Hidden away in a gritty inner-city laneway, the popular eatery in Sydney’s cool Surry Hills was designed by award-winning architect Anthony Gill
“Andrew Cibej, who I’d worked with in setting up Vini, was looking for another site for a new restaurant. We were visiting places all over town when the landlord of Vini mentioned he had another space available in Surry Hills. It was on the ground floor of a three-storey brick warehouse that was having a six-storey tower built on top. We thought we could make the space work and by the time the approval process was complete, the tower was complete. We were the last thing to go into the building.
“The space was an old garage that had been used by the offices in the levels above. There was quite a wide entrance that we divided with a mesh-covered storage section that connects to the kitchen.
From the customer’s entrance, there’s a 15-metre-long corridor that leads into the restaurant. As they walk past, they’ll often see kitchen staff looking for pots, or bar staff bringing out more bottles of wine. We wanted a really active corridor that ran right through the building.
“The bar pokes out at the end of the corridor and that’s where customers are greeted and then shown to their seats. The entire restaurant is only 110 square metres, including the bathrooms, and it seats about 70 people.
“The bar is demarcated with some high-level seating and tables. Then there’s the more comfortable dining area towards the back of the restaurant by the window.
“We had to bury a grease trap under that section and it wouldn’t go below floor level. We raised up a timber floor and it works really nicely. There’s a concrete floor at the bar that changes to timber in the elevated seating area. It makes the dining section feel softer, warmer and very comfortable.
“The council wouldn’t allow us to open up onto the laneway so we put in two huge windows that frame a gritty urban view. When the restaurant is full and you’re standing in the laneway looking in, it’s kind of surreal. Outside it’s completely silent and dark and through the window are 70 people having the time of their lives.
“We chose the chairs, made all the leather banquettes, and the bar stools were custom-made by Sydney furniture maker, Nicholas Rogers. On each side of the room are two mid-century-designed lamps designed by Achille Castiglioni. The rest of the room is illuminated by ambient backlights. Also, there are large mirrors on the walls that have backlighting behind them.
“The kitchen is incredibly tight but Andrew, the owner/chef, designed it very economically and ergonomically so it works effectively. It’s basically just two benches that run through the space and sometimes there are four people working in there. It was all planned within an inch of its life.
“Berta still feels like a warehouse—it’s not trying to pretend it’s on the beach or in a leafy garden. It’s very urban. The front door is a little hidden, so it makes diners feel like they’ve found something special. The food is fantastic and the simple, pared-back fit-out works incredibly well.”
Anthony Gill Architects
Lvl 6, Suite 61,
61 Marlborough St,
Surry Hills, NSW, 2010
T: (02) 9699 8712