Photo: Alana Dimou

When designing the brash Japanese restaurant, Salaryman, interior designer Paul Kelly was inspired by the food hype and energy of inner-city Tokyo. By Kerryn Ramsey

The site chosen for Salaryman was not the easiest of locations. Originally an old architectural commissioner’s showroom, it had no toilets, no exhaust, no disabled access and a low ceiling. And yet, it suited the business model and style of the proposed restaurant.

“The owner, Con Dedes, wanted to create something a bit outside the box,” says Paul Kelly, director of Paul Kelly Design. “The intention was to have a very urban bar feel; a CBD, inner-city-influenced Japanese restaurant. The high-street location with all the noise and traffic suited it very well. We wanted to create something that was very un-Sydney, but something that resonated with the local Surry Hills residents.”

The restaurant is one big space with bare bricks and rough concrete where imperfections are celebrated. The concrete floor was existing and the front of the bar has concrete panels made to look like origami. This is not the venue for a quiet drink. It’s big, brash and noisy—an inexpensive option that customers return to frequently.

“We didn’t want it to look over-designed,” says Kelly. “In fact, it’s almost anti-design, as typified by the big artwork on the wall. We do all of our own artwork, working with consultants to develop the concept. This one is a serious nod to traditional Japanese art with the face of a woman. We added melted plastic running down the piece to represent the superficial nature of Sydney culture. The whole thing’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, a bit noisy, a bit fresh—just like Salaryman.”

The kitchen is the focal point of Salaryman. Every seat in the space looks at the kitchen and everyone can see, hear and feel the activity in there.

The furniture is all bespoke and most of the lighting is low and indirect. Some of the lighting washes over ceiling planes to highlight textures. In some areas, the lights are very obvious and bright to create a mixture of light and dark.

“We didn’t want a general level of illumination throughout the space,” says Kelly. “Some people like to sit in the dark while others prefer brighter illumination. It’s important to make it flexible for lots of different clientele.”

The existing ceilings, walls and floor were made to look aged to give the impression of an old shell with a new heart. It doesn’t look like there’s been much done in the space when in reality, the build was quite complex. New ventilation, air-conditioning, kitchen, toilets, plumbing and disabled access all had to be integrated.

“The whole concept’s very compressed but there’s a lot going on,” says Kelly. “The food is layered and complex and this is reflected in the fit-out. It can be a little intimidating when you first walk in but you soon realise it’s a very relaxed and comfortable experience. Salaryman is wild, young and a bit out there—and a fantastic place to eat.”


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