Coach House, the new 6,000 sq ft restaurant and café designed by SHH at one Britain’s most historic sites – Hatfield House – has just scooped the ‘Best Café or Fast Food Award’ at the UK’s prestigious Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2012 (‘the world's only concept of its kind dedicated exclusively to hospitality design’). SHH was also a double-winner at the awards in 2011 for Barbican Foodhall and Barbican Lounge, with all three projects created for the same client – Levy Restaurants (part of Compass Group UK & Ireland).
Background to Project:
An existing tea-room for visitors to Hatfield House was already operating on the estate, with profits contributing to the ongoing costs of maintaining the historic property. Its simple format, however, was no longer equal to the demands being placed on it by the high volume of visitors. A new design was commissioned to enlarge the café and restaurant space and this coincided with a major master plan for the house and grounds, initiated by Lord Salisbury and undertaken by Brooks Murray Architects. The master plan was aimed at expanding alternative revenue sources, as well as improving year-round access to the grounds for visitors. The restaurant, housed in a former 19th century coach house, was to be joined by new retail facilities in the surrounding former stable buildings.
SHH worked very closely with Levy Restaurants’ in-house Innovations Team on the development on the design concept for the Coach House project. The guiding design principle was for the restaurant to look at home in its nineteenth century setting, whilst at the same time being undeniably contemporary.
The key to achieving this was selecting materials that made direct reference to those used in the surrounding buildings; using them in an almost hand-crafted manner and applying them to very simple forms. “As we were designing a space within a former working building, we felt that anything too pristine would be out of place, so the materials are used in a very honest way“, commented Brendan Heath.
The restaurant has been expanded to include two floors and now provides 70% more floor space than the original tea room. Kitchens, food service counters and seating are situated in an L-shaped ground floor area, with a direct connection to the outdoors through a new glass extension, created as part of the overall architectural works. The first floor provides additional seating, accessed via a new spiral staircase within in a generous void and before opening out onto a roof terrace with views south towards the main house.
Operationally, the new offer is designed around three distinct service points: The Bakery, The Deli and The Chef’s Table, providing flexible usage and hours of operation.
“The materials we used for the counters of the three offers combine tiled fronts, solid oak framed tables and zinc counter tops” commented Brendan Heath, “with a slightly different configuration for each. The zinc counter tops were acid-treated to give them a well-worn look.”
The Bakery, open from first thing in the morning, offers breads, cakes and pastries with the ovens placed on full display to entice customers with the smell of fresh baking. Also serving tea and coffee, this counter operates continuously throughout the entire day.
The Deli and The Chef’s Table begin operating from late morning and primarily serve lunchtime customers. The Deli counter offers salads and sandwiches, with The Chef’s Table serving hot food direct from the kitchen - now visible through the new, full-height opening formed in the rear structural wall. The high visibility of the kitchen, with its central cooking island, underlines the emphasis on fresh food, made to order.
“Customers are served so much more quickly and effectively now”, commented Helen Craddock, Concessions Manager at Hatfield House, “which has improved the guest experience. From the display of food to reducing queues, the whole space flows and works very well for both staff and customers. The Chef’s Table is a real focus point and the theatre created for customers being able to see the chef cooking and serving the food has provoked many wonderful reactions. Customers love to be able to see that all our food is cooked, prepared and baked in house.”
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