Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Open shelving unit displaying Chinese teapots and other artefacts.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Open shelving unit displaying Chinese teapots and other artefacts.

“The temporary nature of the restaurant meant that we could be quite experimental with the Secret Kitchen brand, we were able to break away from the established colour palette, and create an environment that clearly expressed the Chinese food offering, but in a contemporary, non-clichéd way.”

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. A sense of openness, as well as a market-like atmosphere perfect for attracting passers-by.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. A sense of openness, as well as a market-like atmosphere perfect for attracting passers-by.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Service counter with an open kitchen behind.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Service counter with an open kitchen behind.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Timber bench seating brings structure to the space without blocking views.

Secret Kitchen Doncaster. Timber bench seating brings structure to the space without blocking views.

CHINA BAR GROUP, SECRET KITCHEN POP UP WITH MID-MALL FULL COMMERCIAL KITCHEN

The concept of the pop-up store has well and truly entered the mainstream in Australia. The formula typically involves a vacant shop, an opportunistic brand or retailer, and a light-touch fit-out that maximises visual appeal and minimises cost. And it’s usually done and dusted in days or, at most, a few weeks. But what if a pop-up has to last longer than that – say, 18 months? And it has to include a full commercial kitchen? In the middle of a mall in a major shopping centre? These were the questions faced by the China Bar Group when they took an 18-month lease in Westfield Doncaster and launched Secret Kitchen Express, a pop-up version of their Secret Kitchen restaurant chain. In turn, these questions were handed on to Melbourne retail design specialists Studio Ginger to answer!

Daunting as the task might have seemed, Studio Ginger Design Principal Luke Cannon saw it as a great opportunity. “The temporary nature of the restaurant meant that we could be quite experimental with the Secret Kitchen brand,” he says. “We were able to break away from the established colour palette, and create an environment that clearly expressed the Chinese food offering, but in a contemporary, non-clichéd way.”

The dining area his team designed is arranged around a central open kitchen. There are open shelving units displaying Chinese teapots and other artefacts, and timber bench seats backed by woven-wire screens that bring structure to the space without blocking views. The sense of openness, coupled with the bustling activity on show in the kitchen, creates a market-like atmosphere perfect for attracting passers-by.

But there was more to this design process than resolving the layout and visual treatment. The pop-up’s mid-mall location presented some significant logistical hurdles. “There were a few challenges relating to infrastructure and amenities, but the biggest was probably the lack of access to mechanical ventilation, which we’d usually take for granted in a commercial kitchen,” explains Cannon. “It meant we couldn’t install conventional stovetops and hotplates, so we ended up bringing in a MobiChef portable cooking unit that captures cooking emissions and filters out all the grease, smoke and smells.”

The mobile cooker also fulfilled the brief for a fit-out that could be easily and cost-effectively disassembled at the end of the pop-up. When that time comes, the China Bar Group will have learnt a lot from the venture. The most successful aspects of Studio Ginger’s fit-out could be fed back into other Secret Kitchen restaurants. And a strong return on investment will serve as “proof of concept”, meaning Secret Kitchen Express could start popping up all over the place!

For more images visit the Secret Kitchen gallery here.
Words: Mark Scruby, architecture and design writer Infinite Shapes
Images: Lynton Crabb