The newly opened Africola showcases design studio MASH’s signature dynamic aesthetic with a colourful fitout that mixes bespoke detailing with whimsical finishes.
In the past couple of years James Brown and Dom Roberts, from MASH, have been responsible for some of Adelaide’s most exciting new hospitality fit-outs. Their recently completed projects include the East End’s stylishly modern restaurant and bar Street ADL and the uber-cool Charcuterie in Adelaide Central Market.
The newest addition to their rapidly expanding interiors portfolio is the irrepressible Africola; situated in a heritage listed building on East Terrace, right behind the Botanic Hotel. It’s very much Brown’s baby – he’s co-owner with chef Duncan Welgemoed, Paul Glen and James Hillier – and it opened late last year, following an unbelievable three-week construction period, to glowing reviews.
“Duncan and I had long talked about doing something together,” explains the multidisciplinary design studio’s co-founder and joint artistic director. “So after learning more about his heritage and hearing the story of how his family built the Mpumalanga Fire hot sauce empire during a few monster sessions of eating peri peri chicken and chakalaka relish in my backyard – Africola was born.”
Although the new restaurant and bar ultimately pays homage to Welgemoed’s roots, it also reflects Brown’s long-held passion and admiration for a country he plans on visiting next year. His design for Africola’s fit-out melds the concept of the Johannesburg shebeen (unlicensed bar) and braai (BBQ joint), resulting in an artfully configured 90sqm space resplendent for its bright colour, striking decorative motifs and wonderfully over-the-top styling. Brown’s attention to detail is unwavering and his influences broad and diverse.
“In hospitality there are a lot of ‘faddy’, non-authentic ideas or plagiarisms, so the concept had to be driven by authenticity,” he explains. “My inspiration is a real melting pot – fabrics the women of Benin adorn themselves in, the elaborate posuban shrines of Ghana, Somalian funk deluxe, African political propaganda posters and the hand-painted signs of Burkina Faso; to me, they all speak of creativity in its rawest form.”
Regular MASH collaborators Dave Bickmore and Graham Charbonneau, from architectural practice Studio Gram, were involved from the project’s early stages and worked closely with Brown to achieve the necessary user-friendly outcome.
The initial challenge was incorporating Welgemoed’s kitchen in the front-of-house layout; making sure it comfortably accommodated a central hearth, over which most of his South African-flavoured menu is prepared. Part of Africola’s appeal lies in the theatricality this exposed kitchen lends the dining and bar areas.
It has also been thoughtfully finished with the addition of hand-painted tiles by another frequent MASH collaborator, ceramicist and ex-Mambo designer, Gerry Wedd, creating added visual interest. Bespoke detailing is a distinct characteristic of the lively fit-out, with more highlights including old African tin can labels used as a wallpaper border and light fittings handmade by Colombian and Chilean artisans.
These features along with an eclectic mix of found objects and curios lend Africola its strongest design expression, which instantly engages diners upon entry rather than overwhelming them. But Brown reveals there is more styling work to be done, despite Africola’s busy appearance.
“For me, it’s only 85 percent completed – there are still lots of things to tinker with and I’m only just starting. I might get lost in Africa for six months next year, come back and change things up a bit. Yamampela!”