Honeycomb Paper Covers a Skylight in This Hip Japanese Restaurant

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By Michele Koh Morollo
A chic, Kappo-style restaurant in Singapore features a softly skylit dining area with washi paper overhead.

Located within a narrow, 1,400-square-foot site in Singapore’s Central Business District, Esora is a modern Japanese restaurant created by local hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group. Offering an intimate setting with 26 seats, the restaurant offers Kappo-style cuisine—meaning "to cut and to cook," Kappo is traditional style of dining featuring a multi-course meal determined by the chef, who prepares the food close to the diners, encouraging interaction.

Creative couple Marc Webb and Naoko Takenouchi of Singapore–based architecture and interior design practice Takenouchi Webb led the renovation. "The existing space, which was previously another restaurant, was very challenging to work with, as it was the ground floor of a shophouse with a narrow width, long length, and a lack of natural light," says Webb. 

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The skylight above the cooking station became such a strong feature of the design that the chef named the restaurant Esora, which means "drawn sky" or "painting in the sky" in Japanese.

The skylight above the cooking station became such a strong feature of the design that the chef named the restaurant Esora, which means "drawn sky" or "painting in the sky" in Japanese.

The kitchen of the former establishment was located in the rear, and in the center of the space was a glazed air well. Takenouchi Webb kept the space open with the kitchen and toilets towards the rear, but changed the floor levels. 

Pendant lights from Rubn hang over a private dining space, and textured plaster walls from Armourcoat echo the wooden screens.

Pendant lights from Rubn hang over a private dining space, and textured plaster walls from Armourcoat echo the wooden screens.

Through discussions with The Lo & Behold Group and the restaurant’s chef Shigeru Koizumi, the designers slowly developed the language of materials and form of the space. 

"As Esora was to be centered around the chef’s table, this became the heart of the restaurant," says Takenouchi. "We very much liked the skylight, but wanted to moderate the harsh daylight and create a feature of it at night, so we used a honeycomb paper to cover it, which resulted in a cloud-like effect, and diffused the light."

The counter seating has a stepped-down area for the chef, so his eye level is closer to the seated guests, which creates a sense of intimacy. 

The counter seating has a stepped-down area for the chef, so his eye level is closer to the seated guests, which creates a sense of intimacy. 

The design includes Japanese elements such as timber screens, panels, and a back counter wall, but this is balanced with materials that are not usually found in a traditional Japanese restaurants. The very clean palette also has elements of marble and copper to give the space a more contemporary, glamorous edge. 

 The countertop was imported from Japan and made of Hiba wood from Aomori. 

 The countertop was imported from Japan and made of Hiba wood from Aomori. 

With the modern Japanese culinary concept in mind, Takenouchi Webb used a combination of materials such as plaster, timber, and stone to convey an appropriate aesthetic. 

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The honeycomb paper covers the skylight, creating a softer ambiance. It’s the first time that Takenouchi Webb has used this material.

The honeycomb paper covers the skylight, creating a softer ambiance. It’s the first time that Takenouchi Webb has used this material.

Traditional Japanese features—like the timber screens with shoji paper effect; the stylized tokonoma, or recessed alcove, at the back of the show kitchen; and the plaster and timber panels that line the wall—were updated to give them a sophisticated, of-the-moment appeal.

The main element is the counter seating and preparation area, which has to be both functional for the chef and comfortable for the guests.

The main element is the counter seating and preparation area, which has to be both functional for the chef and comfortable for the guests.

"The palette of materials is very restrained," says Takenouchi. "We wanted a bright, modern feel, so we used predominantly light plaster and timber for the walls and ceiling, and clad the tea bar in a Fior di Pesco marble."

There is a small, back-kitchen area as well as the tea and service bar.

There is a small, back-kitchen area as well as the tea and service bar.

The brief also called for a private dining area, but in such a small space this area would need to be multifunctional, so sliding panels were used as screens. This allows the space to be closed off when required, and opened up to better connect visually with the chef's counter when not.

A beautifully plated Wagyu steak dish.

A beautifully plated Wagyu steak dish.

"The floor plan is very simple, but we wanted to soften the space, so we rounded the plaster corners of the walls and introduced a series of curved coves around the skylight. Combined with the soft glow from the skylight, the overall effect is a space with a strong sense of peace and calm," says Webb. 

Small Kappo-style dishes prepared by chef Shigeru Koizumi.

Small Kappo-style dishes prepared by chef Shigeru Koizumi.

Plan your own visit to Esora.


Project Credits: 

Hospitality Company: The Lo & Behold Group

Builder: Kingsmen

Interior design: Takenouchi Webb / @takenouchiwebb  

Lighting design: Switch