Fendi x ZUMA – Glass meets Zuma founder Rainer Becker and interior designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu

Glass talks to the talents responsible for conceiving Zuma’s first Italian outpost – situated atop Fendi’s global flagship store in Rome.

WHEN two instantly recognisable brand names that are entirely committed to design mastery come together, there can be no doubt that the final product is going to shape up rather well. At the start of this year when Fendi, the family-run leader in Italian-made luxury goods, joined forces with Zuma, the high-end Japanese restaurant brand with a uniquely sophisticated cuisine philosophy, the seeds for design excellence were sown.

Announcing that Italy’s first Zuma would open its doors on the rooftop of the Palazzo Fendi in Rome, this new collaboration marked a meeting of two powerhouses in their respective fields and involved the creative input of many notable talents along the way.

To discover more about the newly conceptualised restaurant, Glass spoke with both the founder of Zuma, Rainer Becker, and the visionary behind the interior design concept of the entire Zuma chain, interior designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Tokyo’s Studio Glitt.

01_Palazzo FENDI FacadePalazzo Fendi in Rome

When you launched Zuma onto the haute cuisine scene of the early 2000s, what was it that made you deem interior design such an important aspect of the restaurant’s appeal?
Rainer Becker:
I have always been fascinated by design. When I was in Japan, I came across Super Potato, the design company, and loved their work. When I opened Zuma, I knew we did not have the budget to consider such an esteemed agency but I just reached out, with limited funds, in hope. I think they were intrigued and so agreed to the project. Nori Muramatsu was the designer who was commissioned to the project and the result was exactly what I wanted. Nori and I have worked together on every Zuma since.

RAINER BECKER - Oblix_David-Griffen-Photography-5990Zuma founder Rainer Becker

Since opening your first outpost in London, which then went on to win numerous prestigious awards, you are now on your tenth outpost in your international collection. Following the opening of Zuma New York in Midtown Manhattan in 2015, what do you think the Italian anchor at the Palazzo Fendi will bring to the chain?
It’s our only Zuma in Europe (outside the UK) and it was, as many consider, a brave move. Even during the opening quite a few of the Italian press asked us, ‘Why Rome? Why not Milan?’ It was really the encouragement of Pietro Beccari, CEO of Fendi, that won us over. Also it is the most spectacular location with incredible views. We don’t really open a restaurant with a particular strategy of what it will bring, and we don’t consider Zuma a chain. Believe it or not, it very much has grown organically, with each new destination being decided upon individually. There was never a master plan and still isn’t. We open where we feel it would be a nice opportunity and where all the elements come together.

As for Fendi itself, a brand that holds much allure in Italy and across luxury markets around the world, what makes it able to marry so aptly with the Zuma brand?
It is a global brand but it runs like a large family and that is very Zuma. Through conversations, we discovered a lot of similarities in our approach, both internally and externally. It’s just easy to work with people who come from the same integrity and standards.

As a chef, how would you say the space around you affects the experience of eating?
With Zuma it is essential. We have two kitchens on display: the robata grill and the sushi counter. We offer different dining environments, from private rooms to lounge bars or terraces, depending on locations. The lighting, the colours, it all adds up to how you enjoy the experience.

03- ZUMA Rome 4th floor - global view with Bamboo lanternsInterior of ZUMA Rome

You have worked with Noriyoshi Muramatsu to design all ten international locations that Zuma occupies. How does this creative collaboration work and could you tell us about your highlights from the process behind putting Zuma Rome together?
It was quite interesting working with such an old building. I think it caused lots of challenges as not one wall or window frame could be measured in a straight line. It gave Nori quite a bit of stress, ha! But in the end, it all worked out, as it always does. The views are quite special and it was important to bring Rome into the room. With respect to the surrounding buildings in that particularly ancient heart of Rome, we used antique raw materials from Japan in the design to create a synergy between Zuma and Rome. After working so many years with Nori it just seems to flow – he understands exactly what Zuma is and I know how he thinks and works and it all makes sense, at least to us, at the end of the day.

