Archive for June, 2011

The restaurant - please click on the images for detail

Beijing is monumental.  Masculine, strong and tough, some of the finest buildings in the world are here.  Just arriving at Beijing airport is an amazing experience. Designed by Foster and Partners, the airport is massive and looks like it has just lifted itself gently from the earth, the roof line soft and undulating, but in its underworld, it vaults and soars effortlessly, like billowing material, pinned on towering white pillars.

Beijing airport




One enters the city, vast as it spreads out over the plain and dotted with some fantastic contemporary buildings,  to see the Forbidden City and its colossal walls and gateways, the great Tiananmen Square stretching before it towards the Temple of Heaven,  broad strokes of rich colour and repeated pattern work, lifting the grey stonework from the earth.


Mike in front of the Forbidden City Wall

Food is not all that makes the restaurant, and this is never more clear than at Capital M Beijing Restaurant.  Situated on a corner of Tiananmen Square overlooking the monumental Gates to the Forbidden City, Capital M Beijing has not only a unique and rarified position but an ambience from design that makes the experience romantic and memorable and `the place to be’.  The terraces outside are set up like little gardens, roses and ivy dripping and complementing teacups in pink rose and turquoise colours, pebble pathways and twirly iron chairs, the flower pots are hand designed and incised with Chinese cloud images and the views of the old city are wonderful, especially as sunset adds grace to the iron grey of Tiannamen.  Inside, the restaurant is even more spectacular.

Shona Nunan, Michael Cartwright, Roger Hackworth, Debra Little celebrating the opening

The designers, Debra Little and Roger Hackworth, (Dialogue ltd and Collaborate ltd) were faced with a huge task to transform a great ugly low ceilinged concrete space into what is today a wonderfully eclectic mix of mirrors and brass and geometric terrazzo black and white flooring, crazy fireplaces and designed furniture lifted from the forties.  Michael Cartwright was commissioned to create a fifty metre mural on canvas, to be inspired by an old Chinese tapestry, to feature along the spinal wall of the restaurant.  Red swirling Chinese clouds, giant blossoms and tortured trees, a rushing turquoise river sometimes burning from the sky above, wildflowers, grasses and rushes, thick fresh paint, all of it reflecting and double reflecting in mirrors and brass.  It brings a lushness to the eating places whose colours are otherwise subdued and revives the hues of the Forbidden City, the rich reds and greens and yellows and provencal blues.  The toilets are an absolute delight.  The floors and walls in white terrazzo are incised in brass with a lovely old Chinese pattern.  The cubicle doors are blood red and the outer doors in brass are adorned with blood red handles like old vines, these also commissioned from Michael.  The bar is beautiful in brass and luminous green resin, the glasses rimmed in red, twinkling against the mirror ceiling. The place is sensuous.  Attention to detail even in the etched metal pillars and the carved wood ceiling in the one high space of the restaurant.  Absolutely gorgeous – and the food was pretty good too!

Inspiration from the Forbidden City, Beijing

It was great going back this time to see the restaurant and Mike’s painting.  When we were here before, setting up the painting, caught in the frazzle of tempers and undoing and redoing the installation of the painting, it was hard to put aside the emotions of two years of work finally going into its resting place.  The anxiety at rest when finally we saw it all up, complete and beautiful and giving something truly magical to the space, working bountifully with the richness of design around it.  But still, to arrive as a customer several years later, and to be greeted by its warm presence in the foyer and into the restaurant which had worn in a little and had acquired a personality through the maitre’d, was to see it with clear eyes.  And we had heard such a lot about it from our own collectors and friends who had been in to dine, all declaring it to be a really special restaurant and the one they frequented always for special events.

