DINING out has changed significantly over the past few years. A more casual style has replaced the fine dining experience, with starched white tablecloths removed to expose bare surfaces.
This change is evident in the revamp of Circa restaurant (pictured), at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda.
''Our approach was to give it a 'dressing down' and make the place more accessible,'' says proprietor Julian Gerner, who has years of experience in the hospitality industry.
The Prince of Wales, built in 1937 in the streamlined modernist style, was ''reinvented'' in the mid-90s by the van Haandel brothers under the guidance of architect Allan Powell, along with others including interior designer Paul Hecker.
While the courtyard area, with its over-scaled pots and Philippe Starck mirror was perfect for fine dining, Gerner was keen to see this space used more as a welcoming bar. He was also keen to rework the dining areas, making them slightly less intimidating. ''The spaces were beautiful, but there was a sense of it being more like a formal club,'' he says.
While the ''bones'' of the previous design remain, there has been a change of thinking. Meme design studio, which was handed the brief to rework the interior, was mindful of the significance of the original 1930s features as well as the work of designers who came before them. ''We looked at the spaces and saw how Gerner wanted to use them. We knew the courtyard had to feel special even though it's no longer pivotal to fine dining,'' says interior designer Megan Hounslow, who worked closely with Meme's co-director, architect and interior designer Melanie Beynon.
Meme added a brass bar in the courtyard, as well as inserting new banquette style seating. And in the centre of the courtyard, below the glass roof, is a new take on the ''vertical'' garden. The ''ceiling'' garden, embedded with lights, acts as a centrepiece for the courtyard.
Other changes have been made to the cocktail lounge, adjacent to the bar area. As well as inserting a brass reception counter, designer furniture, previously tucked away in guest bedrooms, has been aired for the public. Arne Jacobsen ''Swan'' chairs, along with his iconic ''Egg'' chairs, have been introduced to the cocktail lounge. And to create a more intimate space, Meme applied black mirrored tiles to the walls. The tiles not only accentuate the established street trees, but also provide greater depth to this area.
One of the most dramatic changes to Circa is in the main dining area. Previously framed by sheer black curtains, with dramatic fuchsia accents, this area is now considerably more restrained. Solid oak tables are presented without table cloths and complement the banquette-style seating, a legacy of the previous designers. Gerner has also been collecting Charles Eames fibreglass stackable chairs, which form part of the ''dressing down''.