A vegetarian menu that focuses on mindfulness stands arguably in contradiction to one’s animalistic appetite for varied cuisines. Designed by via., Vanimal is a new vegetarian restaurant in Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town that draws inspiration from such a contradiction to create a ‘playground’ for anyone who cannot suppress their love for vegetarian food. Sylvia Chan writes.
Covering an area of 1,000 square feet and seating 30, Vanimal is inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat’s artworks and Antonio Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona. “The [restaurant] owners wanted the space to be modern and fun, with an artistic element. After initial discussions, I immediately had the image of Basquiat’s crowned dinosaur in my mind,” says Frank Leung, via.’s principal designer. The vibrant colours of Park Güell, which adds to the playful quality of the restaurant, is also an important source of inspiration. “We brought all these seemingly unrelated elements together, and created what we call a ‘playground’ or ‘habitat’ for Vanimals – animals who love a fun, fulfilling vegetarian experience,” says Leung.
Also unifying the different elements of the restaurant is a streamlined motif. “Shapes that are found in nature – those that are sculpted instead of machined – attract curiosity, heighten senses, and further the dialogue between the design and its users without being too obvious,” says Leung. The restaurant thus largely employs organic shapes to create a cohesive atmosphere.
The dining area is defined by a five-metre-long timber sculpture that also serves as a standing bar. “The long, low-lying sculpture functions as both a bar and a boundary. It is made using stacked planks of timber and sculpted with many rounds of routing and sanding,” says Leung. He adds that the entire “body” of the wooden sculpture is supported on steel “legs” that bring a sense of movement to the piece.
At the centre of the restaurant is a large 14-seat table designed by via., which encourages communal dining. To ensure that the table does not appear bulky, glass is used for the tabletop. “When shaping the tabletop, we made reference to organic geometry. I also like the shadows projected by the tabletop onto the timber pillars and mosaic flooring. These add another dimension [to the design] that can’t be achieved with a solid tabletop,” Leung says. The mosaic flooring is a modern interpretation of Park Güell, according to Leung. Next to the windows of the restaurants are smaller tables that provide seating flexibility. via. also designed the chairs in the restaurant, inspired by the anatomy and proportions of different animals. The backs of the seats mimic the heads of animals, adds Leung.
Immediately adjacent to the dining space is the open kitchen and bar area, characterised by a feature wall, or a sculpture named “Life”. The pattern of the sculpture is inspired by a microscopic image of a lettuce leaf. “We’ve combined this [the pattern] with the vibrant colours of Park Güell to create a colourful and abstract installation,” says Leung. The sculpture is made from thin acrylic blades and stainless steel mirrors inserted into a white timber base, and is lit by meticulous lighting. “We like the ever-changing energy of the piece, and how you’ll see different things from different positions within the restaurant,” Leung says.
All in all, the different shapes, textures and colours in Vanimal together create a vibrant dining space that enhances a vegetarian meal.