“A venue to celebrate artwork and its movement,” Hong Kong-based architect Andre Fu says of Kioku, the Japanese restaurant inside the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, his studio’s first design project in South Korea. “I knew Muramoko Shingo’s art and was waiting for a chance to work together. Its definitely my favorite aspect.”
While the South Korean capital’s dining scene leans toward safe, corporate spaces, Four Seasons encouraged Fu to deliver something more upbeat and experiential. The Japanese cuisine is another departure for the city, a less formal mix of sushi and sashimi, grilled meats, and nine-course omakase menu. With that mandate, Fu constructed a “modernist bamboo theater” over two levels in which Shingo’s quartet of red lacquer maple leaves “dance” around the 5,500-square-foot venue. “I inherited this amazing cavernous space, but people don’t like to sit and eat in overpowering environments,” Fu says. So he set about delineating areas to impose a more approachable scale.
To set the stage for his “modern Scandinavian meets Japanese realism” design, Fu lined the elongated entranceway of volcanic charcoal stone with natural bamboo batons inspired by the vermillion lacquered torii gates leading to an ancient Kyoto shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. This opening scene leads to the L-shaped upper level on the hotel’s 11th floor, with its 52-foot-long sushi bar—what Fu calls “the balcony”—topped by planks of solid pine trunk. Chef Sawada Kazumi, who earned a Michelin star at Tokyo’s acclaimed Banreki Ryukodo, and his crew of sushi masters are the only obstruction to the view across the double-height space to a window that peers onto maple tree foliage in the hotel’s podium-level garden.
On the mezzanine, under 21-foot high-glass ceilings, a sake tower crafted with Giallo Louis marble takes center stage while patrons dine among tall bamboo timber screens, their linear patterns lifted from traditional Zen garden stone paving. In the mud orange and mineral gray hued dining room, six chambers are adorned with abstract, nature-inspired works by Seoul artist Choi Tae Hoon; natural light permeates the windowless space through the skylights. Fu is just as pleased with the after-dark vibe, when subdued lighting from articulated silk lanterns enhances the theatrical effect.