Animals silently keep watch over Les Trois Garçons, Hassan Abdullah's cozy restaurant in London.
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
With yards and yards of red velvet, hired help in gold waistcoats, a transvestite comedienne, and crystal and gilding galore, three London housemates threw a dinner party last year that was so fabulously decadent they decided it shouldn't end. "We based the party on a sort of Café de Paris, called it 'Cabaret,' and probably went a bit over the top," admits co-host Hassan Abdullah. "But it all looked cozy, and everyone thought it would make a great restaurant."
Indeed, shortly thereafter, the trio—Abdullah and partners Michel Lasserre and Stefan Karlson—made the mise-en-scène more permanent, and dedicated the dining room of their four-story Victorian home to Les Trois Garçons, a lavish new French eatery that's also part antiques shop and part Kunstkammer. Here, a menagerie of animals—including a bejeweled tiger, a hammerhead shark, a tiara-adorned bulldog with wings, and a crocodile named Quentin—keep watch over a dining room illuminated by Murano glass and crystal chandeliers. Candelabra, cut-glass candy dishes, bronze statuettes, and other curiosities crowd the bar while a giant Tiffany clock keeps time. It's Pigalle meets High Street, Alice in Wonderland meets Oscar Wilde, where dining and taxidermy coexist in neo-Victorian cacophony.
Abdullah, Lasserre, and Karlson—in their mid-30s and from Malaysia, France, and Sweden, respectively—first partnered seven years ago in an antiques business now based in London's trendy Notting Hill neighborhood. They purchased the East End building where they currently reside—an 1880 structure in what has traditionally been the rougher side of town—in 1997. A classic Victorian pub had occupied its ground level, but by the time the three moved in, this space—with its decorative mirrors, pine floorboards, and mahogany bar and paneling—had fallen into severe disrepair at the hands of the squatters who had most recently occupied it.
With a restaurant to pull together, they set out to restore and surpass the pub's prior glory under the primary direction of Abdullah. The paneling and bar were stripped and refinished, and two missing gilt-lettered mirrors were recreated from old photographs. Gold wallpaper was applied to the walls and coving, an HVAC system was installed above a gold-painted ceiling, and the pine floors were reinvigorated with a new mahogany finish. Abdullah also designed a set of six beaded chandeliers, and once the circa-1940s, Louis XVI-style chairs taken from a Parisian brasserie were reupholstered in studded leather, the 1,800-sq.-ft. space was nearly ready to seat its capacity of 75 guests.
Entering the space—a long rectangle except for the curved wall that meets the street corner—one sees the original bar to the left and, to the right, a row of windows embellished with floor-to-ceiling green velvet curtains. A stairwell leads to the basement, where two private rooms look into the kitchen through one-way glass. A gaggle of celebrities have already descended on the restaurant, but don't expect the owners to settle for just good enough.
"It's all very organic and impromptu," Abdullah explains. "Say I find two chandeliers that I think look more glamorous, I'll sell the two that are already there and replace them with the new ones." Indeed, many of the smaller objects—the glass fruits, vases, and ashtrays among them—can also be purchased, lending an element of constant change and evolution to the space. But only to a point, as Abdullah clarifies: "The animals are not for sale."