Zhe Tian offers a contemporary culinary experience for its guests, both in its sweet plates and its thought-provoking design
Located in Shanghai’s historic Former French Concession, Zhe Tian is a modern dessert restaurant, elevated to fine-dining standards. Designed by Quarta and Armando, the goal of this culinary space was to create a space that complemented the style of the restaurant’s desserts, but also expanding on the expectations of how these nostalgia-inspired plates are served.
It’s a dialogue that extends throughout the design of Zhe Tian. Two monolithic tabletops have been cast out of concrete: one rectangular, one a semi-circle, but both designed as such to have its clientele sit side by side, able to delight in one another’s desserts as the chef introduces each individually to the table.
Far from the polished concrete of many contemporary restaurants, this concrete has raw edges, cracks and fractures, from which plants appear to have taken root, as though they’re reclaiming some urban landscape.
This design borrows an aesthetic of imperfect beauty from the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, yet elsewhere in the space, the materials seem to be employed with more purpose. The counter, for example, is a faceted concrete, which feels wrought compared to the tables’ primitive rawness, but not out of place, adding a sense of fragility to a material that is anything but that mirrors the nature of the desserts the restaurant serves.
Wooden slats have been used to decorate the floors, ceilings and facade, once belonging to the antique shop that occupied this spot. The original concrete structure of the 1970s building has been exposed and left bare for the ceiling.
While from the size and seating arrangement, it may seem that Zhe Tian is an exclusive space, focusing on the experience of a select few customers over packing in as much seating as possible, the huge windows opening out, unobscured, onto the street, invite passersby unwittingly into the action. These are desserts that are designed as an experience, but also, it seems, presented in a way that satisfies the need to be seen eating them.
Middle Jianguo Road 125, Shanghai
Design team: Gianmaria Quarta, Michele Armando, Gu Tao, Tianyi Mao
Completed: June 2020
All photography by Peter Dixie