What did you say?

March 2010

It was the mid 90s and the big noise in restaurant design was minimalism — a leading exponent for a time was the late great restaurant designer (among his many talents) Anders Ousback, working with architect Leigh Prentice. “Out with the sentimental clutter” was the cry as restaurant after restaurant was given the makeover — all paintings dragged off the walls, floor coverings ripped out. The look was cool, but the sound was unbearable. When these places were pumping you couldn’t hear a word.

Cut to 2010, The Flinders Inn (160 Flinders Street Paddington, Ph 9331 0208) where young Kiwi chef Morgan McGlone is showing off his real talent and craft with a menu of classics — rabbit and pork rillettes, brandade, duck confit — with tiny and welcome twists. The wine list yielded impressively (grab the 2009 Joseph Chromy Pinot Gris) and the service struck just the right balance of chumminess and distance. But the noise ... we went with friends from Adelaide (one a restaurateur), who rang the next day to ask if they could see us again because they hadn’t heard a word.

Obviously, the team is aware of the problem; there are baffles under the tables, but it just isn’t enough. I hate to say the dreaded word in cool company, but there’s only one remedy: carpet.

A postscript on the Anders story: later, I went with him to his re-design of the Clock Hotel in Crown Street. The walls were lined with French still-life paintings. What happened to sentimental clutter? I asked. “That was last month,” Anders said airily. It seems like it might be last month again.

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