Once, we preferred our food to magically appear from behind a swinging kitchen door.
Maybe it’s because we want to know more about our food. Perhaps it’s the entertainment factor. Or it could be for design reasons, but open kitchens in restaurants are becoming the norm.
For these same reasons, where we once may have preferred to sit at a table, we’re now opting for a spot at the bar.
“What I like about an open kitchen is that it activates the room,” says chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell, whose restaurants Supernormal and Cumulus Up each have one. “If you’re sitting in a restaurant that’s not busy at that particular time, there’s still movement and activity happening in the room, which is important.”
Then there’s theatrical dining. Sit at the bar at Hawker Hall, and you risk losing your eyebrows to flames. “Theatre is a massive part of why people dine out these days,” says executive chef of the Lucas Group, Benjamin Cooper. “Hawker Hall, Chin Chin, Kong – the bar seats are the most prized seats in the house.”
Luke Skidmore agrees. The kitchen can be seen from all corners of his CBD pasta bar, Tipo 00. “It’s all about movement and entertainment. People like to see where their food is coming from, and the work that goes into preparing it. It’s a better experience.”
There’s benefit for the chefs, too. “It’s really nice seeing where the food’s going and seeing if people are enjoying it or not,” says McConnell. “When you send out beautiful food and have no idea where it’s going or what’s happening to it, or whether people are enjoying it … there can be a disconnect.”
It also has a positive influence on kitchen culture and dynamics. Chefs who are on show in open kitchens work tidier and better, and they have “a heightened sense of pride”, says Cooper. Having diners within earshot means they’re also less likely to face the wrath of their boss during service.
“I remember one case where I bollocked a guy at the sauce station, and I turned around and I just looked at this woman, and she just looks right at me and goes, ‘did you just threaten to bite his nose off?’ And I said ‘no, it was his fucking ears!’ But then I realised that I’d probably overstepped the mark a little bit.”
Lastly, the option of a spot at the bar is great for the solo diner. “You can go out, grab a snack or a bite to eat, have a glass of wine and not feel like you’re on a big table on your lonesome,” says Ashley Davis from Copper Pot in Seddon. “It can also help you decide what to order – you can see what’s going on and what looks good.”
Here are some Melbourne restaurants that have nailed open kitchens and bar dining: