At Mak Mak, storytelling is woven into every aspect of design to set the scene for a memorable dining experience. Sylvia Chan writes.
Diners at Mak Mak will first see a facade that references a Thai grocery store set in a shophouse from the 1960s. It comes complete with cabinets stocked with groceries, and a counter that doubles as a bar and a takeaway counter.
According to NCDA Director Nelson Chow, the shophouse, in which the owner resides in the space hidden behind the shop, was a common typology in Thailand in the past. The site of the restaurant at Landmark shopping mall in Central, largely located behind a stairway, is reminiscent of such a shophouse typology.
Signages on Mak Mak’s facade point the way to the takeaway counter, and to the restaurant proper, which is hidden behind a door disguised as a cabinet. A bell on the counter opens the hidden door and brings diners into a 2,000-square-foot restaurant that continues the cinematic quality found at the entrance. “The hidden door engages the visitors and builds up anticipation,” Chow says. He adds that the restaurant owner wants a space that is cosy, authentic, and homely, and the door helps shield diners from the distracting happenings in the shopping mall.
The dining space, which accommodates 60 guests, is homely and attempts to enable diners to escape from the daily grind to focus on a good meal with family and friends. Chow says, “We have created a series of scenarios as the diners move through the restaurant.” Chow explains that different spaces in the restaurant, including the main dining area, the VIP areas, the corridor, as well as the washroom all have their unique scenes and together, they compose the backdrop for stories set in Thailand in the 1960s.
NCDA’s recently completed Foxglove cocktail bar also has a nostalgic flavour and attempts to create a cinematic experience that reminds one of travelling. Chow says, “I think there is something mysterious about going back in time, into another era.” He adds that NCDA is inspired by the films of Wes Anderson and Wong Kar Wai, which recreate settings in different historical periods based on research, while adding a touch of exaggeration in terms of form and colour to inspire the audience.
Like the facade, grocery cabinets line one side of the dining space. The remaining walls are covered in rattan. Also on the walls are framed artworks, which are collages composed of Thai newspapers and cardboard packaging. Chow says, “We want the artworks on the wall to relate to the grocery store, and we find the packaging of these grocery products really beautiful, so we thought, ‘why don’t we turn them into collages?’”
The restaurant prominently features a neon “ok” signage mounted on a pillar at the centre of the space. The signage marks the boundary of a private room that can be partitioned off as a VIP area when needed. The VIP space features walls covered in handmade tiles that come together to compose the words Mak Mak. As “Mak Mak” means “lots” in Thai, the wall pattern serves as a symbol that encourages diners to enjoy more food. Chow adds that the “ok” signage, together with the “Mak Mak” symbol, suggest that all is good at the restaurant. “We want the space to be authentic yet casual, sophisticated but with a whimsical touch.”
Backlit shutters on the walls are designed to create an interior with a sunlit quality. Chow says Mak Mak brings a holistic experience to diners. “Unlike in a movie where you can control the filming angles and the characters, customers are free to move around the restaurant. Everything they encounter needs to be designed so that the message is consistent.”
NC Design & Architecture