Canadian design firm +tongtong has collaborated with renowned Owner/Chef David Lee to renovate the interiors of Nota Bene restaurant in Downtown Toronto. While remaining in Toronto’s popular Queen Street West neighbourhood, the reimagined Nota Bene features an all-new design. +tongtong developed a concept inspired by Chef David Lee’s new menu ideas centered on seasonal ingredients. +tongtong expands the idea of the changing of the seasons to a concept of change itself. The design integrates elements that celebrate the beauty of change, by the powers of nature and by the ingenuity of man.
Queen Street West is animated with fashion retailers, hardware suppliers, and variety stores. Along this stretch is also home to the Much Music broadcasting studio, The Canadian Opera House and the National Ballet of Canada. Upon entering the Restaurant patrons are greeted by a statuesque tree. The trunk is of a fallen Ironwood tree resurrected from the floor of a Southern Ontario forest and treated with the ancient Japanese process of Shou Sugi Ban, a technique in which wood is preserved through carbonization rendering it matte black.
The tree’s canopy floats effortlessly above with a rhythmic gesture inspired by the natural phenomenon of murmuration. This gestural expression is presented in geometric form using 3-D printed technology. Reaching the wood trellised ceiling above, the art piece titled Fuga, defines the entrance from the new bar area adjacent and introduces the anticipated drama further into the new space.
Chef Lee felt the original bar area lacked energy and connection to the rest of the dining space and the urban nature of the neighbourhood. +tongtong utilizes 2 large scale elements that now connects the bar to the street and the dining room while maintaining defined and differentiated spaces. A reflective black ceiling stretches the length of the room overhead, deep and mysterious, the inverted pond offers an aerial view of dining room activity. A 43ft glass rail separates the new bar and dining room. Laminated within the glass +tongtong created an abstract graphic mirror of a beehive and bees collecting honey. A layer of dichroic film renders the surface iridescent “like the wings of butterflies” says +tongtong Principal John Tong. The partition doubles as a mirror that reflects the street life into the bar area and a perforated screen maintaining transparency to the dining room.
Another feature linking the two areas is a custom-designed wine display back lit and framed behind a glass wall. Columns of voluptuous vegetable-tanned and oiled leather saddles gently cradle bottles of wine. The effect resembles young buds clinging to vines showcasing Chef Lee’s vast wine offerings.
Nota Bene’s dining room, known for its luxurious ambiance wanted to offer a new yet equally refined experience. +tongtong created an installation of over 70 tumble weeds sourced from Nevada. While seemingly fragile these deceptively tough and well-traveled entities migrate across the ceiling of the entire dining room injecting an airy touch of endearing whimsy to the room.
The energy of the previously closed kitchen is now exposed through a translucent macro-photographic mural of a fantastical space deep inside a chunk of glass, a material created through the alchemical process of intensely heating sand. Glass is considered a live material and is in perpetual motion.
The iconic white linens of fine dining are replaced with custom designed Corian tables which drape over a frame then centered with playful inserts of walnut resembling bubbles cuddling together. In the bar area the tables have removable serving platter inserts for never ending list of breads, charcuterie and bar snacks.
The entire renovation took a year of planning and three weeks of onsite construction. “Nota Bene is a well-established brand with very loyal followers. +tongtong was mindful in reinforcing Chef Lee’s vision while bringing a new experience to a broader audience. We aimed to give the space the sensuality of material while maintaining a very sleek, architectural approach,” says Tong. “It’s a balance of warmth and modernity.”
all images © Lisa Petrole