Introducing SAI

Dael and I are very proud to introduce you to our latest project, SAI, (lower) 205 Emerson Street, Napier. The project took a good eight or nine months and was quite a journey, so we were thrilled when the doors finally opened to the public two weeks ago. Some of you may have been following the progress on our Instagram page, but now we're pleased to share it with you officially.

photo: Florence Charvin

In March of this year we received an email from Sasi (our future client) saying she was visiting from Sydney, was opening a restaurant in Napier, and would we like to meet to discuss it. "Of course," we said - that sounded like a fun job. We met Sasi on site soon after and suddenly realised what a huge task we had ahead of us.

The site for the restaurant was the old Mid City Plaza and it was being split into three tenancies along Emerson Street. It really was just a crumbling shell with loads of potential, and a lot of work to be done. This was our first big commercial project, so we were very fortunate that architect Robin Larkworthy, of Dougan Larkworthy, agreed to help us with all of the plans and working drawings, and GR8 Construction took on the build.

Our client, Sasi (below far right) already owns and runs the sister restaurant, 'SAI Old Bar Beach' in Sydney, and soon after our first meeting she flew back to Australia. Over the next few months Dael and I liaised with Sasi via email, designed the look and feel of the restaurant, and came up with various floor layouts (keeping in mind that neither of us had any experience with a commercial kitchen and what that entailed). With the expert help of Josh from Southern Hospitality, Isaac from Sydaz, Hamish Panton from Panton Consulting, and Robin Larkworthy and his team, plans were eventually sent to Council, and then it was a waiting game. In August Sasi returned to New Zealand with her niece, Wan, (below centre) who was to help Sasi with the restaurant, and eventually run it when it came time for Sasi to return home. The four of us worked closely together, and Dael and I are so thankful to both Sasi and Wan that they believed in us and allowed us to follow through with our designs.

Opening day was 8th December, and everybody involved in helping us create SAI worked extremely hard to make opening on that date happen. As well as all the tradies, Sasi and Wan's family flew in to help and it really was 'all hands on deck'.

We enlisted the help of our favourite painter and wallpaper hanger, Claire Condon, and her friend, Chris Heath, to create the fresco wall effect, and to hang the beautiful Elitis wallpaper. Asha and Marg from Little & Fox made the squabs and cushions; and Hutchinson's laid the floor for us.

Staff get ready for the very first guests (below) - everyone involved in helping to create SAI was invited to come and sample the delicious Thai food. The tiles, from The Tile Depot, around the open kitchen and behind the bar are one of my favourite features.

The food at SAI is authentic Thai food, and the staff are there to guide you, if you'd like, and answer any questions. They encourage customers to place meals in the centre of the table so you can share and taste all of the dishes.

My most favourite part of the restaurant is the beautiful bar which greets you as you enter. It was created by the amazing team at Sunshine Joinery, along with the cabinetry behind the bar, all of the bench and booth seats, the open kitchen bench top, and all of the shelving. We can't thank Rick, Ben, Felicity and their team enough.

The curved bar is created with strips of bamboo that bring gorgeous texture and warmth, and contrast beautifully with the deep teal featured throughout the restaurant.

When Sasi first briefed us on what she wanted for the restaurant, she told us her favourite colours were brown and grey. To say that Dael & I love colour is an understatement, so how were we going to make this work?! The tile, with it's earthy shades of brown, blue and grey was our starting point, and this led to the introduction of the deep teal colour. Lastly we brought in the rich raspberry red in the wallpaper and velvet sofa to balance the coolness of the blue and grey tones. Sasi was so great allowing us to do this, as we knew we were pushing her outside of her comfort zone. But luckily for us she embraced the colours and now loves them.

Thanks to the talented Laura Jeffares for the floral displays, and Rowan from Branded for all our signage.

All of the beautiful plates, bowls and cups are hand made in Thailand especially for SAI and are available to purchase. Look for the displays at the front of the restaurant and talk to staff if you're interested in purchasing anything.

It's so rewarding to see SAI fill up with people, the buzz of activity as staff ferry plates to customers, and the chefs busy in the kitchen. So much thought went into each part of the restaurant, and each phase, and we're extremely grateful to everyone who helped turn our design into a reality.

Although we thank Sasi for giving us so much freedom with our design, it was her initial brief and inspiration that shaped SAI. We took her brief and moulded it into the restaurant it is today. We may have pushed a few boundaries along the way, but Sasi was so open to our ideas, she was a joy to work with. I have been lucky enough to dine here a couple of times now, and I can tell you, wholeheartedly, that the food is amazing. There's no question where the Bibby + Brady Christmas party is being held this year!

We will miss Sasi as she heads back to Australia (today), but she's handing the torch onto Wan, and we have no doubt she will do a great job at running SAI.

A SAI website is in the making, but in the meantime have a look at this delicious menu. Bookings can be made on 06 835 3959, open 11am til late, dine in or take away. If you visit, make sure to tell them we sent you.

The lovely photographer herself, Florence Charvin.