Pirajean Lees draws on Japanese and Spanish design for Kioku restaurant and bar

Pirajean Lees draws on Japanese and Spanish design for Kioku restaurant and bar

Studio Pirajean Lees paired oxblood tiles with intricate wooden joinery at the Kioku sushi restaurant and sake bar, within central London’s OWO hotel, to reference the head chef ‘s travels.

Kioku consists of a bar on the ground floor and a restaurant on the top floor of the hotel within the Grade II*-listed Old War Office on Whitehall, which once housed the British government’s military departments.

Pirajean Lees created Kioku, meaning “memory” in Japanese, to capture sushi master Endo Kazutoshi’s recollections of living and working in Japan and Spain.

Kioku sake bar by Pirajean Lees
Kioku bar is located on the ground floor of The OWO

Located on the ground floor of the hotel, the single-room bar is accessed via a door framed with smooth timber joinery informed by the traditional Japanese carpentry technique Sashimono.

Guests are greeted by a bespoke oak reception desk featuring embroidered floral textiles and mesh detailing as well as a light-controlled sake cellar clad with patchwork cork panels.

All of Kioku’s furniture was custom-made by Pirajean Lees, explained studio co-founder James Lees.

Sake bar with wooden joinery
The bar features a light-controlled sake cellar

“We share a passion for storytelling and an obsession with details, from the way your hand touches the backrest of a chair, to the height of the table,” said the designer.

“From the outset, we knew that the level of attention to detail in the interior had to match that found in the food being served.”

Bespoke record player by Pirajean Lees
Japanese records can be played on a bespoke turntable

The bar’s floor plan was subtly stepped to provide “elevated views” for each of its intimate seating areas, rather than relegate guests to hidden corners of the room, said Lees.

A wide selection of sake is served at an oversized and curved central bar designed with knobbly timber cladding.

Rooftop restaurant
Kioku restaurant is located on the hotel’s rooftop

Handcrafted tiles and a gridded carpet finished in oxblood red were used to create the flooring, while deep red dado and natural clay walls also nod to the space’s Spanish influence.

In one corner, a bespoke turntable is positioned for guests to play a selection of Japanese records from Endo’s personal collection.

Open kitchen where sushi is prepared
Bow details were carved into the dining chairs

The Kioku restaurant is contained within a long room on the north side of the hotel’s rooftop, with panoramic views of central London. Entered through timber double doors, the eatery features similar design accents to the bar.

Wooden frames and boxy mirrored “portals” were used to delineate spaces within the main dining area, which includes L-shaped banquettes and oak dining chairs upholstered with Japanese embroidered silk.

Chef's table opposite the open kitchen
The chef’s table was positioned opposite the open kitchen

Bow details were carved into the chairs to emulate the seating at Endo’s favourite hotel in the city of Yokohama. Subtle versions of the bow motif are echoed downstairs on the bar’s wooden tables.

Pirajean Lees constructed a private dining room with a chef’s table at one end of the restaurant, built above an intimate outdoor cigar terrace that overlooks The OWO’s central courtyard.

Main terrace
Panoramic views of central London can be seen from the main terrace

Encased by a curved glass roof, the extension was positioned opposite the open kitchen to allow guests to watch their dishes being prepared. Retractable mesh screens were also fitted for privacy.

The main terrace includes timber dining tables and chairs with Mediterranean-style terracotta and mustard upholstery surrounded by lush plants.

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At the end of the terrace, a historic turret overlooking St James’ Park and Horse Guards Parade features another eight-seat private dining room with soft linen curtains and an oak table illuminated by an oversized rice paper pendant light.

Pirajean Lees chose a striking yellow rug for the circular floor to reference the sun, while the round ceiling was hand-painted with an inky indigo mural by British artist Tess Newall in an ode to the contrasting moon – recognisable motifs found in Japanese mythology.

Turret with an eight-seater dining room
A historic turret houses another private dining space

“We design to create emotional spaces grounded in their story, rather than interiors purely driven by aesthetics,” reflected studio co-founder Clémence Pirajean.

Founded in 2017 by Pirajean and Lees, the studio has applied its eclectic style to various other London projects – from the “timeless” interiors of music venue Koko’s members’ club to a Mayfair restaurant with an Arts and Crafts-style design.

The photography is by Polly Tootal.

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