Saint, David Higgs’ new pizza and Champagne restaurant in Sandton, is an inspired combination of simplicity and high style, simultaneously chic and tongue-in-cheek.
Behind the bar at Saint, chef David Higgs’ new restaurant in Sandton, the wall is animated by a huge sculpture by artist and product development maestro Damien Grivas. It’s a kind of deconstructed Renaissance statue, broken up and reassembled as a faceted installation. In the bathrooms, the basins take the shape of giant cupped hands, also Grivas’s work. In the restaurant itself, the ceiling features a vaulted dome onto which 3D images are projected – some based on Renaissance frescoes, others with more current imagery. The front of the wine cellar is a contemporary stained-glass rendition of windows in Italian cathedrals.
Apart from the opulence of it all, there’s a clear theme that holds these extravagant gestures together: the contemporary interpretation of classic Italian art and design. It’s as if Old Italy has been taken, shaken up, transported thousands of kilometres and hundreds of years, and reassembled in a modern South African setting.
Saint looks out over the JSE and its surrounds from The Marc, Sandton’s latest gobsmacking glass edifice on the corner of Maud and Rivonia roads. It might serve pizza, but it’s not just any pizzeria. It’s a collaboration between chef David Higgs and Gary Kyriacou, who launched Marble, with its inspired take on cooking with fire, in Rosebank a few years ago. Once again they’ve taken something supposedly simple – a grill at Marble, pizza at Saint – and given it a contemporary spin along with some masterful culinary treatment. (The delicate Neapolitan-style pizzas are thin and slightly chewy, cooked for just 60 seconds in specially imported gold-mosaiced pizza ovens, and there’s also pasta and offerings from the grill.)
The interiors of Saint are the brainchild of Gary’s wife Irene Kyriacou, who worked closely with the Reddeco team to realise their spectacular Pazzo Italiano (crazy Italian) design. Irene says the angled pillars of The Marc, which seem to pierce the restaurant space, brought to mind the columns of classical architecture. The volume of the space also has a classical grandeur. “I immediately thought of the Sistine Chapel and those palazzos with beautiful frescoed ceilings,” says Irene.
The setting in the rapidly transforming, energetic commercial precinct of the Sandton CBD, however, prompted a “modern take on classic Italian”. Hence the combination of high-tech projections, fragmented figural forms, and abstracted stained-glass patterns. Also, any thought of faux authenticity has been banished (although the chefs did travel to Milan to learn their craft). “We’re a South African Italian restaurant,” says Irene, “so how do we bring about out our own unique story?”
At the entrance, a hand-woven tapestry designed by Sarita Immelman with Grid Worldwide (who did the branding for Saint and worked with David and Gary at Marble, too) depicts “an African angel kissing a mythological creature”, as Irene describes it. The passage at the end of the restroom features a photographic artwork by Krisjan Rossouw of a majestic African woman in period dress. “It’s quite tongue in-cheek,” she says. The hostesses who greet you are dressed in David Tlale.
The idea is that, although the interiors are dazzling, the mood is casual and fun – an elevated experience to match the menu but one that’s energised rather than intimidating. Irene uses word like “playful” and “sexy” to describe the tone, which she’s interpreted in the furnishings by “mixing the Renaissance with a little bit of ’50s retro, mid-century”, capturing that bright boldness in the fabrics.
Many of the furniture pieces were specially designed for the restaurant – Irene collaborated with the likes of David Krynauw, Guideline and Thabisa Mjo of Mash.T Design Studio. Other elements are also drawn from local makers: Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design and Ngwenya Glass collaborated on the water glasses; the terracotta pizza plates are from Rialheim. Much of the lighting is imported.
Like the concept of combining pizza and Champagne that inspired Saint, the interiors work with inspired contrasts. The result fosters the sense of playful escapism that makes a restaurant a destination.