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Liam Mooney crafts an edgy, understated elegance for La Mouette’s new interior


Well-known Cape Town restaurant, La Mouette, has recently been given an image overhaul by established Cape Town interior designer, Liam Mooney. The hugely popular La Mouette – co-owned by chef Henry Vigar, his wife Mari, who heads up front of house, as well as their long-time friend, Gerrit Bruwer – first opened in May 2010. Proving to be an instant success with the Cape Town dining public, the restaurant is renowned for its tasting menu, which changes seasonally, and its innovative take on classic French cuisine that chef Henry has bought to the establishment. With a long history of working in Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, including Auberge du Lac, La Noisette and Kensington Place, Henry’s talent and training are evident in the highly praised menu offerings as well as the exceptional wine pairings and broad selection.


After having built up a devoted following in the last five years, the owners felt that a new interior setting was needed in order to fully reflect the integral components that make La Mouette such a unique dining spot in Cape Town – primarily, these are creativity, quality and innovation. It was with these fundamentals in mind that they commissioned Mooney to guide La Mouette in a new aesthetic direction. Taking his cue from these guidelines, it was left to Mooney to translate this into a setting that befits the La Mouette ethos but also responds to the practical requirements of a busy restaurant environment.


The new interior is a creative synthesis of old and new. Combining traditional elements with contemporary detailing and opulent colour, the result is an arresting new look that energizes and reinvigorates this well-known dining establishment. Gone is the more muted palette previously utilised in the space and instead, a bolder take has emerged in the hands of Mooney. Deep peacock blue saturates the entrance hall of the restaurant and winds up the walls of the staircase into the leisurely bar area. In contrast to this, an incredibly rich ‘mauvergine’ hue covers the walls of the main dining rooms, both downstairs and on the second floor. These colours, specially mixed by Cape Town-based colourist, Freya Lincoln, were specifically selected for a setting utilised mainly at night. Adding warmth and a rich tonal depth to the space, the colours work hand-in-hand in with the lighting scheme custom designed by Mooney.


Mooney’s distinctive interior design style displays the natural convergence of his industrial design background with his flair for creating modern interiors. He has utilised the light fixtures to instil a more utilitarian feel in the space, which would otherwise be overbearingly Victorian in character. Whilst the soft light enhances the sumptuous wall colour, the rigid angularity of Mooney’s bespoke pendant chandeliers and wall sconces creates an element of uniformity that brings a cool, contemporary feel to the space. These ‘industrial moments’ as termed by Mooney, are further extended through the use of large, rectangular mirrors throughout the restaurant. There is no visible artwork on display and instead the pared-down minimalism is punctuated by groupings of three to four mirrors at a time. This lends to the overall ambiance, whilst also allowing for the smooth integration of the original features of the building.


The distinctive Tudor Revival building in which La Mouette is housed is reminiscent of a certain Victorian sensibility, the lead panelled windows, numerous fireplaces and wooden panelling lend an air of historic grandeur which Mooney has streamlined into the revamped interior through stripping them down to their original state. The exterior remains the same, a familiar sight to returning patrons with the popular courtyard a welcome additional dining space on balmy summer nights. A painstaking process, however, was involved in stripping all the interior doors, panelling and window frames. The removal of years of accumulated varnish has revealed the natural grain of the wood and serves to highlight the clean lines and classic contours of the space.


The refined modern simplicity displayed at La Mouette is a hallmark of Mooney’s style, seen in the previous interiors he has designed for successful eateries such as Superette, Clarkes on Bree Street and Merchants on Long. Meticulous attention to detail and an awareness of the craftsmanship that a successful space entails have resulted in an edgy, understated elegance for La Mouette’s new interior. Mooney says of the project: “My intention was to immediately convey to patrons that this is a creative space. The seasonal fare of the menu offers an array of different textures and unusual combinations and it was important that the space both reflects this and acts as a setting where the food takes centre stage.” It is a stage well set and one which can surely only serve to further propel the success of this remarkable dining establishment.