The interior design concept that you conceived along with Zuma founder Rainer Becker, following the 2002 opening of Zuma’s flagship London outpost, is famed for incorporating compelling natural materials and textures that encompass the four elements of earth, fire, water and air. What do you think it is about bringing these four elements together that lends such flair to a space?

Noriyoshi Muramatsu: Rainer has always identified that many different elements come together to create Zuma; food, drink, service, atmosphere and music, etc. I follow the same thinking when it comes to the design, incorporating many different elements. My ambition has always been to create a restaurant with an atmosphere that was relaxed, timeless and stylish.

06- ZUMA Rome table set up detail 4th floorInterior of Zuma Rome

In line with the Zuma brand, which is inspired by the informal Japanese dining style of Izakaya, have you also taken any steps to translate this into the interior design?
My design approach is led more by Zuma than Izakaya. Izakayas in Japan are very informal, almost pub-like environments where people usually go after work for a drink and whatever kind of food they’re in the mood for. Unlike other more formal restaurants that serve only one style of cuisine, an Izakaya will serve anything from noodles to tempura.

The concept of Zuma is a mixture of cuisine styles like an Izakaya, but that’s where the resemblance stops. Zuma is design led and is elegant and sophisticated. The design therefore has to offer the perfect surroundings for a ‘Zuma style’ dining experience.

Like the cuisine, the design is Japanese at the core and has to connect with the guest. For example, we use reclaimed wood from Japanese homes, which still contains the spirit and love from those homes, and our tiles are artisanal and made in a traditional kiln in Japan. By combining all these design elements and many more, when everything comes together it’s contemporary, just like the food – authentic but not traditional.

You have overseen the design process behind the interiors rolled out in other Zuma restaurants in London, New York and Dubai. Did you endeavour to bring anything different to the Palazzo Fendi property beyond ZumaZuma’s widely recurring concept?
I’ve tried to capture the style and elegance of Zuma worldwide, yet embracing elements exclusive to Rome. Zuma has a unique perspective of the city and this ancient backdrop and rooftop views formed the inspiration for the play of light and materials used. On the back wall of the reception counter, for example, there are round emblems, which depict a traditional family symbol in Japan. You can find a symbol on each roof of every family house in Japan and each symbol has a meaning.

01- ZUMA Rome reception desk with kawara tiles backdrop 4th floorInterior of Zuma Rome

In your view how do the statement interiors you have creatively directed play into the culinary experience felt by guests?
It’s important for all our guests worldwide to feel like they are coming home; they know they are in a Zuma so there are always certain elements that are the same for each restaurant. For example, we always have the two kitchens on display, we always have a bar and options of lounge dining. Yet each restaurant is individual enough to embrace its location and its own identity without disorientating the diner.

For example, Bangkok is one of the most hectic cities in the world so we have an oasis, a lush tropical terrace that connects the diner with Thailand and its tranquillity. The design in each restaurant also has to understand the physical space to allow the guests to be part of that Zuma energy whilst still enjoying their own personal intimate dining experience. An example of this is in New York, where the ceiling height is vast.

05- ZUMA Rome red room 4th floor carved graniteInterior of ZUMA Rome

We therefore created a seating area in one part of the restaurant that has a lattice wooden canopy; breaking the feeling of being in a cathedral, whilst not disturbing the flow of energy in the room. All of these design elements create the correct ambiance with subtle nudges that put a guest in the right state of mind, whether consciously or subconsciously. In Rome specifically, we have to arrange the lighting to focus on the food.

Like being at the theatre, it draws the eye to the main show but is still soft enough to compliment the guests. There are a number of triggers which affect the culinary journey; the design of the surroundings is a powerful contributor whilst it often goes unnoticed by the guest.

by Liam Feltham

Images courtesy of Fendi


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