When the finalists in the 2015 Australian Interior Design Awards (AIDA) were released, not one, but two food courts appeared on the list. One was the refurbished food hall at the Canberra Centre designed by Cox Architecture in association with MBBD and Seventh Wave. It features a wood-clad ceiling adorned with hand-made lights, a vertical garden and curved cork walls that one might expect to see in a high-end restaurant.

The second food court honoured by AIDA was the East Village Urban Marketplace in Zetland, Sydney, designed by Koichi Takada Architects. The precinct features a dramatic wooden ceiling and curved wooden columns resembling tree trunks and canopies. Takada drew inspiration from natural forests and used a colour palette that reflected native Australian flora species in his sophisticated design.

The upmarket food court is common throughout Asia and Europe, but in recent years the concept has migrated to urban metropolises in America and now Australia. The food courts at Harrods in London and Le Bon Marche in Paris have always been legendary, and even at newer European department stores, such as Berlin’s KaDeWe’s, the food hall is a destination in itself.

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Now, the US has caught the haute food court bug. In New York, venues such as Gotham West and City Kitchen feature culinary hotspots such as Luke’s Lobster and a ramen offshoot by the folks at cult restaurant Ippudo. Nearby, the Plaza Food Hall beneath The Plaza Hotel features a number of the city’s most famous street-food vendors and restaurants, from No. 7. Sub to Épicerie Boulud. There has also been an explosion throughout the US of chic, design-minded food halls such as Chelsea and Gansevoort Markets in New York and Krog Street Market in Atlanta, which feature independent provedores and food vendors in indoor, market-like settings.

In Melbourne, Emporium’s Cafe Court helped raise the bar for high-end food courts in Australia. The precinct boasts a vendor offering starring some of the city’s favourite restaurateurs and cafe operators including George Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants, EARL Canteen and South Melbourne Markets Dim Sims. The space, meanwhile, is a sophisticated, cavernous expanse designed by Russell and George, featuring bronze mirrors, tan leather, Australian White birch and 20 kilometres of draped brass chain, on a catenary system grid and a grid of lights. The design is intended to reference, “The grandeur of a Victorian great room,” according to the designer’s website.

“In recent years, changing customer attitudes and work behaviours have challenged the viability of the traditional food court,” says Andrew Wilson, managing director at Barangaroo South, a new Lend Lease development in central Sydney. “Developers like Lend Lease want to meet modern needs by creating communal spaces; ones that authentically connect with and strengthen the communities they serve.”

“People want an escape from their everyday routines so when workers, tourists or residents walk into The Canteen at Barangaroo, we want them to be inspired,” he says. “We've designed a communal food destination on ground level that embraces the outdoor environment and presents local brands and healthy dining options in an ambient space. With curated bookshelves, wifi connectivity and mobile phone charging stations, The Canteen’s modern facilities will complement its formal and informal areas, inspiring friends and colleagues to escape the office throughout the day.

The Wintergarden food court in the Sydney CBD also recently underwent a facelift, and added an outpost of the popular Surry Hills burger joint, Chur Burger, to its offering. “Let your wanderlust take control as you succumb to an eating experience like no other food court has offered before,” Wintergarden promises on its website. “A sun-drenched atrium with wrapping flora-wall. Convenience services. Food merchants with vertical gardens. Budding with the best of fresh and delicious food in Sydney.”

According to news reports, St Collins Lane (formerly Australia on Collins) in Melbourne, which is in the process of redevelopment, will replace its basement food court with a second-level, premium food offering. Another Melbourne shopping precinct, Chadstone, will build a new food court as part of a $580 million centre upgrade. In Sydney, David Jones recently revamped one of its food halls in the city, with a redesign and popular new tenants such as Reuben sandwich specialist Ruby & Rach.

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With shopping centres in Victoria and New South Wales raising the food court stakes, other developers and retailers will be forced to initiate upgrades of their own, or risk losing customers. We can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store.

Canberra Centre
Bunda Street, Canberra, ACT
(02) 6247 5611
canberracentre.com.au

East Village Urban Marketplace
4 Defries Avenue, Zetland, NSW
1800 888 688
eastvillage.com.au

The Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC
(03) 8609 8221
emporiummelbourne.com.au

Barangaroo South
barangaroosouth.com.au

The Wintergarden
171–209 Queen Street Mall, Brisbane, QLD
(07) 3229 9755
wgarden.com.au

Chadstone Shopping Centre
1341 Dandenong Road, Chadstone, VIC
(03) 9563 3355
chadstone.com.au

David Jones Sydney CBD
65–77 Market Street, Sydney, NSW
(02) 9266 5544
davidjones.com.au