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Maison François: a french brasserie with a postmodern twist

Paying homage to the grand brasseries of Paris, Lyon and Alsace in both flavour and design, Maison François is a new restaurant on the site of what was previously Green’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar in St James’s.

25/11/2020 3 min read

Redesigned by John Whelan, Creative Director of artist collective, The Guild of Saint Luke, the restaurant is a decadent tribute to Ricardo Bofill’s converted factory, La Fabrica, outside Barcelona.

The sophisticated and dramatic design for Maison François marks a departure from historic brasserie aesthetics, embracing postmodernism and brutalist architecture – inspired by La Fabrica’s terracotta arches (beautifully referenced throughout the space) and rough ‘faux-cement’ patina on the ceilings.

The structure of the restaurant follows a brasserie format, with details that nod to revered establishments of the past. ‘Our studio always studies the building that will house the project first, in order to ensure coherence,’ says John. ‘The new build in St. James did not offer a lot of clues, as we inherited a giant concrete cube! However, this nevertheless inspired us to look at Ricardo Bofill’s cement factory conversion – La Fabrica – which ended up being a key reference for the project.’

Bofill found the disused cement factory – an industrial complex from the turn of the century consisting of over 30 silos, subterranean galleries and huge machine rooms – and transformed it into his home and the head office for his practice in 1973.

‘Once we felt that we had a coherent direction, we worked around the client’s desire to evoke classic brasseries of the past but with a more contemporary edge,’ John explains. ‘We drew upon our extensive experience of designing brasseries in France and combined it with our knowledge of London cool – and the result is perhaps a mix of both.’

Mirror-filled arches and Pierre Frey drapery soften the high walls of the space, while the focal point of the dining room is a 70s-inspired clock in patinated bronze above the kitchen. Mounting the clock, inspired by the front of vintage Rolls Royce cars, was a technical feat according to John, weighing half a tonne and requiring some serious structural engineering to get right.

The furniture and finishes selection were absolutely integral to the scheme, John tells us. ‘We had a very limited palette, with only two colours (terracotta and cream) and then various woods and metals. As such, it was important that the furniture and finishes carried the project. The quality of the joinery by Longpré is outstanding, and the metal patinas we requested from Rathbanna were absolutely pitch perfect. So, whilst the design might be relatively simple, it feels sophisticated.’

Tables are separated by latticed glass and walnut panels and surrounded by curved banquettes. The latticed backs are inspired by the pews in Germany’s modernist Maria Heimsuchung church, which John came across in photography by Robert Goetzfried.

Downstairs, the scheme throughout Frank’s Bar becomes more industrial: the oak-panelled central bar is surrounded by whitewashed brick, with a polished concrete floor.

The lobby and kitchen canopy are made in Sapele mahogany, and the design echoes the windows of the Ismaili Centre next to the V&A, with bevelled panes and lamb’s tongue mouldings.

‘I would say the heart of the concept is longevity,’ John adds. ‘We aspire to timelessness with every one of our projects. There is nothing worse than a project that ages badly, and so the anti-ageing elixir is indeed timelessness. It’s an elusive quality but we resolve to find it with every design.’

The space is undoubtedly younger, fresher and more edgy than many of the other stalwart restaurants of Mayfair. This was deliberate. ‘We wanted to shake things up a bit in the area as we felt that it was a bit stiff,’ says John. ‘We wanted the monumentality and gravitas of The Wolseley but the contemporary cool of an east London joint.’

The greatest challenge for the team was creating intimacy and warmth, despite the imposing volumes. ‘We worked tirelessly with our lighting designers (Stileman) to get the right balance throughout the main room, and details such as linen banquettes gave a tactility to the space that made the scale feel more human,’ says John.

The monumental chandeliers were inspired by Fritz Breuhaus, while cold cathode sconces add a contemporary edge and brightness to the room. ‘I would say my favourite element of the space is the cold cathode sconces, which feel a bit punk or transgressive for Mayfair. They cut through the more traditional brasserie design elements like a light sabre. These lights really make the place feel new and different.’

Photography: Oskar Proctor

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