PujolMichael Webb • Photography by Luis Gallardo • August 11, 2017
Chef Enrique Olvera has redefined Mexican cuisine, putting a fresh spin on traditional ingredients and recipes at his restaurant Pujol, a first stop for gastronomes in Mexico City. Crediting his 2014 New York debut Cosme for showing him that restaurants can be fun (he has since opened a second eatery in Manhattan), and with the award-winning Pujol nearing its two-decade mark, Olvera “wanted to get away from white tablecloths” and the formality of fine dining to instead “welcome diners in a space that was as natural as my cuisine and domestic in scale,” he says. He found an ideal location for the new restaurant—a private house turned upscale kitchen showroom—on a side street a few blocks away from the original location in the fashionable Polanco district, and turned to his friend and architect Javier Sanchez of local firm JSa Arquitectura to transform the building.
“The brief was to create a space that was informal and calm, encouraging people to linger and appreciate each dish as a work of art,” says Sanchez. “We wanted to achieve a sense of intimacy as though this were still a home, while opening up to the garden on every side.”
Sanchez collaborated with interior designer Micaela de Bernardi (she is also the mastermind behind Cosme) on converting the 4,800-square-foot home into a midcentury oasis, installing steel beams to support long spans and removing interior walls to create a cluster of spaces, each with distinctive character that flows into the others. An indoor-outdoor feel pervades, with the 80-seat restaurant (20 additional places are outside) featuring steel-framed windows and glass sliders that open onto an orchard, herb garden, and tree-shaded seating. The main dining room may have the best view in the house: the designers not only merged two rooms to create the long space, but also lowered the windows so seated diners can have a closer link with the outdoors.
“Our intention was for guests to experience an inviting space, surrounded by unique pieces, where not only the view is stimulated, but also touch—through surfaces such as parota wood, which was worked in a special way to give an extremely soft feel—and odors,” says de Bernardi, adding that materials were painstakingly selected for their rich texture and quality. “The magic Olvera manages interpreting Mexican flavors and ingredients is what we tried to translate into the design.”
Guests first enter through a gate made of French oak and steel to enjoy drinks and appetizers in the pergola-filled garden before going inside. There, the ceiling and some of the walls are clad in ribs of parota wood that absorb sound, conceal overhead lights, and help achieve a domestic scale. Other walls are stucco (pale gray in the dining areas and black in the bathrooms), while the subtle pattern on both the terrazzo floors and the bartop resembles a silky textured stone. That Omakase bar is sunken, so standing servers have direct eye contact with guests sitting on the parota wood chairs. Beyond, a curtained-off private dining room seats 14 and is outfitted with vinyl records and a floor of end-grain wood blocks.
The central focus, however, is the indoor “patio” area, where a Japanese-inspired stone garden features a single rock on a bed of gravel and an olive tree that rises toward a newly created skylight. This, Sanchez says, not only provides light in the center of the restaurant but also a circulation vestibule.
Everything in the restaurant (except for the wine glasses and silverware) was handcrafted, made, or designed in Mexico. The wood and leather dining chairs, for instance, were inspired by ones made by Cuban-Mexican designer Clara Porset, which Mexican architect and designer Luis Barragán specified for his houses. Circular black glass sconces double as art pieces, while artworks curated by the local Arróniz gallery are strategically located throughout the warm and elegant space, providing texture, including a 3D one made from fragments of enameled rocking chairs and light fixtures by artist Omar Barquet. “Olvera carries simple ingredients to an elevated level,” explains Sanchez, “and we’ve tried to reflect that in our palette of materials.”