It’s easy to think of restaurant design in terms of aesthetic gimmicks. It’s harder to realise design innovation is less about a well-placed Edison bulb or winking neon signs than it is about creating inviting, intimate spaces that become backdrops to diners’ lives.

For George Livissianis, the Sydney interior architect behind restaurants like The Apollo and Cho Cho San, conceiving a cafe or restaurant that offers that trifecta – food, good service and atmosphere – is about having a clear vision from the outset.

“In my opinion it starts with the project brief,” he says. “A strong philosophy when it comes to food, service and branding are essentials. A designer’s ability to create a space that responds to all these items really underpins the success of this project. And a great site is a must.”

From pared-back eateries that serve as a canvas for produce-driven dishes to offbeat diners geared towards cocktails and conversation, here’s five design-led restaurants around the country leading the way.



The Apollo

There’s a reason Potts Point mainstay The Apollo has become synonymous with modern Greek food in Sydney. When Livissianis was designing the site – which unfolds under the Art Deco De Vere Hotel – he discovered grand arches and elegant cornices hidden beneath the dated interiors. The space naturally lent itself to the grandeur, sense of tradition and spirit of reinvention that characterises his friend Jonathan Barthelmess’s cooking.

These days The Apollo is a bustling, light-filled restaurant with raw walls, high ceilings and a marble bar ideal for lingering over ouzo and saganaki. It manages to be both intimate and convivial, ideal for a group dinner or one-on-one encounter. In a sea of cluttered spaces, it proves sometimes the best design is as little design as possible.



Cumulus Inc

In the fast-changing world of hospitality, nine years may as well be a lifetime. Yet Cumulus Inc, the sleek restaurant from Andrew McConnell and designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, has been happily impervious to design trends since it opened back in 2008.

That’s thanks to a warm, considered fit-out in harmonious dialogue with its four-metre-high ceilings and loft-like proportions. Here, American oak tables, a Calacatta marble counter and DNA pendant lights are both timeless and contemporary. The interiors befit a friendly all-day vibe that’s laid back while still delivering an around-the-clock sense of occasion. This applies whether you’re starting the day with a newspaper, coffee and Lune croissant or stopping in for McConnell’s slow-roasted lamb shoulder and a nebbiolo at night.



Osteria Oggi

Visit any Italian city and it’s clear the piazza – that public square perfect for sipping spritz and people-watching while dining alfresco – is a classic example of good design. Adelaide restaurant Osterio Oggi won the 2016 World Interiors News Award for best restaurant interiors, and its part thanks to its modern reimagining of this centrepiece of Italian life.

Courtesy of acclaimed South Australian architectural outfit Studio-Gram, the venue features high archways, a light-filled central dining space home to long, communal tables (perfect for sharing Oggi’s produce-driven pasta dishes) and an indoor garden takes cues from both a contemporary pergola and traditional arbour, dripping with foliage by plant stylist Emma Sadie Thomson.

Osteria Oggi is high on standout design elements but it’s difficult to go past the carefully curated spaces that reflect the rituals associated with Italian food. The aperitif bar nods to the much-loved tradition of downing a pre-meal Campari, caramel-coloured dining booths dial up the camaraderie, while the underground cellar is tailor-made for enjoying a dry-aged steak and glass of red.



Franklin

If Hobart seems increasingly heavy on design nous, Franklin must share some of the blame. Housed in a former Ford showroom, the minimalist industrial-luxe space on Argyle Street is cool without being chilly. Cowhide rugs sprawl on the polished concrete floors, under bespoke blonde-wood chairs and ceramic vases holding artfully arranged branches, all hinting at the outdoor provenance of Analiese Gregory’s menu. It features dishes like raw fallow deer with saltbush, wood-roasted abalone and Bruny Island sea urchin.

The glowing embers of the Scotch oven might be responsible for the deep, smoky flavours that have made Franklin a dining destination but they’re also a design feature, lending the restaurant’s austere surfaces a mellow warmth.



Monster Kitchen and Bar

Details rule at Monster Kitchen and Bar, the game-changing restaurant-bar-salon designed by the Molonglo Group on the ground floor of Canberra’s Hotel Hotel.

The moody space is a study in Australia’s forgotten design history, specifically the suburban family rooms of the country’s European immigrants between the 1940s and 1980s. The shattered terrazzo floor is a nod to Venetian construction workers; the armchairs are designed by the Viennese furniture maker Paul Ernst Kafka; and the Murano chandelier that illuminates the quartzite table winks at the 1970s.

It’s a love letter to a design era in which suburban homes were proudly maximalist. Decadent homewares, over-the-top fixtures and artwork rich with story were a way of telling the world that a family had arrived in style. Here it’s been smartly revived to do the same for a modern clientele.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Mercedes-Benz. Learn more about the Mercedes-Benz Design Award by Broadsheet and the latest design innovations at Mercedes-Benz designs.