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Slowing down with (restaurant interior) design

By: Reading Time: 3 Minutes

At Ukiyo in Munich, both body and mind can find peace thanks to the unique interior concept.

Part of the magic of Ukiyo is the stark contrast with what is in front of the door. Guests approach the Japanese restaurant through the bustling hodgepodge of activity between Munich’s Viktualienmarkt and Gärtnerplatz, until their gaze lingers on a grass-green Art Nouveau façade with opulent white adornments. As soon as you enter through the heavy curtain, you immediately feel as if you have left a piece of the city behind.

And it’s precisely this feeling of arriving, slowing down and being in the moment that matters. In the fall of 2021, the brother-and-sister team Isabelle and Jean-Pierre Tran opened their wine bar Ukiyo on Rumfordstraße in Munich’s trendy Glockenbachviertel neighborhood.

In the beginning, they only had a small sushi menu to go along with the drinks – however, because it was so well received, the menu was soon expanded, and the concept was augmented by adding contemporary Japanese cuisine. The name “Ukiyo” – which translates as “earthly, transient world” – can be interpreted as a Buddhist counterpart to the Christian term Vanitas. To live/experience the moment consciously and savor it – that’s what it’s all about. “I want our guests to find a piece of nature and Japanese lifestyle in the middle of the big city,” says Isabelle Tran. Its motto is found in the restaurant interior and the menu, which are likewise aligned with it: Soft pastels, warm wood and clean lines meet the pared-down clarity of contemporary Japanese cuisine and sushi.

Award-winning restaurant interior design

Ukiyo is an absolute highlight for its guests, not only from a culinary point of view, but also for the visual appeal of its interior design. Interior designer Stella-Maria Mo has been lauded by Architectural Digest Germany for the interior design of Ukiyo and won first place in the 2023 Interior Award “The most beautiful restaurants and bars”. The Hamburg native, who learned her craft at the Blocherer School in Munich and London Metropolitan University, specializes in restaurant and bar design, as well as private residences. Her approach: Combining aesthetics and practicality with seeming ease.

The task of turning an empty space into a place where people enjoy spending time, feeling at home, cared for and inspired is fascinating and satisfying at the same time.Stella-Maria Mo

Mo has a long-standing friendship and working relationship with Isabelle and Jean-Pierre Tran. The three already designed the restaurants Maison Tran, Bi-Béo and Jacci Asian Kitchen together. At Ukiyo, the interior designer was given free rein to work her magic based on what the Trans wanted: a connection to nature and minimalism and staying true to the mission statement “Everything is simultaneously ephemeral, floating and flowing.” Design-wise, she created this mix by incorporating soothing colors and shapes and timeless, understated elegance. “We trust Stella’s taste and that she can translate our ideas into design with her expertise,” says Isabelle Tran. “My idea was to create a Japanese look without being explicitly Japanese,” says Mo. And she succeeded impressively.

Ukiyo restaurant used many natural materials such as wood, brass and limestone.

Image: Cordula De Bloeme

Natural materials such as wood, brass and limestone also play an important role in creating the Zen atmosphere, as they change their appearance over time and patina without losing their charm. In fact, the opposite is true. Mo framed the approximately 85-square-meter guest room with four-and-a-half-meter-high historic building ceilings with greenish-gray bouclé curtains and corresponding wallpaper, and structured it with screens in a Viennese weave look. Together, the two create a pleasant overall feeling of slowing down through visual warmth, muted acoustics and a focused eye for the artistically arranged dishes – the second similarity between interior and menu, along with minimalism.

Contrasts – the hallmark of Ukiyo

The contrast between powerful colors and fabrics, as well as airy textures, continues throughout the restaurant’s interior concept. The brightly stained parquet flooring is contrasted with the dark ceiling. Soft, teal-colored upholstered seating is complemented by minimalist Wishbone chairs. This design classic by Hans J. Wegner and the framed posters by Japanese cult artist Yayoi Kusama are an exception in the otherwise completely custom-made environment. “If the right chair or mirror for my vision of an interior design doesn’t exist, then I just have to find someone who can make just that with artful craftsmanship,” says Stella-Maria Mo.

The white travertine bar is framed by rounded, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and creamy white upholstered bar stools and bathed in relaxed, soft indirect light. At the same time, this creates more room depth and an autonomous area for the part of the restaurant concept dedicated to cocktails, wines and sake. The lighting for the rest of the restaurant is provided by floating lamps, whose round shapes are reminiscent of a mobile. With the light wood and stone table tops, the designer deliberately opted for restraint to put the focus on food. After all, that’s what it’s all about in the end.

Besides the excellent quality of fish, Isabelle and Jean-Pierre Tran and chef Tina Do at Ukiyo place particular emphasis on the authenticity of dishes such as grilled scallop with baby asparagus or soft shell crab with spring onions, which are served alongside the sushi. The efforts were most recently graced with praise from the Japanese consulate, who were convinced the people behind the concept must be from Japan. In fact, the siblings have Vietnamese roots.


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