Nota BeneJennifer Young • Photography by Lisa Petrole • May 31, 2017
When chef and owner David Lee first set out to open Nota Bene in the popular Queen Street West neighborhood of Toronto, he enlisted local firm +tongtong, which had previously worked on a different venture with his wife Jennifer. Lee and firm founder and lead designer John Tong were inspired by the concept of a living menu where ingredients are often updated seasonally. It’s the simple beauty of change, from the transition of seasons to the forces of man’s manipulation, that created the foundation for the restaurant, Tong explains.
The new layout opens the dining, kitchen, and bar areas while allowing them to remain distinct and defined spaces. Tong mixes elegance with modernity and gives “the space the sensuality of material while maintaining a very sleek, architectural approach,” he says.
For the dining room, he looked to “present a table without a tablecloth but still [have it] feel very special and deliberate,” he says. Instead, smooth Corian tables with sides that drape over the frame fill the space, which contrast with a playful parade of tumbleweed hanging above on the ceiling. To offer a subtle glimpse into the kitchen, the dividing wall is now a blue and white transparent glass mural.
An electric multicolored abstract beehive mirror placed in between two layers of glass creates a second glass mural. Separating the restaurant and the bar, the iridescent installation resembles a bee’s wings and reflects the “street energy back into the restaurant,” and vice versa, Tong says. Next to the bar is a custom leather wine rack, originally designed to resemble kelp, that aptly became “bulbs clinging to vines,” as the creation took form, he explains.
It’s the carbonized Ironwood tree trunk—found on the Southern Ontario forest floor— processed by the ancient Japanese technique Shou Sugi Ban and rendered in a matte black at the eatery’s entrance that is truly the showstopper. The 3D-printed canopy overhead pairs with the trunk to form a unique bond of nature and technology that explores “the extremes of the art of Bonsai, which is man’s control over nature, and [creates] a controlled beauty,” he says. The canopy’s leaves mimic the natural phenomenon of murmuration, seen through the rhythm of birds flocking together.
A glossy black ceiling resembling a never-ending pool-like abyss completes the design. “When you’re in the bar, which is [around] 4 feet below the dining room and you look up, the black ceiling has become a reflective mirror,” providing an aerial view tying all the rooms together, Tong says.