ZHE TIAN Restaurant in Shanghai.

ZHE TIAN concept Restaurant

The traditional Chinese dessert house is revisited and reshaped into a unique concept restaurant in which past, present and future coexist through space and materials.

Although representing a niche in China’s vast culinary panorama, the art of Chinese desserts enjoys a long tradition which is deeply linked with a specific life-style, one which allows for a momentary detachment from life’s concerns to focus on simple, carefully crafted moments.

ZHE TIAN Concept Restaurant

In classical poetry, this attitude towards life is associated as much to food as it with the controlled yet lascivious esthetics of gardens, and the combination of characters which gives name to this project, 折甜Zhe Tian, reflects this ambivalent beauty, the tension between something sweet but imperfect and temporary, beautiful but broken.  The tastes experienced at Zhe Tian draw from the nostalgic tastes of childhood homecooked desserts while offering a complete twist in the way these are served and experienced, tracing a thin but steady line between remnants of past memories and the sophistications of contemporary fine-dining cuisine.

Working around this challenge to merge memory and innovation, nature and artifice, we imagined the space as a “dessert restaurant”, a whole new  concept in the busy world of food and beverage, a place to enjoy a break from everyday life as well as a laboratory for culinary experiments. Aptly located on the bustling sidewalks of  Shanghai’s historic Former French Concession, Zhe Tian is exclusive in the uniqueness it proposes, yet openly inviting the passersby exposing its inside towards broad glass windows facing the street.

ZHE TIAN Concept Restaurant

Massive, custom-made concrete cast tables occupy the main dining area: the experience is meant to be shared by few customers at a time, sitting together while each dessert is personally introduced by the chef and prepared on the spot.

The monolithic slabs of the tabletops are balanced on semi-circular concrete planters in a composition reminiscent of primitive architectures, their surface interrupted by fractures, cracks and veneers from which grass and plants are allowed to grow, revealing the substantially fragile nature of the material.

This esthetic of imperfect, impermanent, incomplete beauty borrows from the Japanese concept of wabi sabi to trace a connection between the space itself and the temporal, frail nature guiding the composition of the dessert itself. Bringing the relationship between space and time even further, traces of previous lives of the building have been given a second life as precious textures, framed by the neutral white-painted surface of the walls.

ZHE TIAN Concept Restaurant

Wooden slats belonging to the floors and ceiling of the previous owner, an antique shop, have been polished and repurposed to decorate the walls and facade of the new restaurant. On the ceiling, the original concrete structure of the 1970s building has been exposed and left bare.

With its simple yet precious details, its sophisticated products and the layered, slow experience it offers, Zhe Tian resonates with a new generation of Chinese customers seeking engagement beyond quick interactions and instant gratification, aiming at showing the way for a more conscious approach towards food culture, its heritage and its future.

Design: Quarta & Armando
Design team: Gianmaria Quarta, Michele Armando, Gu Tao, Tianyi Mao
Client: Zhe Tian
Location: Middle Jianguo Road 125 , Shanghai (China)
Built area: 90 sqm
Photographer: Peter Dixie / LOTAN