Inakaya restaurant in Abu Dhabi by Stickman Design offers Japanese minimalism

With its large theatrical show kitchen with massive robata grills and fresh ingredients on display, Stickman Design, an international Dubai-based boutique interior design consultancy, has created a contemporary and slick interior that respects the traditional nature of Japanese cuisine.

2,000 original sake bottles hang from the ceiling.

The first Inakaya restaurant opened its doors in the heart of Roppongy Tokyo, Japan in 1970. The very successful restaurant then expanded to open a branch in yet another signature location in Manhattan, New York.

For a renowned brand, the restaurant design needed to meet high expectations and be tailored to showcase the outlet’s offerings. The client brief was to create a stand-alone Japanese restaurant in line with the brand concept that originated in Tokyo and New York. The restaurant has a very strong USP given the cuisine and the style of service, and is destined to be an authentic Japanese restaurant and bar with a timeless modern interior.

Efficient utilisation of space was required considering small overall area.

“Abu Dhabi National Hotels wanted to bring the well-renowned brand of Inakaya NY and Tokyo, known for its high expectations, to the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Abu Dhabi,” explains Marcos Cain, director and co-founder of Stickman. “The design features a live show kitchen set behind its iconic long dining counter where guests receive their dish on a long timber paddle handed to them by the chef himself, another lovely Inakaya signature.”

Cain explains that having an authentic Japanese robata grill in the heart of Abu Dhabi was a strong enough concept to draw people in.

The brand concept originated in Tokyo.

“All the design had to do was to create an atmosphere to match the mouth-watering food served,” he adds. “The design of the outlet was created with an inviting, interesting yet simple atmosphere to match the delicious options available on the menu.”

To do so, the overall palette was composed of only three main finishes: the black stained oak, pine wood cladding and slate-inspired porcelain flooring.

Most of the furniture was custom-made.

Upon entering, the guest is greeted by an up-lit Samurai warrior framed by beautiful black stained timber screens.

“Subtle movement is created overhead by the hanging folded paper feature in the ceiling inspired by the Omikuji tree; a tradition originating from Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan,” explains the designer.

The interior design had to match the way the food is prepared and served.

The main feature of Inakaya is the famous long dining counter, where fresh ingredients are cooked on an open flame in close proximity to its audience. The counter is set at dining height so the guests can enjoy the dynamic and casual vibe of the live kitchen and be a part of the overall experience.

One of the design challenges the team faced was the limitation of the front-of-house space; the kitchen demanded quite a large portion of the space leaving a limited capacity of 42 seats indoors. Stickman proposed building a glasshouse to increase the seat count by 54 and in return generate more revenue.

The private dining room features the tiger graphic etched in timber.

“Traditionally you aim for more restaurant than kitchen. Being a destination restaurant, however, the kitchen demanded a 70/30 ratio, far from the industry norm,” says Cain. “We proposed a sleek glasshouse to increase the seat count.”

Another challenge designers encountered was having guest rooms right above the restaurant.

“The design, MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and acoustic teams all had to work together to find clever ways to work around the services, ceiling drops and sound travel without compromising the overall design of the restaurant.”

Stickman built a glasshouse to increase the seating area.

For guests preferring a more intimate dining experience, there is a private dining room. The room features a tiger graphic etched in timber as the backdrop and a captivating overhead feature with 2,000 original sake bottles hanging from the ceiling. The private dining room can easily be “not-so-private” by simply sliding the screens open.

With unrestricted views to the creek, the guests can choose to sit outdoors or within the temperature controlled glasshouse.

Large theatrical show kitchen with robata grills is the main feature.

“Most of the design was custom made for the space, however, the outdoor furniture from Kettal could not suit it more. Like the restaurant design it’s sharp, elegant and simple,” says Cain. “We pride ourselves on being 100% bespoke, not just saying it, but living it. We tailor everything specifically for each project without a cookie cutter design in sight, something a client expects when they come to us.”

When it comes to hospitality design and how it has changed over the years, Cain says that the food and beverage industry is now evolving to suit a new target market – Millennials.

Upon entering, the guests are greeted by an up-lit Samurai warrior.

“The previous generations were all about luxury and grandeur, but this one is less interested in pomp and more interested in what’s casual, cutting-edge and efficient.”

With its distinguished concept for Inakaya restaurant, this project by Stickman Tribe was shortlisted for the CID Interior Design of the Year: Food & Beverage award 2015.

The counter is set at dining height so the guests can enjoy the vibe of the live kitchen.