Thursday, September 18, 2008

Silly Saison for Rocket-Burgers - I

Cluny Court is a lovely, sprawling, beautifully maintained old building at the junction of Cluny Road and Bukit Timah Road. The first floor (Level 2 in Singaporespeak) is given over to Relish, an eatery specialising in exotic beers and gourmet hamburgers. Self and fellow-foodie Wangui had gone there a long time ago, April or thereabouts.

I had been meaning to write about it for a good while now for several reasons, not least because I took lots of photos that day. As is evident, photos in profusion are entirely appropriate to the nature of the post. It's not often that I dwell at such length on an eatery's decor. But then, it's not often that I come across such curious decor either.

It was dark inside. As in really dark, dark as a sleazy nightclub in Geylang. The bar area had lots of light fixtures attached, which wasn't saying much.The counter had orange backlighting. Behind it the shelves were backlit white. Rows of beer bottles were arranged on them, too evenly spaced and uniformly sized to be anything but decorative. As a matter of fact, the same could be said of the entire bar lighting scheme as well; it sure didn't help us see things better!

The rest of the restaurant was serviced by stray pink lampshades that drooped down from the ceiling at random intervals. The ceiling itself was too high to reflect any light, not that the wholly inadequate bulbs in the lampshades emanated a lot of light to reflect.

Sheet-metal lanterns, with ornate designs cut out of their sides, hung from brackets at strategic points on the walls. Once again, they seemed to serve a purely decorative purpose. The perforations projected very pretty patterns on the walls, but illuminated little else, not even people sitting inches away.

Did the decor work? That's a difficult question. The effect was very pretty, no doubt, clearly done by a professional designer. The disparate elements did not clash. This could be because the ornate wall-mounted lanterns and the purple teardrop lampshades hanging from the ceilings were both too feebly lit to intrude into each others' spheres of influence.

My reservations were twofold. First, the arrangement did not make use of the natural characteristics of the building. To my mind, if a location offers certain intrinsic advantages, it makes more sense to design around these, and let the rest of the design flow organically from them.

To get a fairer idea of these advantages, I took a picture with the exposure raised a full two stops. And goodness, what a difference that made! A high, vaulted, half-timbered ceiling, a feeling of space, of airiness, an edifice you'd feel comfortable to breathe in, let's put it this way.

And not one bit of this found reflection in the decor. The ceiling was the darkest portion of the interior, for good measure even some of those wonderful exposed cross-beams had been painted white! I wouldn't call the decor impersonal, but it did seem entirely disjointed from the structure of the building. It can be transplanted in toto onto any mall or "country club", and would be none the poorer for it.

My second grouse was that the dim lighting made the place a lot less convivial. It did not comfort me, didn't reassure me, didn't make me feel welcome to linger over the food or the beer. All it did manage to do was intimidate me, make me feel alienated from the surroundings. And of course, it made photographing the food an unmitigated headache.

[Continued in Part II]