'Mercato' Italian restaurant in Shanghai, China by Neri&Hu
Situated within the prestigious Three on the Bund, Mercato is renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s newest culinary destination in Shanghai, the first of which to serve upscale yet rustic Italian fare. Neri&Hu’s design for the 1,000-square-meter restaurant draws not only from the chef’s culinary vision but also from the rich historical context of its locale, harkening back to early-1900s Shanghai, when the Bund was a bustling industrial hub.
Stripping back the strata of finishes that built up after years of renovations, the design concept celebrates the beauty of the bare structural elements.
Three on the Bund was the first building in Shanghai to be built out of steel, and the architects’ decision to reveal the original steel columns pays homage to this extraordinary feat. Against the textured backdrop of the existing brickwork, concrete, plaster and moldings, new insertions are clearly demarcated. Constantly playing the new against the old, Neri&Hu’s design is a reflection of the complex identity of not only the historic Bund but also of Shanghai itself.
Coming off the lift, one notices immediately the Victorian plaster ceilings above, its gorgeously aged patina juxtaposed against raw steel insertions: a series of lockers along the wall, a sliding metal gate threshold and the suspended rail from which a collection of eclectic glass bulbs hangs — the opulence of old Shanghai coinciding with a grittier side.
Making reference to the restaurant’s name, the vibrant atmosphere inside the main dining space recalls a street-side marketplace, featuring at its center the bar and the pizza bar, both encased in steel mesh and wire glass boxes with recycled wood canopies. Above, a network of tube steel members, inspired by old-time butcher rails, intertwine with the exposed ductwork and form, a system for hanging both shelving and lighting. Like a deconstructed sofa, the banquettes along the edge of the dining area are made from wood salvaged on-site and embedded into a metal frame.
The private dining rooms are also featured in the space as metal-framed enclosures, infilled with panels of varying materials: reclaimed wood, natural steel, an antique mirror, metal mesh and a chalk board. A band of textured glass along the top edge of each PDR afford some transparency, while sliding doors between each room provide maximum flexibility. This language continues into the corridor between the kitchen and dining area, where a back-lit wall of textured glass panels — inspired by old warehouse windows — encourages interaction between the chef and his patrons.
Diners seated along the edges of the room experience a different sort of ambiance. To bring lightness into the space, the perimeter represents an in-between zone: between interior and exterior, between architecture and landscape, between the domestic and the urban. Clad in white travertine, the walls act as a temporary departure from the other rich textures and palettes. The focus here is simply the breathtaking views of the Bund, drawing the far reaches of the city into the dining space itself.