The interior design of a commercial space immediately creates a sense of atmosphere for the observer. It is the visual equivalent of a company’s mission statement: the right decor will elevate a space out of the ordinary and set the space apart in an often crowded market.
In a restaurant, the interior design signals whether it is traditional or modern; whether to expect superior service or a more informal setting; whether the menu plays it safe or pushes the culinary boundaries.
When Chef Vidyadhara Shetty set about making his dream restaurant in Cayman a reality, waterfront dining and Caribbean-style design were not top on his list of priorities. His vision for Blue Cilantro was to bring a little ‘bright lights, big city’ to the islands with the kind of contemporary urban dining experience one might find in a bustling metropolitan centre.
“I always had an image in my mind of an upscale place, with stone walls and big windows, where you see the traffic going by and you feel like you are in New York or Chicago – with cars, ambulances, police all passing by,” Chef Shetty says.
The position of Blue Cilantro, on West Bay Road, is as frenetic as life gets in Cayman. Huge windows along the two exterior walls of the building allow diners to watch the comings and goings along the lively Seven Mile Beach strip.
“I wanted to create that vibrant, energetic sense of the city when people look out and see everything going on outside while at the same time, people driving by will look up and see all the activity going on inside,” Chef Shetty explains.
Although ideas had been forming in his mind for around 10 years, Chef Shetty’s concept for Blue Cilantro evolved through discussions with architect Derek Serpell and designer Nicola Agemian.
Chef Shetty worked with the creative team for several months to coordinate and streamline the design, source fabrics and furniture, and create a coherent space out of his many unique ideas.
The final result is a contemporary design that is both sophisticated and sleek.
The combination of cool blues and crisp whites, and the sparkling expanse of glass lend it a modern ambience, while the cut flowers that adorn each table add a fresh, personal touch. Intertwined among the modern design elements are decorative accents from around the world which hint at the international flavours that can be found between the covers of the silver and blue menus.
“The theme of the food is an infusion of French, Italian, Spanish and a little Indian,” Chef Shetty explains.
The menu is concise but offers a variety of delicious creations. While the name Blue Cilantro suggests a heavier Asian slant, the dishes offer a blend of flavours, ingredients and culinary styles from around the world.
Nicola, the interior designer, says Chef Shetty was very specific when it came to the restaurant’s design. Just as the food cannot be identified as typical of any one region or country, but influenced by many, Chef Shetty stipulated that the decorative elements should also echo this international approach.
This is perfectly captured in the images printed onto the roll-down blinds that cover the expansive windows, photographs of iconic scenes in Spain, Greece, Italy and India.
No expense was spared to turn what was an empty concrete shell into an eye-catching venue.
The creative team were keen to achieve that all-important wow factor. They incorporated myriad unique features into the decor, including a custom-made interior waterfall, a glass-fronted wine cellar, a solid glass bar counter crafted in Montreal, and Australian-made infinity sinks.
Furniture was imported from Italy; special noise-absorbing fabrics from Miami cover the suspended ceiling panels and glass plates with ribbons of blue running were custom-made by The Glass Studio in the United Kingdom.
Although many fixtures and fabrics were imported from different corners of the globe, all of the installation and workmanship was carried out by local businesses.
“Cayman has advanced so much in recent years. There’s a huge amount of talent on this island and some really skilled people in their particular fields,” Nicola says.
“[Blue Cilantro] was an incredibly detail oriented project. If you look up and down you will notice that the contours of the bar are matched by the contours and recesses in the slate wall behind it, and the ceiling islands above.”
The essence of the design was based on the use of elements: stone, wood, glass and water. The walls are covered in contoured slate tiling and a feature wall at the rear of the dining area is a work of art, with polished pieces of coloured stone fitting together in a giant mosaic.
The walnut furniture is echoed in the walnut-covered columns; water runs silently over a stone wall in the lounge area and glass is everywhere, creating a sleek, contemporary ambience.
Indeed, transparency is a theme that runs throughout the space, from the glassed-in terrace to the floor to ceiling windows and the glass bar, down to the glass-base plates with which each table is set. It gives the sense of being able to see through every layer, suggesting that nothing is concealed.
The exhibition kitchen, however, might be the most impressive design feature of all, and certainly the greatest symbol of transparency.
“I always wanted to have an open kitchen so that people could see us, and see what we are doing. It’s reassuring for them because they can see how clean the kitchen is, and everything that is happening in the back, and for me it means I can watch the customers and see their reaction as they take that first bite,” Chef Shetty says of his choice to break down the physical barrier between the kitchen and the customers.
Blue Cilantro captures a sense of excitement and drama. From the theatre of an exhibition kitchen to the busy street outside, there are touches of pure extravagance at every turn. It is a fusion of influences, both in the space and on the plate.