Kensington Street Social
Photo: Grant Harvey

Kensington Street Social is a reimagined space that embraces the reinvigoration of Sydney’s laneways as dining destinations. By Kerryn Ramsey

It’s hard to imagine a more utilitarian and uninspiring space than the administration office of an old brewery. And yet it was this very site that Shanghai-based design and research firm Neri&Hu transformed into Kensington Street Social—a dramatic yet intimate dining establishment. Its soaring ceilings, monumental concrete columns, warm timber furniture and louvres of glass and mirror create a memorable first impression.

“We kept many of the existing elements,” says Lyndon Neri. “However, the key to the design was to ensure the space retained its height without losing the programmatic needs of the restaurant. This was successfully realised by creating a double height structure detached from the original shell of the building.”

The structure rises above the kitchen and bar creating a mezzanine dining area. This section is surrounded by louvres of glass and mirror that give the space a sense of privacy while allowing in plenty of light and air.

“The louvres break the scale of the interior but, more importantly, add additional layers of texture,” says Rossana Hu.

There is a blurring of the exterior and interior at Kensington Street Social in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Chippendale. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors and walls, punctuated by rough brick structural pillars, welcome prospective diners while offering privacy for those inside. The stone, steel and brickwork of the laneway are reflected in the materials used in the restaurant. “We kept it as naturally industrial as possible by using a palette of steel, brass, wood, textured glass, mirrors and tiles,” says Lyndon Neri. The concrete floor has been stained and complemented with wood in certain areas to add warmth and contrast.

The lighting is restrained and never in competition with the natural light that floods the space. Custom-made lights are paired with pendants by London designer Michael Anastassiades.

The open kitchen and bar are at the centre of the space with seating available at both stations. While there is an organic flow through the building, each section has a distinct feel. “The layout is deceptively complex and intentionally integrated,” says Hu.

This is apparent in the clever design of the open kitchen. While it’s an aesthetically beautiful space, the careful functionality makes access easy and workflow smooth for wait staff and servers. The tables, chairs and most of the furniture are bespoke interspersed with pieces by Stellar Works and Neri&Hu/De La Espada.

Spice Alley, with its six Asian street-food eateries, is located nearby, and the whole area is filled with a joie de vivre. Kensington Street Social embraces the lively atmosphere and vibrancy of the street while offering an inviting alternative.


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