Bars & Leisure Focus: Q&A with Ewald Damen from Virgile + Partners

Creative change has been picking up pace since the pandemic. Ewald Damen, creative director at Virgile + Partners, says that clients’ understanding of factors such as sustainability, community, ethics, digital integration and entertainment have accelerated exponentially…

Words by Toby Maxwell

Please tell us a little about the Virgile + Partners’ story, its involvement in bar and restaurant design and what your own role within the business entails?

Established in 1990, Virgile + Partners is a retail, hotel and restaurant design specialist. Over the years, we have gained a strong reputation for our bar and restaurant design and have had the privilege of working on exciting projects with well-known global brands. These include the Bang Bar in Bangalore, The Square in London, The Apartment at the Address in Dubai, the Wallpaper* bar in London and, as part of the Andaz in Delhi, we have also developed the concepts for the Annamaya food market and the specialist Hong Kong Club.

Since I joined almost 14 years ago, my role has grown to become the creative director, managing the team across all projects. I work closely with our designers and our clients to ensure our joint vision and solutions are developed into a bespoke and memorable, yet practical and functional design, from concept to execution.

Ewald Damen
Ewald Damen

How has the nature of projects in the F&B sector changed post-pandemic?

Guest and customer expectations have changed, and whilst at least some parts of the post-pandemic world seem to have returned to business as before, there are notable differences. The pandemic may have left traces of considerations in requirements and expectations, but it has accelerated certain trends that were already in the picture before, which have now gained much larger importance. Sustainability, community, ethics, local, digital integration, entertainment, and experience are trends we see expressed much more in clients’ briefings for our projects since Covid appeared. A greater view of what the future will lead us towards seems more part of the bigger picture and thinking now.

With its modern and glamorous decor, the club aims to not only attract international visitors, but also New Delhi’s fashionable locals.
With its modern and glamorous decor, the club aims to not only attract international visitors, but also New Delhi’s fashionable locals.

Can you tell us about the creative vision and process for the Hong Kong Club and where it came from?

The Hong Kong Club is part of the Andaz New Delhi, a large format boutique hotel. Although it is part of this hotel, the restaurant and concept are very much a stand-alone vision, creating a real destination that should attract not only guests, but also fashionable locals of New Delhi as their favourite new hang out. The brief was to create a Hong Kong-inspired club for a full evening of entertainment, focused on state-of-the- art Chinese food and cocktails, which are a favourite in Delhi. All should be combined in a glamorous atmosphere that gently transforms from a restaurant to a clubby late-night destination.

The design revolved around the defined triple-height architectural glass oval building floating on a lily pond. For the interior, we created a tiered, terraced layout, connected by a grand central staircase. The focus is on a dramatic bar on the lowest garden level with the balconies featuring different seating areas, private dining rooms and an open plan show kitchen, all designed for seeing and to be seen. Following the ‘new India’ art and craftsmanship of the Andaz hotel, we created a similar language for the Hong Kong Club. This resembled a new vision of China and its progressive new art movement together with a contemporary approach to traditional Chinese crafts through its materials, design, art, and decorations.

As well as being a late-night club destination, the Hong Kong Club is also a desirable and stylish dining experience
As well as being a late-night club destination, the Hong Kong Club is also a desirable and stylish dining experience

What design direction do you see for bars and restaurants in the near future? What will be the likely priorities for designers and architects to address?

Touching back on the Covid subject, I feel we need to consider guests’ health and safety to be better embedded into design principles of the future. We might be surprised by a new virus but, equally, some of us have become much more aware and have not yet been able to get back to being as comfortable in certain settings as before.

Next to this, I feel that our guest and customer base is transitioning, and the new generations are accustomed to visiting places in a more selective way, for very specific reasons; food, ambience or whatever this may be. More exposure through social media by unmanaged ‘reviews’ will raise the bar from what we might have been used to. Ambience and service will play a big part in this, and the role of the designers will be to deliver a unique and quality bar or restaurant concept will become more important.

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