Christopher Green and his team are behind many of Myanmar’s proud establishments, the Hotel G and Babett Restaurant and the SEEDS Restaurant and Lounge in Yangon, the Ngapali Bay Villas and Spa in Ngapali and the Candacraig Hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin, to name a few. Their latest achievement, the Round House Royal Kandawgyi Restaurant, is getting popular each day amongst Yangonites. MYANMORE had a chance to meet Green and dig deep into the concepts behind the Round House and his visions for designing a restaurant.
How did you become involved in the Round House project?
Through the owner’s group of shareholders who had this building in its previous forms for about 10-11 years, I think. I’ve known them for quite a long time and so I was involved in other projects. For instance, the same group owns Ngapali Bay Villas and Spa in Ngapali and Tharabar Hotel in Bagan. So that is how we got involved in the Roundhouse project which was really a question of rebranding.
What were the concepts for this project?
The health crisis of COVID has changed a lot of things, a lot of people. We wanted to think of a different style and concept for the place. The restaurant was an old structure that was basically built in 2004. It was all built using reclaimed Pyin Ka Doe wood which I think is important. So we continued with that concept of reusing and adapting old materials: all the wood used here is reclaimed teak or Pyin Ka Doe which is all locally sourced. All the artisans are local. We’re not shipping anything from China or anywhere else. We believe it is important to support the local economy and create a circular economy of reimagining and reusing existing spaces and materials.
We changed the position and function of the kitchens and the positions of the bar and terrace/verandahs by completely restructuring the building in order to create what we call the Rotunda. This allows for different events to happen in the Rotunda (markets, concerts, private dinners etc) as well as everyday restoration in and around Ginn’s Barin a more cozy kind of atmosphere.
The aim is to create a hub in which lots of different things can happen at different scales, almost like a cultural centre. We would like to foster creativity and innovation from other Myanmar creators. For instance, this weekend we’re hosting the SheCreates pop-up market here for two days (3-4 June). [There’ll also be] Bands, different types of music, DJs, food and so on and so forth.
It will be a very busy meeting place for people coming and going to see what’s going on – see what’s being made, see who’s playing, or just to come for Shan Khao Swe or a cocktail.
When you design a restaurant, and you have done many before, how do you balance aesthetics with functionality?
It always depends on where it is and what it is and the type of food. Fine dining is completely different from what we’re trying to do here. The functionality is different. There’s less necessity for variation and flexibility because they set the menu. For instance, at SEEDS, which is another high-end restaurant, Chef Felix is very much the master of what he does in his menu and his food. So he designs the kitchen specifically for his type of cuisine. The kitchen is open, and I like that idea. The functionality that remains open to the people who are coming to eat is always very healthy, I think, [since] they can actually see how the kitchen functions. It is what we’ve done here and what we did in Ngapali Bay as well.
Here [Round House] is slightly different because we have many different types of food and types of events – varied from an intimate, small table dinner with a la carte menu to 300 seaters. Everything has got to be within a certain budget but still good quality. So, the kitchen has to be scaled to cover both. Keeping it in view is always a positive thing to do because it participates in the aesthetic of the restaurant.
So that’s where the functionality meets the aesthetic. People come in to see the food, how it’s cooked and how it tastes and smells.
What are the challenges of running and designing a restaurant and how did you overcome them?
The challenge really is getting all the supply chains into the right order. The menu that we design and the way that it is cooked is very local. We look for ideas from all over the world, we think globally and act locally.
See what you can get from the local markets, fresh seasonal products are the essence of the Round House. We don’t use any MSG, or sugar, it’s fresh food with no preservatives.
The challenge is hitting the right note between what people are expecting in the traditional dishes and tastes, and creating something new with fusion or bringing in another idea on top of that, which gives it a new flavour. If people find that interesting, they will come back.
So, that’s the main challenge: getting everything in balance. The atmosphere needs to make people feel relaxed. The menu has to be balanced locally. It’s a harmony between the two which is difficult to achieve. It’s very easy to say: “Okay, we’ve got a restaurant and this is what people are eating so we’re gonna do it.” We don’t do that.
So, there’s no formula to run a successful restaurant, right?
No. Everyone is different.
The interview was edited for clarity and brevity. You can read more about Green’s projects on green-architects.com. Photos are provided by Green.