you can live in, even if you do have to play handsies with the electric eye on the hand basin before you get any water. Or maybe I drink too much.

THE MENUS feature specially commissioned John Olsen drawings, as seen at Lucio's in Paddington.

THE ART is anything by Sydney artist Charlie Sheard, the Titian of the new millennium.

THE MUSIC is via Uchi Lounge with its eclectic, electric mix of trip hop, remix and Cuban dance beat, but THE SOUND SYSTEM would be the wall-mounted Bang & Olufsen CD unit from Spring at Potts Point.

THE CROCKERY is delicate, hand-painted porcelain from Matsukaze, chosen especially for each individual dish.

THE WINE GLASSES are Riedel, appropriate to each wine variety; THE CUTLERY is Christofle, as seen at Forty One; and THE PEPPER MILL is the mouse-eared Alessi classic by Michael Graves, as seen at (and occasionally stolen from) Rockpool.

There you have it: The Perfect Restaurant. Although, to be really perfect, it would also need inventive food, a staggering winelist, tuned-in, turned-on staff, and reasonable prices. But that's another fantasy altogether.