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Title: Waiter! There's a Pop movement in my soup!

Pages: 64 - 67

            

Author: Alastair Best

Text: 
Waiter! There's a Pop movement in my soup!
Mr Feed'em - the almost inevitable name for Mr Freedom's basement eatery opened in May as a snack bar, then reopened as a restaurant. The menu has changed, but the decor lingers on. Alastair Best reports. Photographs by Tim Street-Porter

It's 1 pm on 24 May. Down in Mr Feed'em all is ready for the second opening. The Everly Brothers (''What're we gonna te-ell your pa/What're we gonna te-ell your ma ?") come over nice and bright through the eight loudspeakers embedded in the ceiling. On the tables pink and blue tablecloths hang crisply. The ceiling lights, nicely adjusted, beam down on shining cutlery and polished glassware. Deceptively cheap crockery (labelled Sincerely Mr Feed'em) stands ready for action. Waiters, already practising expressions of glazed indifference to beckoning diners, prowl to and fro, clad in butcherstriped pants. In the kitchen, Amy Tosi, late of Woodstock, and two chefs, late of the Savoy, are hard at work stirring, blending, tasting . . .
Mr Feed'em had opened the week before as a sort of edible version of Mr Freedom. The waiters were dressed in boiler suits, like American gas jockeys; the waitresses had hamburger printed mini skirts, forties head scarves and gaspers stuck to their painted lips. There were flies in the soup, and a cake in the form of a pair of Levis and napkins depicting Mae West as the Statue of Liberty. It was the kind of place where you dropped in for an ice cream soda or a cherry jubilee while they took in a reef on your hotpants in the store upstairs. Feed'em complemented Freedom - brash, tarty, highly coloured - and if you were the kind of hopeless square who reckoned that flared trousers were all the rage its message to you was deliciously simple: Stay away.
The new 'improved' Feed'em, if not a temple of gastronomy, has at least aimed at a slightly broader segment of the fashionable upper crust. The jokes on the menu, designed presumably to take the edge off the steep prices, would not come amiss in many a Chelsea/Kensington bistro. With their eyes focused on the wealthy demi-monde that flocks into the posh Italian restaurants of SW3, the Messrs Freedom (Tommy Roberts and John Paul) insist that Feed'em should be separate and distinct from the parent shop. People who get their clothes at Mr Freedom, they imply, are not the kind of people who pay 1.50 for a fillet steak. They have a point. But will the thirty shilling steak brigade take to eating in a restaurant which emphatically, even aggressively, echoes the prevailing aesthetic of the shop upstairs ?
The mad creative energy of Mr Freedom stems partly from the quirky originality of Tommy Roberts, partly from the brimming talents of a wide team of designers, many of them gathered in from outside the pale of the fashion trade. Mr Freedom hires and fires designers by the armful; and ever since the first Mickey Mouse chair made its appearance at the original King's Road store, furniture and graphic design have formed an increasing part of the image. Jon Wealleans, who was given the overall task of designing the Mr Feed'em interior, is a typical Tommy Roberts find. A furniture and interior designer who migrated to the Royal College of Art after only one term at the Architectural Association's school of architecture. Wealleans worked in the offices of Building Design Partnership. Norman Foster and Max Clendinning before braving it on his own. His style is a brand of Thirties Eclecticism, with, perhaps, a deep bow in the direction of Oldenburg and other old masters of the Pop movement. He has a strong liking for chrome, chip flake paint, brash colours. And with assistance from a bunch of brilliantly inventive graphic designers - George Hardie, Jeff Edwards and Les Coleman - he has created at Mr Feed'em what is certain to be one of the most influential restaurant interiors in town.
When Mr Freedom moved into Kensington Church Street, they did so mainly for reasons of space. Four floors and a basement was a distinct advance over the cramped premises in the King's Road, especially for a firm which depends more on export orders than on casual sales. The basement at Kensington Church Street, once the kitchen and stockroom of an Italian restaurant, was a warren of tiny rooms. Wealleans opened up the spaces, lowered the ceiling and installed airconditioning. The staircase leading up to the street was widened, and a second staircase, linking the basement with the shop above introduced. Spotlights regulated by dimmers were let into the ceiling, and the floor was covered with plain but hard-wearing vinyl tiles.

(Caption page 65) Armid the curved bench seating, sinuous chrome table legs, and Soho link cash desk. Joe Colombo chairs and Rotaflex spot lights look straight-laced. Some of the more elaborate visual gags like the hanmburger print waitresses' uniforms and the place mats portraying Mae West as the Statue of Liberty have been discontinued

But it's the decorations and the intriguing conflict of styles that makes Mr Feed'em a cut above most restaurant interiors. Stylistically, it defies analysis. It is almost impossible to detect precisely at what point the patient, period reconstructions shade into pastiche.
To take two examples. The cash desk rests in a small trough between two curving tongues of blackboard. At the centre of this is a curved trough, designed to receive change, but clearly useless except as a piece of aerodynamic styling. The whole thing is painted blue and yellow. Is this, inquires the eager student of design, a direct uncomplicated throwback to the thirties, or is it a witty comment on the obsessive curve-for-curves sake of interior design today? Similarly, a few of the murals can be taken on their face value simply as an amalgam of post war imagery or, on a different level, as oblique parody of sixties painters like Patrick Caulfield.
Even if it earns no gastronomic rosettes, Mr Feed'em should pave the way for a new slant in restaurant design. Wimpy and coffee bars all over Britain will no doubt soon be following suit - cheapening and coarsening as they go - just as the exquisite Mr Freedom T shirts have been cheapened and coarsened by the Piccadilly bazaars. For, whatever you may say about the Mr Freedom style, it is done with care, with wit and with great love. The long suffering contractors, Pyramid Designs Ltd, completed the job for an estimated contract cost of 35,000.

(Caption page 66) Menu, above, designed by George Hardie of Nicholas Thirkell Associates, shows comic heroes on the receiving end of a well-directed custard pie from the gloved hand of Mickey Mouse. Easily identified victims include (front top row) Bunter, Pinocchio, Noddy, Lord Snooty and Mighty Thor. Right, Partially carpeted bar area, is also equipped with tables for those wanting quick meals. Stock room through opening to the right may be cleared and converted into a games parlour.

(Caption page 67) Tapering perspective of downlighters and ventilation extracts housed into recessed ceiling of acoustic tiles recalls typical office interior and makes a strange contrast with the murals (a cocktail of post war themes by Jeff Edwards and Les Coleman) top and bottom left and writhing curves of waiters' bar centre left

 

 

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