DesignCurial speak to award-winning designer, Alex Meitlis, about his work with Ottolenghi and their latest restaurant, ROVI.
Putting well sourced ingredients and trusted suppliers at its core; ROVI is a new, exciting restaurant and bar in Fitzrovia, created by Ottolenghi and designed by award-winning international designer, Alex Meitlis. Having previously worked with the Richard Rogers Partnership and designer Ron Arad, Meitlis set up his own practice, focusing on a ‘total design’ approach, which merges architecture, interiors and industrial style.
Opened in June 2018, ROVI is the sixth restaurant in the Ottolenghi group, and is a sister restaurant to NOPI. Meitlis has been a partner at Ottolenghi since the very beginning of the brand, having designed the logos for each location – and the interiors for each of Yotam Ottolenghi’s signature restaurants. To find out more about ROVI’s vibrant design, DesignCurial spoke to Meitlis about the intrinsic part he plays within Ottolenghi.
Conversation begins with a look back to Ottolenghi’s previous restaurants, and what ROVI means to the company. “We started with the snow-white spaces of the first three branches of Ottolenghi,” Meitlis explains. “It was the first time anyone treated food as if it was art in a gallery, when we first opened it was considered quite outrageous. [With each new] restaurant we do, we think of how we can take another step forwards.”
“With ROVI, the design was always meant to be an experience and give a background to the actual food. The food is always the main concern – there is nothing more irritating than a beautiful restaurant with bad food,” laughs Meitlis. “You really have to make sure they complement each other. So with ROVI, the emphasis is on the grill; we have this enormous grill - it’s the heart of the restaurant and the whole space is focused on it.”
Meitlis explains that the idea behind his design was that “anyone, even with a slight twist of the neck, would be able to see exactly where the food is coming from.” Offering a new take on the modern brasserie, ROVI features a circular bar and counter-top seating, as well as a main dining room. Throughout the space Meitlis has used natural materials including travertine stone and pale oak.
“It’s very warm – we’re not uptight, we’re very friendly,” ROVI’s designer says. “But how do you put that across with the design, [without] overdesigning? How do you get that balance right? As a designer I try not to have any attitude, we’re not trying to be trendy. The chairs and tables we use – it’s my design but it’s meant to look like it’s meant to be there. Not because we’re against trends, I think we’re conscious of them, but I think we have something else to give which nobody else does.”
Meitlis reveals that this is the first time he has created a colourful restaurant for Ottolenghi. “Usually all our spaces [are white] – whether it’s Ottolenghi, which was white, or NOPI, which was white and gold. Now, with time, we’re more confident and [thought], maybe it’s the time to bring in colour in a subtle way.”
As well as featuring bright red sofas, ROVI gets some of its pops of colour from produce, which is arranged on shelves on either side of the grill. “We’re very proud of our source of food,” Meitlis remarks. “Although we don’t have any art on the wall, we do have our products on the wall; we have very close connections with our suppliers in England - whether it’s ethically bred sheep or the cheeses. It’s about being totally honest and proud of what you’re doing.”
Meitlis says that a big part of his design ethos for each of the Ottolenghi restaurants is making them look timeless; “we’ve never renovated a restaurant, we’ve always kept them as they are,” he says. “I hope they always tend to look very good even though they’re twelve years old, eight years old, or even two years old. I don’t want people to walk into our restaurants and see what year they were built because they followed a trend.”
One way that Meitlis has created this ‘timelessness’ is through designing numerous pieces featuring throughout ROVI’s interior. “In NOPI I designed all the furniture, and here I designed most of it - we bought a few things. It’s part of the ethos of the company; we don’t buy our pasta. [The food] is handmade on site, the same day. It’s the same with the designs.”
Looking around ROVI’s interior, it’s difficult to tell what has been made by Meitlis himself, and which pieces have been bought for the project. However, he reveals that the most challenging furniture piece to design were the red, statement sofas. “Seating is probably the most difficult design problem in the world,” Meitlis laughs. “Everything else, you just stand next to or on; but to actually sit in something… I think it’s a huge challenge to make it comfortable and welcoming, and part of the space instead of set in the space.”
So what else does Meitlis see as a challenge when designing the Ottolenghi restaurants? “Getting rid of our egos?” he laughs. “Everyone always knows what’s best – but we manage to stay friends. Every project is a co-creation, I believe. I might do the drawings, but I’m very dependent on people’s hands; I don’t know how to put a floor together, I don’t know how to do it.”
Discussing the different collaborations that brought ROVI together, Meitlis continues, “My husband created the napkins on the tables, the colourful napkins – they were specially created for the Ottolenghi line. [Our team] really love going into detail; we’re all obsessive types that have found an outlet that we can express ourselves in, and enjoy going into this immense detail.”
But ROVI’s designer is adamant that, though each action and decision has been meticulously thought through, no guest should ever see this. “I think there’s nothing more inelegant than seeing the effort that’s gone into something,” Meitlis says. “It should always look effortless even though it took you twenty years to do. You might have spent two hours on how the napkin should be folded, but it should look like the most natural thing, that’s just been thrown onto the table and fell into place.”
So what does the future hold for Meitlis and Ottolenghi? Though there may not be any new restaurants in the workings yet, Meitlis says, “we are developing a whole product range called ‘Ottolenghi for the Table’ – including the napkins, linens, and the next step is dishes, glasses and pots.”
As an Ottolenghi partner and ‘inhouse’ designer, Meitlis has managed to achieve more than the typical cut-and-paste design so often traps a brand. There is selflessness about the design of Ottolenghi’s latest restaurant; the carefully sourced vintage lamps, classic Knoll chairs and warm colour palette blend seamlessly, almost invisibly, with the unique pieces designed by Meitlis himself. He does not need to shout about the timelessness of his crafted, articulate design – the work does that for him.