Melbourne’s newest laneway eatery is a heritage-listed converted townhouse on Niagara Lane in Melbourne’s city centre grounded in Japanese cuisine.

The existing heritage elements of the building (brickwork, bluestone and timber columns) have been stripped back and revealed alongside a black vessel, that has been inserted to become a backdrop for the lab like stainless steel flanked bar with a cantilevering dichroic ledge.

Hassell associates Di Ritter and Prue Pascoe says Café Lafayette was a fun project to work on due to the client’s brave and open attitude and a desire to do something different within the café culture of Melbourne.

“It’s rare that you work on a project like this that is striving to be different, not just saying it. Whilst stainless steel, glass and a black datum floor formed the basis of the design, we’ve used deliberate lighting to accent each table and created the rainbow of colours through the dichroic glass,” says Ritter.

“From the very outset, we worked closely with Studio Round to unpack the brief together.  As the design of the identity evolved, the design of the interior responded to become an immersive experience of the Café Lafayette brand. The element of surprise and wonder as to how some of their dishes come together echoes in the way the dichroic film and stainless-steel play with colour and light,” says Pascoe.

Studio Round Design Director Narelle Brewer said they wanted the identity for Café Lafayette to bring to life the experience of being transported somewhere else.

“Drawing on the vernacular of theatre, while also reflecting the café’s hidden laneway location, we created a series of illustrations of gesturing hands and tunnels that act like portals to another place. Complemented by a cheeky, playful tone of voice, the identity comes to life across everything from the menus to the uniforms and social media.”

Café Lafayette co-owners Solar Liang and Monique Wu approached Hassell with a brief to not create another white café with plants, but to create something unexpected that could bring their menu to life.

“The building is more than 130 years old, so we wanted to do something with old Melbourne meeting the new Melbourne, with its many international people, students, tourists, and of course the locals.”