curated by M.T.I. interior design

THE AUTHENTIC RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE – interiors that engage all the senses

When talking about restaurant design, we’ve learned that in order to survive they need to engage all the senses, not just taste. Restaurants need to consider all the customer touch-points from branding to the website, menu design, service, music, the overall vibe and of course interior design plays a crucial part in this puzzle. In this month’s Curated by M.T.I. we explore “the authentic restaurant experience”. I present you a selection of restaurants where everything is given as much attention as the food. Before we get to them, let’s talk about some key elements that need to be kept in mind for successful restaurant design.

Featured image: NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Irina Boersma


I’m sure you have heard about the phrase ‘experiential design’ or ‘brand experience’. Probably more in connection with the retail industry. We’re now seeing that same ethos being applied beyond retail and into any consumer-led space, including restaurants, coffee places and bars. The restaurant industry is built on food, but it has the opportunity to thrive when paired with this mindset of an experience designer. So what are some of the steps (for a designer) to create an authentic restaurant experience?

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

1. Storylistening

First, we start by listening. When you hear people talk about experience design, you often hear about it in terms of “storytelling” … a design technique using narrative to build emotional connections with users. But before we tell those stories, we need to listen to them. We as designers need to listen to our clients, to the chefs, to the staff and to the market. It is not just about listening, designers need to ask the right questions to get the right information from early on. Those answers, and the stories we hear, are critical in informing the direction of the project.

2. Creating authentic experiences

Restaurants are not just a service anymore, they are multi sensory experiences that are no longer just part of a night out – they are the night out. And, they’re a large part of the Experience Economy. What customers want from their experiences is authenticity. We have this notion that “authenticity” means real, as opposed to fake. But what makes a restaurant truly authentic is that they’re true to themselves – being who they say they are and delivering what people expect based on their perceptions of the brand.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

3.  Identifying the signature moments

What is the moment a customer will remember? Is it going to be the moment you hand them their food, or is it the ordering process? Is it the first bite of food, or is it the unique ambiance while they wait and eat? Once you identify the moment, consider how the physical space and experience can be maximized. Everything from the spatial layout to the packaging of the food can radically transform the customer experience. Package design determines the ease with which the food will travel, and smaller seating areas can be designed to maximize the space without compromising comfort and hospitality.

Now it’s time to reveal you which restaurants made it to the top of my selection for offering a truly authentic experience


René Redzepi, one of the world’s most influential chefs, shut down his restaurant Noma (which was voted world’s best restaurant four times over) and began planning Noma 2.0. We couldn’t expect less then a culinary and architectural masterpiece. And that is exactly what he delivered. The project heralded a fresh beginning with a brand new building and a new menu based around three seasons. To realise his vision, he commissioned the interior design part to Copenhagen-based Studio David Thulstrup .

NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Irina Boersma

Noma 2.0 is located near Christiania on a historic site next to a lake that was once part of Copenhagen’s ancient fortifications. An existing concrete building that had been used for munition storage was turned into prep kitchens, fermentation lab and staff rooms. One of Redzepi’s most important considerations in creating the new Noma was that it had a sense of place. The interiors had to reflect that. At the same time, each piece and each setting needed to be carefully selected so that everything was bespoke.

In order to create a better sense of place and home, Studio David Thulstrup drew on residential rather than hospitality, where materials take center stage and serve as most of the decoration. for the duration of one year, the Copenhagen studio spent time selecting materials and treatments for all floors, wall and ceilings, designing cabinetry, furniture and lighting, selecting and commissioning art works, and buying vintage pieces for the space. for the restaurant’s custom-made terrazzo floor, Thulstrup used large river stones ‘the shape of which you can feel when you walk on it with bare feet.’

everything is carefully selected, curated or designed and nothing screams more than the other. The whole thing has this sense of coherence and a very 360 degrees holistic approach.’

David Thulstrup

I just love how authentic this interior is. It tells the story of its surroundings in a subtile and poetic way.

NOMA restaurant by Studio David Thulstrup, Photographer: Irina Boersma

2. NOGLU by Mathieu Lehanneur

It almost seems inconceivable that Parisian kitchens would ever deign to acknowledge a food fad, much less one that’s based on allergies, and yet, Noglu is the exception that proves the rule. The self-styled gourmet gluten-free ‘boutique restaurant chain’ has just opened its third outlet in Paris’ seventh arrondissement, provocatively in a neighbourhood bristling with purveyors of cheeses, breads and full-creamed pastries.

designed by Mathieu Lehanneur, Photograpger: Michel Giesbrecht

The prolific Mathieu Lehanneur temporarily put aside his hat as Huawei’s chief designer to work on the small 26-cover café, restaurant and patisserie, carving out a jewelled grotto of undulating apertures and dreamy nooks.

A stone wall references the fact that we came from caves and that we’re never that far away from them when it comes to questioning our origins and what we’ve become. We’re primitive beings that have been civilised.

Mathieu Lehanneur

Lehanneur, himself a gluten-free advocate, swathes surfaces with marble and quartz, setting terrazzo-topped tables against a background of powder pink and striated white walls, silvery stools, and pale-grey velvet cushions. And just in case anyone missed the memo, Lehanneur has decorated the walls with handwritten messages: ‘Keep the gluten away’ and ‘Please don’t glu’. All of which is mere background for the kitchen’s tasty treats of imaginative pastries alongside a savoury menu that includes vegan burgers and vegetarian lasagnas.

designed by Mathieu Lehanneur, Photograpger: Michel Giesbrecht


Milk Train approached FormRoom to design and produce an immersive space that catered primarily to their diverse Instagram demographic who have propelled the brand to instant online fame in 2018. FormRoom worked with the brand to strategize and evolve upon their four core pillars; Surreal, Timeless, British and Immersive.

FormRoom created a unique, dream-like landscape for the Milk Train customer. A predominately monochromatic palette is utilized to echo the Art Deco movement popularized amongst traditional train stations and platform iconography. Covent Garden was to provide the core brand design blueprint, by which all future sites will evolve from.

Milk Train by FormRoom, Photography by Paul Lewis.

By catering the space to meet the demand of their social footprint, Milk Train’s biggest challenge was finding the balance between timeless and immersive. As this was their first permanent space, the design needed to be unique and interchangeable across all seasons; allowed the brand interior to evolve as swiftly as Instagram trends do.

The key focus was to create a space that was easily adaptable to all trends whilst not deviating from their dreamy ice cream products and the core brand identity.

Since launching, the design has generated an unprecedented response online, awarded ‘Best Experiential Design’ at The Drum Awards 2019 and Shortlisted for ‘Best Café Design’ at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2019 for offering an authentic restaurant experience.

The popular ice cream holds such a sense of playful surrealism, and FormRoom wanted to carry over that magic to the store environment.

Emily Foenander, project manager FormRoom

Milk Train by FormRoom, Photography by Paul Lewis.

SUMMING UP: designing the authentic restaurant experience

Creating an authentic dinning experience is not just about food anymore, restaurants have to offer multi sensory experiences. Before storytelling, comes story listening: asking the right questions and listening to the market. Creating authentic experiences isn’t about “real” or “fake,” it means being who you say you are and going beyond guest expectations.

Restaurants are places we go for nourishment, both physically and spiritually. My hope is that good restaurants of the future will combine great food and great design to create the authentic restaurant experience. If there is a theme here, I’d like to call it “authenticity.”

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