Michael painting
Michael in his studio

Every day Mike would go down to the studio from six o’clock in the morning to paint this painting.  He felt urgent about it.  Anxious to catch the season as it awoke to greet the summer.  He’d go out to the river to examine the new buds comparing them to his finds and sketches in the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.  Michelle Garnaut, the creator of the M restaurants,  prepared him for the painting, taking the time to show him the colours and the special trees in the walls and gardens of the palaces.  On a wintry Easter she arrived at the studios with Debra Little, the designer, to inspect the painting so far.  Michael was really nervous.  He loved the painting and didn’t want to have to tell them that this is the way it had to be if they didn’t like it.  They loved it.  Michelle declared, ‘He knows what he’s doing – lets leave him alone’ and they did – just a few small objections from time to time to trees a little too stark for their liking.  As things go with design, the wall measurements changed, especially after one of the big bureaucratic delays in working in the space, and some of his painting got discarded and others grew taller.  One space grew to 5 metres high and Mike was forced to hand stitch new canvas to the original.  At this time he rented an old theatre that had the height for his work and for several months he was up on scaffolding before he could see it whole again.

Touching up after installation at Capital M, Beijing

Its a great thing to create.  In something like a restaurant or a building, there is such a lot of collaboration to be considered.  It is not the master work of one – somehow the master has to be awoken individually in each collaborator so that the whole can be a masterpiece.  And Capital M Beijing is a masterpiece. It is the collaboration of the dreamer, the designers, the artists, the artisans, the workers, the managers, the chefs and waiters and all in all it comes together to create a feeling of deep pleasure for the diner who remarks, the meal was fantastic!

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Peter and Margaret in the studio

Melbourne has become such a hip city.  It makes one of the best coffees in the world.  It has great social areas, tons of cool cafes, fantastic restaurants with really on the edge cuisine, music everywhere, lots of city squares and nature throughout, in the grand old parklands.  It has its share of violence on the street and heaps of frustrated road rage, but even so, I can understand why they call it one of the most livable cities in the world.

Shelley beach

We visited only briefly this time.  Here to see Pete and Marg, Mike’s parents living on the bay in peaceful Blackrock.  Pete has been unwell with leukaemia and now his old polio aliments have caught up with him, slowing him down, which seems amazing when one remembers his inexhaustible energy and devil may care approach to life. He is a painter and can spend, even now, six hours of uninterrupted time in his other world, disappearing in reflections of water on sand, or the grey greens of the Australian bushland against clear blue skies.  He is highly influenced by the Impressionists and his small delicate seascapes accomplished by the hugest hands, have always been in high demand.  When Mike was a young boy in his teens, home, sick for months with glandular fever, his father plonked him in his studio and taught him colour and play on canvas, as well as introducing him to Utrillo and Monet.  For Michael who had had no art in his secondary school, a passion was ignited that never abated.  Before long, Peter had emptied his garage to make a studio for his son.  It was this support alongside Pete’s irrepressible hunger for life and all its adventures that Mike has taken with him on his life with me.

Shelley beach

Mike’s mum is a very pretty woman, elegant and small featured, she is dainty next to the long rangy length of her husband.  Together they modelled for years, supplementing their income, and we often saw their huge faces beaming down at us on freeways or from posters in banks.  Marg is one of those provocative people who love to instigate an argument and often the Cartwright house is filled with impassioned heated debate on anything.  It is one thing about the Cartwright’s that I love, that I have learnt to love, they are irreverent to any held Idea.  They will always look at the common sense of a thought, or the grander ideal, they will always try to make mountains move and they will never be with the common denominator of people if they don’t agree. Mike and I laugh and we say, just like doing art for art’s sake, the Cartwrights will argue for argument’s sake.

Shelley Beach

Australia is a really different place to the rest of the world.  A spade is really a spade.  I like that about Aussies.  We have just met one here in Beijing, the principal of Beijing Yew Chung School.  A thoughtful character who thinks outside of the box, but who also calls it as it is.  There is no hierarchy in Australia, you earn your respect and you don’t get it because you went to the right school.  I guess that is the essence that Pete and Marg epitomise.  The Australian lack of apology for being here and the ability to make anything happen.

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