Restaurant design: tinted crimson  – Asian contemporary dining at The Red Room

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Below the light, bright levels of the Mount Nelson Hotel lies The Red Room by Chefs Warehouse – a restaurant steeped in culture and design elements that offer a bold contrast to the spaces above it. We spoke to David Schneider and Liam Tomlin about this contemporary Asian gem in the underbelly of a Cape Town landmark.

the red room

Another world

Down a moody staircase, The Red Room’s atmosphere envelops you in a sophisticated Asian aesthetic. The lighting – a subtle interplay of warm and ambient hues – casts a soft glow on the carefully curated furniture and art pieces. The design exudes modern elegance, marrying traditional Asian elements with sleek, minimalist lines. Bamboo fixtures and intricately carved wood-and-mirror screens create an ambience that’s both intimate and chic, drawing diners into a parallel world – which could quite literally be anywhere in the world.

“We wanted to evoke a sense of the East, not just in the menu but in every aspect of the experience,” says Liam. “We want our guests to feel transported to a place where tradition meets contemporary flair.”

This commitment to detail is evident in every corner of The Red Room, and heightened by the fact that you are underground, with no views of the outside. The restaurant has been carefully laid out to enhance the dining experience, marrying it with the concept of anonymity. The seating – a blend of cosy booths and communal tables – encourages a shared culinary experience as opposed to the singular enjoyment of food. The central bar adds a striking touch, inviting guests to indulge in handcrafted tea-infused cocktails, sake and other creative libations. The strategic layout of the space ensures that every diner has a front-row seat to the theatrics unfolding in the open kitchen, where chef Caroline Lamb leads with passion and precision.


It all began with a twist of fate. “LVMH purchased the space post-Covid,” says David. “Their style is quite different, and they wanted something luscious, chic and contemporary.” The redesign became a delicate dance between tradition and modernity, blending the historical context of the hotel with the tasteful allure desired by LVMH.

The initial offer of a ballroom at the Mount Nelson was declined, as David and Liam sought a standalone identity. “We didn’t want to ‘share’ a space with the hotel,” David explains. Instead, they stumbled upon the hidden gem that would become The Red Room – a space that had laid dormant for 25 years. As they explored it, the chefs envisioned a fusion of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, with a touch of London or New York. The ambience, they decided, had to be “the dark side of the Mount Nelson; something that stays stylish for a long time; a timeless but distinct spot”. This vision laid the foundation for a collision of a contemporary Asian aesthetic with South African design input.

Designing the narrative

The design process unfolded in collaboration with the talented Karen Wilhelm, who had previously worked with Liam on The Bailey. The mood boards presented to LVMH resonated with their vision, creating a harmonious synergy between East and South. “We kept as much of the original structure and skirtings as possible, to honour the space and to retain its integrity,” David says.

However, the project was not without its challenges. David candidly shares the hurdles they faced, such as the unexpected need to replace the roof. “The bubble texture on top of the roof is about 40 years of dust and wood and all sorts,” he says. “We were aiming to open in December 2022, but the LVMH directors came from France, saw the roof and said it had to go.” This unforeseen twist halted progress, demonstrating the intricate dance between creativity and pragmatism in restaurant construction.


The design intricacies also extended beyond furniture and lighting. “LVMH wanted to layer a narrative from the floor to the roof,” says David. Paintings, textures and careful illumination were integrated into the design, transforming the space into a visual story of Asian cultures. Walking through the space, David points out the meticulous attention to detail, from the intricate chandeliers to the reupholstered original banquettes. The decor is not just about aesthetics; it’s a preservation of history and a celebration of cultural narratives.

“We’re going to add slightly higher tables in the lounge area, and use dividing screens for private functions,”

David says about their future plans. “We are constantly playing around with furniture, creating little pockets.” The design, like the menu, is evolving, and constantly seeking new ways to enhance the experience. As we marvel at a dragon-scaled bar made of metal sheeting, David adds, “It’s about playing on these lovely narratives, textures and colours.” The fluidity of the design process is evident, with plans to add mirrors, change seating arrangements and introduce new elements that reflect the ever-evolving nature of The Red Room.


Cultures converge

The Red Room isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a living, breathing intersection of culture, history and culinary innovation. The design, much like the menu, is a carefully curated story that unfolds with every visit, inviting guests to immerse themselves in a narrative driven by both food and decor. As David puts it, “It’s not trying to fancy up a dumpling. Let’s serve it as it should be. Let’s make it amazing.”

Images: Claire Gunn

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