Isabel — the modern South American small plates restaurant in Mayfair — was named Eater London’s most beautiful restaurant in last year’s Eater Awards. An intoxicating, beguiling Art Deco-inspired space, it is the manifestation of the designer-and-owner’s very deliberate aesthetic choices. Juan Santa Cruz has created a sophisticated, clubby environment through lots of dark wood, even more gold, Napoleonic blue upholstery, flashes of yellow and clever lighting. Together, they lend the room a moody, filmic decadence too rarely given to new sites.
The 90-cover restaurant does not just look magnificent, it feels special, with a singular look perhaps achieved through Santa Cruz’s personal vision and uncompromising commitment to the execution of it. Being on one of central London’s most monied streets, it seems appropriate that in the pursuit of such glamour, no expense was spared.
Named after the well-connected Argentinean owner’s grandmother and mentor, Isabel opened last year; it almost instantly became a celebrity favourite, counting Noel Gallagher, Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Robert Patterson among its most famous patrons.
Below, the inimitable (and busy) Santa Cruz tells Eater about his style, inspiration, what he wanted to achieve through the restaurant’s design and how he did it.
What, specifically, inspired the restaurant’s design?
Ocean liners of the 1930s.
How long did it take to plan?
What was the aim of the design?
To create beauty.
Did you realise your vision, precisely?
Given that Isabel looks like no other restaurant, did you require special materials for the project?
Yes, Macassar wood in large quantities, which was not easily sourced. The silks were also woven specifically for us.
Isabel’s design aesthetic in Juan’s words.
I create the physical, I do not work with mood boards, I just draw…
What importance do you place on Feng Shui?
I share plans to a feng shui master after drawing an initial design. It’s important to have a well-balanced energy in a room as well as certain colours. The décor at Isabel features a lot of rich wood, so I designed a green, blue and yellow striped carpet to balance the brown.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I am a firm believer that everything can be further perfected, but I am of course very happy with our results.
What’s next for Santa Cruz?
A restaurant in New York, between Park & Madison, and as usual, I’m designing it all — the interior architecture and decoration and everything from door handles to teapots!