Design Focus: Rock Lobster
There’s a burgeoning Italian Corner in Glasgow’s Virginia Court, off Virginia Street, and taking equal pride of place longside Brutti Compadres next door, is Rock Lobster.
Co-owner Stephen Bonomi, of Arisaig fame, is responsible, with business partner Gordon Cameron, for a cracking Italian seafood restaurant with many tributary nods to his own family heritage.
Stephen explains, “Rock Lobster is very much a continuation of a family tradition, reflected in both the menu and the atmosphere. I come from a family of restaurateurs, and my grandmother called my father Il Duce (the leader) when 20 of us gathered as a family to eat, Don Corleone style, and this is the sort of relaxed dining experience I want to create in Rock Lobster. The name is a tribute to my father, who loved rock lobsters, and it also represents my two passions: music and food. It has nothing to do with a certain song by the B52’s.”
He continues, “I’m second generation Italian and my father was one of those who was forced to flee Tuscan Italy under Mussolini, and like many of his generation, where they eventually ended up in the world was down to pot luck. My family landed in Perth, Australia, where they opened The Bistecca Grill and Continental Grill restaurants – and there are nods to the recipes used in both establishments on my menus.”
As for the design, it was homespun by Bonomi himself, who is a seasoned pro at this type of venture, with all that Arisag experience under his belt – although he’s no longer part of that particular business. “I got fed up with Haggis Fritters” he says.
The design in Rock Lobster is more utilitarian, which is a good look, as uncluttered suits the space, which is a new build that retains certain of its traditional elements. There’s also a glut of natural light being surrounded on all sides by large plate glass windows, in the wedge-shaped area, not unlike a slice of cake, with seating down to the thin end of the wedge and the kitchen tucked away at the thick edge.
As it turns out Stephen was lucky enough to be gifted some Edward Hopper collectibles in his younger days, and these have influenced both the exterior and interior designs greatly. Stephen says, “The Hopper picture called Nighthawks (depicting the outside of a lit-up American diner at night with the occupants clearly visible) has always stayed with me, and I think that Rock Lobster looks a little bit like it from the outside at night time.”
The rest of the interior makes more of an understatement than anything else, with plain white walls, highly-polished wooden floors, wooden-top tables and fashionable white wooden seating.
There’s an equal lack of fussiness where the fittings go, like the white pendant lamp shades, and as they hang from the ceiling, they create lovely pools of light reflected in the sheen of the floor.
Lighting also creates a fitting atmosphere at the hotplate/servery, which is straight ahead as you enter, with splashes of colour courtesy of hanging baskets of red and yellow peppers, and oranges. There’s also a nifty florescent Heineken sign nestling among the wooden shelves of the gantry which is, likewise, all set against a plain white backdrop.
The only deviation from this is the wall to the left (as you enter) which is painted in a mushroom colour, displaying the Rock Lobster sign and logo. This leads downstairs to the basement, and what will eventually open as a burlesque/cabaret club in early 2013.
Stephen explains, “In my day anybody trying to make it in the music business had to get a recording contract. These days open mic and live sessions are the way in to that industry, and that’s what the club will be all about, showcasing lots of live music. In design terms we’re basing it on the Red Room in the 90s TV series Twin Peaks, with lots of red velvet curtains. Kirk Brandon of Spear of Destiny fame has already confirmed that he’ll play. We’ll also pipe a live music feed into the restaurant.”
So far the restaurant has attracted lots of positive feedback from its clientele, and it’s already fully booked for Christmas – and with a strong family focus, naturally. Says Stephen, “My family are coming in for Christmas lunch, along with some other large family groups – and this is what we envisage for the future of the business, to cater for small groups, of course, as well as throw lots of food at larger family groups in an old-fashioned
His ethos for serving the best that Scotland has to offer has was formed during his time at Arisaig, working with his father. He explains, “When my father and me were first thinking about opening the restaurant my father said to me ‘why does all the good food from Scotland end up in either Italy or Spain? So we set about rectifying this. At the same time, an old Sea Dog who looked like Captain Birdseye put it to me that we all either have an affinity with the sea or the land – and this struck a chord with me, so this is how we themed the menu at Arisaig. We hope to emulate the same levels of success in Red Lobster, and the design and location are going to of course play a key role in achieving this.”