Touch of Spain adds spark to western world

The tapas menu has been adapted to suit Australian needs, writes Stephen Crafti.

The tapas menu has been adapted to suit Australian needs, writes Stephen Crafti.

Collins Square, at the west end of Collins Street, is unfolding as a buzzing place to catch up for a drink or lunch.

Two towers, designed by Bates Smart, with retail master planning by The Buchan Group, will include five new restaurants and cafes at ground and basement levels.

Owned and developed by Walker Corporation, this precinct includes Bar Nacional (Spanish for "National"), offering a taste of Spain.

Co-owners Gavin Baker and Pete Evans, both chefs, travelled independently to Spanish cities. One of the places that inspired them greatly was San Sebastian. "There was a strong community feel, with bars and cafes you could visit any time of the day," says Baker.

However, while the decor and ambience appealed to Baker and Evans, they realised the menu needed to be modified, to suit the Australian market. "The size of the tapas had to be larger. We have greater appetites, but we are also more accustomed to sharing," says Baker.

While Baker and Evans didn't want to simply take a slice of San Sebastian and transplant it to Melbourne, they were keen to create a Spanish feel, as well as attract the corporate market, be it first thing in the morning for breakfast, or for a drink at the close of business.

"Our brief was to create quite a masculine environment, but also something which would suit our climate," says Baker, who briefed Emily Pedersen, the senior retail design manager for Walker Corporation. Pedersen worked closely with Colab Design Studio.

The horseshoe-shaped space, 175 square metres in area, was originally earmarked as a bank. However, developer Lang Walker was keen to activate this podium-level space, creating more of a "front door" effect to the precinct.

"This space offers great northern light. And it was important to connect this area to the other cafes and restaurants that will open next year," says Pedersen, whose design expertise is in retail and hospitality. "This space had to feel welcoming, like coming through someone's front door."

The "front door" comes off a courtyard, which has been a drawcard for those leaving work on a Friday night. Filled with benches and scattered ottomans, it's a relaxed and welcoming point of arrival.

One of the main drivers of the design, in terms of functionality, was the location of the kitchen in the triangular-shaped space. Positioned to the rear, behind the central bar, there is a sense of transparency provided through large openings.

"We wanted people to feel connected to the food, without feeling as though they were standing in the kitchen," says Baker.

Pivotal to the design is the bar. Made from exposed bricks, Tasmanian oak and stone, it is framed by an orange and black steel cage, used to display and store wine. "We wanted to showcase our boutique wines on offer. But when you're working in spaces like this, storage is fundamental," says Baker.

One of the other elements crucial to the design was the creation of a variety of seating areas. As well as the outdoor courtyard, there is a more private dining area that seats about 10 people, making it ideal for business meetings.

There's also a cocktail area, with high bench seating, together with an area for more informal dining, including armchairs. And to create that Spanish feel, materials include copper tiles and brass finishes.

"We wanted to make the place feel relaxed, but also sophisticated," says Pedersen.

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