HAGS takes an inclusive and accessible approach to fine dining – courtesy of Caroline Tompkins & HAGS
The luxury hospitality market continues to face challenges and, despite strong year-on-year growth in 2022, the category overall remains 7% behind 2019. In contrast, gourmet food and dining grew 12% in 2022, marking the sector’s return to pre-pandemic levels.
This is supported by data from OpenTable, which saw the strongest growth in bookings for restaurants in the top price category in 2022.
High-end dining is thriving, delivering even greater exclusivity through rarer ingredients, new experiences, formats, and access models.
And it is also evolving.
Consumers’ increasingly plant-based diets are transitioning into a more flexible ‘social omnivore lifestyle’, eating plant-based at home and reserving meat or animal products for social gatherings, special occasions, or upscale dining moments.
At the same time, a host of new concepts by former fine dining chefs – such as Hi Felicia in Oakland and HAGS in NYC – are looking to redefine what fine dining stands for in the midst of an ongoing cultural shift to address unsustainable working conditions, lack of representation, and absence of accessibility.
KOKS remote dining experience in western Greenland – courtesy of Claes Bech-Poulsen & KOKS
Following a resurgence of members clubs, private restaurants are granting investors access to their most exclusive spaces as an update to the classic model. At Casa Cruz, an investor group of partners pay between $250,000 and $500,000 for private dining room privileges, or, in the case of Flyfish Club, solely through membership NFTs sold pre-opening.
Rarity of ingredients continues to drive exclusivity but is shifting to produce that respects indigenous techniques and communities, and hard-to-find flavours. Alma Cocina Latina showcases carefully harvested, rare products from the Amazonian rainforest within its food and cocktail menus, paying homage to ancestral ingredients and cuisines while supporting Venezuelan indigenous agriculture.
Some restaurants are also looking to include the journey as part of the culinary experience. KOKS is currently operating from Ilimanaq, a small fishing village in western Greenland. The ultra-remote restaurant serves traditional meat and seafood sourced from the island itself, which can only be reached by boat for three months during the summer when the ice opens.
And fine dining is also expanding to different audiences, some of whom are blissfully unaware of The Menu.
San Francisco-based Dogue is offering $75 three-course tasting menu for dogs as well as ‘paw-tisserie’, inspired by the founder’s training in French cuisine.
Two-Michelin starred Ikoyi’s designed by Studio David Thulstrup – courtesy of Studio David Thulstrup
While some new openings, like Bacchanalia, are embracing experiential luxury and escapism with all-out opulence and the theatrical, other concepts are striking a balance between intensity and serenity.
David Thulstrup’s interiors for Ikoyi’s new location in 180 The Strand balances its Brutalist location and the restaurant’s approach to British cuisine and West African spices, with panels inspired by spice production and features that put the focus on ingredients and the experience at the table.
In a bid to create a more relaxed and relatable setting for fine dining, Linehouse’s interior concept for The Coast by Gaga, Shanghai, focuses on different colour palettes and materials for its three storeys. A warm colour palette inspired by the parrilla grill softens any serious undertones of fine dining, while sofa banquettes create more comfortable nooks in the dining room on the first floor, emphasising the importance of being at ease.
Others are focusing on even more personalised and immersive spaces.
NYC’s Oiji Mi’s new addition bōm, a combination of chef’s counter and Korean steakhouse in an intimate setting for only 17 diners, gives guests a front-row view of the preparation with individual chefs sharing deeper insight into Korean fine dining.