Up until 20 years ago, fine dining choices in Beijing were few and far between. Today, there’s a proliferation of sophisticated restaurants in the city, but not many featuring star chefs. Chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa—whose 24 establishments worldwide have made him renown for his fusion of traditional Japanese cooking with Peruvian ingredients—could be Beijing’s game-changer. His latest restaurant, Nobu Beijing, brings new international cuisine to the Chinese capital with a design by Rockwell Group.
A partner in Rockwell Group, Shawn Sullivan had already gained expertise in designing stylish eateries—from 13 of the 24 Nobu restaurants to venues for Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. So he was well prepared for the challenge of creating a sumptuous interior, with principal David Rockwell, for this Nobu.
Achieving a sense of poetry
Nobu Beijing is located on the ground floor of a building on Jian Guo Road, an upscale shopping stretch in the central business district, adjoining an entry to the J.W. Marriott Hotel. “We inherited a rectilinear box and created a fluid geometry with undulating screens that change perceptions of the space,” says Sullivan. “The bar-lounge, dining areas, and private rooms have distinct identities, but craft and color bring them together. Chef Nobu and I know each other very well and work with a set of rules, but we are constantly pushing each other to achieve a sense of poetry beyond the functional relationship of the spaces.”
Traditional Chinese restaurants are often a warren of private rooms—retreats for a gathering of friends or a business deal. That convention is changing as China opens up to the world. As Sullivan says, “we wanted to challenge tradition because Nobu is all about energy, sharing an experience, and taking advantage of theatrical elements like the sushi counter with its ebullient chefs. Many prefer a table in the middle where they can see everybody, rather than a corner booth.”
Keeping and defying tradition
The plan cleverly straddles two cultures. Two intimate rooms with round tables for groups of up to 10 people are adjacent to the main dining area and can be curtained off for privacy or left open as overflow areas. The outdoor terrace can also be screened off for a banquet seating up to 50. In all, the 4,700-square-foot restaurant and bar seat 240 in a variety of configurations.
For his Nobu debut in mainland China (following Nobu in Hong Kong), Sullivan made several trips to explore regional stone quarries and timber yards, familiarizing himself with natural materials and the ways they are treated. Working with local construction partners, he sought skilled artisans—stoneworkers, carpenters, and furniture-makers—who still use traditional handcraft techniques. He wanted to avoid the tired clichés of red columns and gold dragons, achieving a flavor of Chinese culture while preserving the DNA of other Nobu restaurants worldwide. Nearly all materials and furnishings were fabricated and sourced in China.
“We used lots of wood and natural materials, notably abaca fiber, which was woven into intricate metal frames to divide up the space and create appealing niches,” says Sullivan. “Chef Nobu is primarily concerned with the proximity of the sushi counter to the kitchen, since some dishes are prepared in both, but he gets very involved in the choice of materials and artworks, and he always pays a visit of inspection on the eve of completion to ensure that everything is working the way he’s accustomed to.”
Highlights of the richly detailed interior include lasercut walnut reliefs that form a screen behind the bar, and a sculpture of 150 bronze twigs threaded together with monofilament and suspended over the curved banquettes of the lounge. Backlit panels of amber glass simulate onyx on the façade of the bar. In the main dining room, five bronze chandeliers lasercut with cherry blossoms are clustered below an abstracted floral fabric that covers the ceiling. A sculptor from Shenzen crafted the cast-iron lotus flowers that are pinned to the ceiling of the dining terrace. In the private dining rooms, scored leather wall panels alternate with fretted fabric window shades, and cast-bronze flower LED fittings crawl up the walls and across the ceiling. In contrast, the black walnut sushi counter exudes a Japanese minimalist aesthetic.
Nobu Partner Meir Teper says, “Thanks to our two principal backers—the actor Jackie Chan and prominent entrepreneur Qi Jiang Hong—we were able to create a shining star that should lead us forward to other ventures in this vast country."
Key Design Highlights
- A fluid plan unites the separate dining areas and bars into a cohesive design.
- Rich patterns and sculptural elements evoke nature and create depth and visual interest.
- Locally sourced materials, furnishings, and artisan details lend authenticity.
- Theatrical lighting and custom fixtures create a dramatic shadowbox-like experience.
Designer Rockwell Group
Client Nobu Matsuhisa
What 4,700 total square feet on one floor
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request