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Sophisticated Palette

London, UK

A mixture of 1970s Brutalism and the bold flavours on the menu inspired architect and designer David Thulstrup to create the interiors of Ikoyi at 180 The Strand

Known for inventive food that fuses British ingredients with West African spices, Ikoyi quickly cemented its place on London’s gastronomic hot-list when it opened in 2017. Now, a new chapter in its story has begun, with the restaurant’s move to 180 The Strand, the cultural hub of studios and exhibition spaces within a Brutalist former office building, designed by architect Sir Frederick Gibberd in the 1970s.

The new restaurant’s designer, Copenhagen-based David Thulstrup, has taken the building’s distinctive architecture as a starting point for the interiors. This is his studio’s first hospitality project in the UK, although he is no stranger to restaurant design, having worked on Noma’s second iteration in the Danish capital and the tasting rooms of Californian winery Donum, among others. Although on the face of it, Thulstrup has employed a fairly masculine palette of materials – copper, stone, steel mesh, leather and oak – the resulting interiors are soft, speaking a Scandinavian design language of warmth and simplicity.

“For me, this is so much about sense of place because we are in a Brutalist building in the buzzy heart of London, a multi-cultural city, in a restaurant with a highly evolved cuisine based around British micro-seasonality and intense spices,” says Thulstrup. “This idea of intensity and warmth and a sort of cultural ambiguity have been the driving force of the inspiration.” The walls are lined with oxidised copper sheets that create a cloudy patina, while on the floor are huge slabs of Catalan limestone, a nod to the monumentality of the surrounding architecture.

A series of steel mesh screens (inspired by a sieve) curve over the ceiling down in front of a run of windows, cocooning diners from views of the outside world; and those curves are picked up in the D-shaped oak dining tables (made by Benchmark) and the backs of the dining chairs, upholstered in soft muted-yellow leather (Sørensen’s Flux, which Thulstrup developed in collaboration with the Danish leather brand). Ikoyi’s carnivorous intentions are firmly stated the moment guests walk in the door and see the three glass-fronted illuminated meat fridges, encased in a curving copper wall (there is a single set menu here, with no deviation for vegetarians and vegans).

There is an obvious link here between the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into creating the menu and Thulstrup’s obvious joy in working with a limited palette of beautifully made materials: he says that his Danish background brings “tactility and craft, without being rustic” to his work. On the practical side, the new larger kitchen has allowed chef and co-founder Jeremy Chan to continue to evolve his vision of bold flavour and respect for seasonal native ingredients. There’s also now a private dining space, offering a more intimate and interactive experience with the kitchen team.

Ikoyi is not one to be pigeonholed – dishes include hibiscus and fermented scotch bonnet, and mussel custard, saffron and caviar – and Thulstrup’s interiors are equally hard to place. “Hospitality needs to make people feel com­fortable so they want to stay and the interior needs to be in sync with the ethos of the restaurant,” he says. “At Ikoyi, spices from sub-Saharan West Africa are the foundation of the menu but the chefs have a more global approach, so I avoided specific cultural references and aligned the interior space with the intensity and boldness of the gastronomy.”