The Red Room by Chefs Warehouse is the latest from the respected restaurant brand and promises an unrivalled Pan-Asian dining experience. Founders Liam Tomlin, David Schneider and Mount Nelson General Manager Tiago Sarmento sat down to share their insights.
How did it all begin?
Tiago Sarmento: I reached out to Liam in 2022, as he is one of the most acclaimed Chefs in South Africa and was held in high esteem by the people I consulted. We believed this would be the perfect partnership to successfully turn the Mount Nelson into a culinary hub in Cape Town. Most voices led to Liam Tomlin so I visited some of his establishments, asked for his number and invited him for a coffee at the Nellie. We walked down to the intriguing Red Room (formerly called The Grill Room) on that same afternoon.
What defines the concept for The Red Room by Chefs Warehouse?
David Schneider: With a surplus of mono-Asian eateries, it struck us that Cape Town is missing a Pan-Asian option. Liam spent many years working with Asian cuisine during his time in Australia; travelling to various destinations, he discovered just how regional the food is and he fell in love. Rather than a menu that mashes up cultures, The Red Room by Chefs Warehouse will represent the entire food footprint of Pan-Asia, all the way from Myanmar and Indonesia to India and China. We want to avoid reinventing these flavours, and instead present our interpretation of what Asian food is in South Africa, with a unique focus on the experience itself. Guests can expect a return to the theatrics and nostalgia of old school dining halls in a beguiling, underground space.
How was the conversation around a culinary partnership with Mount Nelson started?
Liam Tomlin: I’ve long admired the Mount Nelson’s ability to remain relevant after so many years in business. It’s as grand and glamorous today as it was when I first visited. The hotel has set out on a gastronomic metamorphosis of late and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of that evolution. Plus, having the opportunity to reinvent the hotel’s once-legendary 1970s era Grill Room, with its air of sophistication, was not something to be passed up.
As two independently celebrated establishments, what will Chefs Warehouse and the Mount Nelson bring to the table for one another?
LT: We share a taste for excellence and offer guests an unmatched experience from start to finish. Belmond has a well-travelled and cosmopolitan audience; we’d like to offer them a refreshing, immersive bar and dining experience that stands up to what they’ve enjoyed abroad. Rather than business as usual, this should rank as a tempting reason to eat in-house. We also hope to blend the hotel’s typical audience with the Chefs Warehouse following of dedicated foodies who seek out premium, standalone restaurants.
Let’s get into the menu, what can we expect?
DS: Seasonal dishes that represent the breadth of Asia’s footprint, created with authenticity and served with absolute attention to detail. Our food will be divided into two menus: the casual à la carte bar menu, defined by flavour-packed small plates of dumplings, ssam, oysters, tataki, broths and more and then the set dining menu of 3 to 4 courses. The latter nods to our celebrated Chefs Warehouse tapas for two concept, but with unique focus points for each course. Guests might start with the Line fish Sashimi and end with the Peking Duck Experience. This icon of Asia will be one to look out for, fire-roasted in our dedicated Peking duck cooker and wheeled over to your table on a gueridon before being carved by the waiter. The drinks menu will follow suit with a selection of enticing cocktails that pay homage to Asia’s tea and spice culture in addition to select sakes, whiskeys, and the best of our local wines.
How will the interior channel the food?
DS: The Red Room as a space was actually conceptualised before the name, making the room the real champion. The interior has led the way for the service style, uniforms, menu items and drinks offering, making the entire package a cohesive experience. Once guests descend the red-panelled stairs and arrive at the brass-backed bar underground, there’s a sense that time and place are undefined. It could be Shanghai or Tokyo; it could be midday or late night. It’s a very unique venue indeed. The interior design is lavish and much of it honours the original features of the old Grill Room. There’s an exciting sense of ambiguity and secrecy to being below ground.
What do you hope diners will take away from the experience?
DS: I believe they’ll love the flexibility of having two independent and complementary options by way of the bar and dining room experience. We hope that the mood of the space and the unique experience it creates from the service to the dishes themselves will be a welcomed addition to the local dining circuit. It’s a restaurant that might at once present as upscale but will also reveal itself to be loads of fun.
How will this latest addition contribute to the general experience of visitors?
TS: Our focus has always been on ensuring that the Nellie remains dear to Capetonians while offering our international guests a hotel experience that respects our history and embraces the here and now, as well as the future. We want the Mount Nelson to continue to be a place that makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome.
Issued by Avenue
Feature image supplied by Avenue