Details: Vini

vini300Sydney architect Anthony Gill used an off-the-shelf building material as a secret weapon when designing a hip but inexpensive enoteca in Surry Hills.

Chef Andrew Cibej was a first-time restaurateur after working in Italy for three years, and he wanted to open a small enoteca in Surry Hills. The location and size of the place meant it had to be a little hole in the wall where people could dine comfortably. “Andrew only took one tenancy to begin with in 2006. It was in a little redeveloped warehouse, about 35 square metres. All the services, like grease traps and exhausts, were provided so we just had to do an inexpensive fit-out in order to get the doors open. “We ended up building the world’s smallest kitchen, about five square metres, using a black laminated plywood called Formply. In fact, we used this for nearly the whole job. This building material is usually used for forming up concrete. It’s inexpensive and has high water resistance because it comes with black lacquer on both sides. We used it on the walls and stacked it one on top of the other to form the bar with a continuous ply edge. The black finish reduced the lighting levels right down to make the place nice and intimate. “The lighting was simple batten holders that cost about $4 at the local electrical supplier. We used bare bulbs, creating a low-key feel. The only bit of flamboyance is the pink ceiling. Not many people actually notice but it does give a reflected glow—a warmth to the whole space. “Although there was little money for design, the restaurant’s produce makes a real statement. We treated this as a framework when designing all the shelving. Because the space is so tight, this working wall of food and wine is active throughout. People behind the bar are climbing up and getting wine bottles down and the chef often comes out of the kitchen and stands on the little steps to get more produce. It is always an active backdrop to the dining experience. “When it came to furniture, we built Formply tables and outdoor stools. Andrew also went online to find old bistro chairs; he bought most from one company on eBay. Then he sanded them all back and stained them. “So, Vini was created on a shoestring budget. What’s lovely about it is that it has been around for nearly 10 years now and Andrew has barely had to change a thing. He has got bigger, however. It was a 25 seater when he opened and then he had the opportunity to expand into a loading dock. We managed to stick a shipping container in the loading dock and lined it with birch plywood. It turned into a private dining room with another 10 seats. “A couple of years later, the neighbour moved out and Andrew was able to take over another 25 square metre space. All these changes have been very slow and organic, and over that time, Andrew has managed to take over the whole corner of the building.” 

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