Three years ago, Bangkok’s affluent brunch crowd were given a new spot to frequent. With everything from pancakes to brunch staples and even a la carte dinner plates, D’ark had all the bases covered. Fast-forward to now, and the beloved all-day dining destination has expanded its influence to the Thonburi side of the river — enter D’ark Iconsiam , the brand’s fourth and largest restaurant in Bangkok. The original “home out of home” concept has remained, along with the classic white tables, signature sofas and artful leaf motif. The difference is what’s been made better.
“Every time we do a new project, we try to go to the next level,” explains Philippe Rusin, general manager and co-founder of D’ark. “With each new branch, we showcase common elements of our DNA so when you enter, you recognise a few things that make D’ark what it is — for example, the white tables, the leaves pattern, and of course our food and drink menu. But we also try every time to bring in new elements and added value, so you have some lamps from the Czech Republic, you have the big clouds from New York’s Apparatus, and even with our sofas — we developed these for the first time in Emquartier, and now we’ve adapted them to the physiognomy of this new space, and made it with genuine leather.”
This concept of constantly “adding value” stems partly from Philippe’s personal philosophy. “I believe in hard work, hard work, hard work, because I think the people who trust us deserve that dedication. There is no such thing as an easy job.” As he speaks, he picks up some fallen debris from a blooming plant, and rubs away stains on the curved glass railing. “When people ask me, I always say it’s not difficult to be successful when you first start in Bangkok, because Thai people love innovation. They love to taste new things, try new concepts. What makes the difference is consistency. You may have great ideas, but the question is: are you able to operate it consistently?”
The same consistency applies to innovation. “Bangkok is one of the best cities in the world to test out a concept, because you have a very diverse customer base. But the competition is so high and so challenging that if you are not consistent, and if you don’t keep innovating, you will not survive.” How does D’ark deal with this? By unceasingly trying new things. “We change approximately one third of our menu every four months. Of course, the best sellers stay, or we’ll have major protests — where is my banana pancake, where’s the chocolate lava? But it’s also a heavy competition between each dish in our menu. It’s important to still keep innovating and exploring new territories.”
The statement rings true with its new opening. Seated on a prime spot of Iconsiam, at the veranda in front of Iconluxe overlooking the Chao Phraya river, the latest D’ark branch spans over two floors and brings with it a plethora of new developments to look forward to. In the open-kitchen — another first for D’ark — the restaurant unveils a new Josper charcoal oven, meaning you can relish in addictively smoky meat dishes. Decor-wise, you’ve got the work of world-renowned lighting brands from across the globe. The walls are enchantingly hand-painted by the famous Paris-based Redfield & Dattner Maison de Peinture, and the mezzanine is decorated with fairy-mouth-blown bubbles that hang from the air. A beautiful, curved staircase takes you to the upper level, where the signature specialty coffee remains, now joined by a new whisky bar — what’s not to love?
“A huge part of our process was how to maintain our identity but also create a smooth transition from Iconluxe to us,” he concluded. “That’s why we have these handcrafted pillars, and how we brought in the two French artists. Iconsiam showcases the heritage, cultures, and artistic craftsmanship of Thai people. So we decided our contribution to this storytelling would be this patterned wall by our two French artists, custom made for us.”
Behind the Wall: What You Need to Know About Redfield & Dattner
They’re a little crazy over colour, and their work is far from straight-forward.
Specialising in extraordinarily beautiful, custom hand-painted walls, The Redfield & Dattner Maison de Peinture are known for delicate creations that blur the lines between truth and the surreal. “For us it’s all about the nuances. There is no such thing as one colour — every colour is different depending on how you look at it, and how the light is going to hit it at one moment during the day.”
As with a lot of their work, the lighting at D’ark Iconsiam plays an integral role in the artists’ paintings. “Here you start with a lot of daylight, but at night the lighting becomes very soft and much cosier. Because the environment changes, we like to paint walls that change as well. Sometimes you don’t know if it’s the sunlight hitting the wall or if the colours were painted this way, so it creates something that’s a little bit confusing, and this sense of blurriness.”
All their projects are “different” — from each other, and even from the original idea.
“The best part of a project for us is when it begins. All you have are dreams and ideas, and everything is possible. We start with a very large spectrum of ideas and then it just gets smaller and smaller. Sometimes a client comes to us and wants, say, a blue wall. Then they come to our studio, we talk, we show them what we can do and they end up with a red wall — something completely different just because our work allows for these so-called “accidents” to happen and changes of mind. That’s our favourite moment, when things like this happen.”
“We usually adapt our work to the place we are working in, so every job is different. For this particular job, the colour scheme was completely new to us, because we really adapted to this place. We played with the existing colours, the textures, even the coffee. With the wood and leather and the coffee itself, there are a lot of browns and more warm colours, so we wanted to create something that was similarly warm and delicate.” While most of the time, the two artists paint directly on the wall, for this project the work was done on canvases. “The fact that it’s on canvas makes it softer to touch. It’s a little bit warmer than something painted directly onto the wall, and maybe a little cosier too.”
Their work might be new and unpredictable, but their roots are grounded in tradition.
“We have a traditional applied arts background — our apprenticeship was about ornamental and traditional decorative painting, so we take a lot of those references and turn them into something more contemporary. In traditionally decorative painting, there’s a lot of fake wood, fake marble and even skies on the ceiling. You still see a lot of this in Europe, like ornamental leaves, fake wooden doors, or even at the Louvre where the skirting below the wall is actually fake, painted to look like marble.”
A part of what makes work from Maison de Peinture Redfield & Dattner so interesting is how they manage to take the old techniques and use it to do something new. “Decorative arts, that’s our background and we come from that — what we do now is mix everything together, switch it around and do our own stuff. We learnt how to do a classical fake wood painting, but now we might make it red and a totally different scale, and that’s how we create a modern pattern out of it.”
To them, art is about expression.
“For us, working in decorative art instead of having an art gallery representing us is a way that we can have more freedom, and express ourselves in different locations. A lot of designers and artists are emerging and we think art is starting to seep through and get everywhere. There isn’t so much of an “elite group” of artists anymore — art is becoming accessible to everyone and that’s a good thing. Now you can make your own tote bags at home and they can be your way of expressing yourself, and for us, that’s art. This goes for interior design, for objects, for everything. The boundaries are becoming blurry and we like it.”