Gazi is an industrial area in Athens, slowly becoming gentrified. It's also the name of a new restaurant in the Herald & Weekly Times building in Flinders Street. Formerly the Press Club, the owners George Calombaris, of MasterChef fame, and his business partner George Sykiotis wanted a more casual dining experience for this reincarnation.
"The Press Club was quite opulent, appropriate for buoyant economic times," says architect Rodney Eggleston, director of March Studio.
With a brief to create a grittier environment, like Gazi itself, March Studio removed many of the sleeker finishes. "The new menu is aimed at more casual dining, so the marble and lacquered timber wall panelling was at odds," says Eggleston, who reused materials wherever possible in the new fitout.
Taken back to the bones, the architects removed the black marble reveals which formerly created shadows on the starched white tablecloths. And rather than patch up the walls, pock-marked surfaces were celebrated. The black stained ceiling, the result of years of toner used to produce newspapers, was also revered. The uncovering also had special meaning for Eggleston, whose late grandfather, Roy Hodgkinson, was an illustrator for the newspaper in the late '50s and '60s.
The floor of Gazi was also exposed below what was previously a black epoxy finish. Like the rough and marked walls, the concrete floor, embedded with river stones, has been simply polished. While hard surfaces, such as a concrete floor, may be visually appealing, in a busy restaurant the effect can be a noisy and problematic. "We wanted to reduce the noise level, while still saying something about Gazi and the Mediterranean style food served," says Eggleston, who included an acoustic ceiling.
March Studio is recognised for their use of inexpensive materials to create illusionary grandeur (think the Aesop store in Flinders Lane featuring stacked recycled cardboard walls and benches). For Gazi, the overriding feature is the terracotta pots connected to the black perforated insulated ceiling. These pots, in three different dimensions, are ingeniously arranged in a wave-like design across the entire ceiling. Pulled back from the steel framed windows to ensure maximum light, the effect is extremely powerful.
"The terracotta can be linked to Mediterranean countries such as Greece. There's also the sense of being outdoors, dining in wonderful courtyards," says Eggleston. As well as contemplating the Gazi neighbourhood, Eggleston also found the ceiling of Stalactites, the Greek restaurant in Melbourne, inspirational. Designed in the 1960s, the sprayed concrete ceiling provides a cavernous and intimate dining experience that he wanted to reproduce at Gazi.
With such a miraculous ceiling, it was appropriate to play down other features at Gazi. On offer are three dining experiences, a quick meal from the "floating" steel bar, separate tables, or booth-style seating closest to the windows. And with simplicity in mind, the tables, designed by March Studio are steel, plywood and laminate. The chairs, designed by Daniel Barbera, are pared back.