Savio Volpe

February 8, 2016
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Savio Volpe is a farmhouse modern eatery in a neighbourhood on the brink—the type of place you’d want to walk into and stay a while.

Fraserhood’s newest restaurant is Savio Volpe, a 75-seat osteria and labour of love between three partners (L’Abattoir’s Paul Grunberg, Chef Mark Perrier and Ste Marie studio principal Craig Stanghetta) that fuses simplicity, drama and cheekiness—both in its design and farm-fresh menu. Here, diners can watch Perrier in the open kitchen as he works his magic at the wood fire grill. Dishes like grilled squid on a bed of chickpeas with tomato and chilli, and rib of beef drizzled with aged balsamico and Grana are unpretentious but hearty. There’s an all-Italian wine list, classic cocktails, house made Italian sodas, and fresh made pasta that would make any Nonna proud.

Like the menu, the design is rooted in an honest, unadorned style that juxtaposes humble with pretty. Check out the tomato cans and olive oils displayed on custom-built shelves like works of art and the Stilnovo-inspired chandelier that hangs above the bar. Savio Volpe is a modern farmhouse eatery in a neighbourhood on the brink— the type of place you’d want to walk into and stay a while.

We sat down to chat with Craig, Paul and Mark to talk about their project, its design and a neighbourhood on the brink.

Mount Pleasant
Paul: We’ve had our eye on this neighbourhood for some time – the economics of the city make it so that our demographic is migrating east and this neighbourhood is a hotbed for young professionals, artists, young families and the creative class and they’ve been decidedly unrepresented by tasty, accessible yet ambitious restaurants. We think we’ll be but one of the many happy successful restaurants to stake their claim here in the coming years.

Interior design & the fox
Craig: The idea was the classic Osteria. That and a fictional muse we established when we created our namesake: Savio Volpe. We thought of him as a loving patriarch that was curious, resourceful and caring. As such we imagined he’d be as passionate about his vegetable garden as he’d be about art, culture and design. The restaurant is the intersection of elemental and ethereal, “gritty and pretty” so to speak. We found a tremendous amount of inspiration in some of the great Italian designers – our practice is unapologetically in love with Ponti, Scarpa but in this instance it was Bruno Munari, Carlo Mollino and Enzo Mari whom we found to be our guiding lights. 

The location
Paul: The place was an old tire shop. The owner had it in his family since the 1920s  and he was a great steward to the property. Our landlorld did a loving restoration on the base building, contracting a well respected and progressive architecture firm (Scott & Scott) to realize the design. The roadway we’re located on was historically a horse & buggy route between Gastown and New Westminster B.C. What better place for a wayward tavern?

The namesake
Paul: The namesake is a character named Savio Volpe, literally Wise Fox. He’s the patriarch of our venture – an old Damerino that takes care of his family and friends and strangers alike at his local tavern plying them with pasta, spit roast meats and an endless of cup of vino! 

On the seasonal menu
Mark: The menu is firmly rooted in the tradition of Italian regional cuisine and in that tradition the menu changes and evolves on a daily basis to utilize the best ingredients and to reflect the many uses of those ingredients. We also have a mandate of sourcing many ingredients through a local gardening collective that secures groceries from an older generation of old world home gardeners (Portuguese, Italian, Greek) that no longer have enough family to pass on the bounty of their gardens to. It gives us access to some wonderful ingredients and a wealth of knowledge. 

On choosing tavern-inspired materials
Craig: We chose mostly modest materials that had an earthen quality. Quarry tile, pleated oak panelling, red and white oak, steel. We wanted to material to have strong/warm quality that would allow us push the degree or order, simplicity and modernity while maintaining a tether to the farmhouse or tavern ideology at the root of the restaurant concept. The upholstery on the other hand shows a quality of bravado and audacity to stand in contrast — sort of like the way a kerchief, a patterned tie or a pair of playful socks stand apart from an understated suit. 

We we’re inspired by the work of Enzo Mari while designing the furniture and shelving and began from the standpoint that these pieces should have a degree of simplicity and retain the feel of something that could be knocked together in the garage. They evolved a degree of elegance as the design progressed but they are still rooted in an honest, unadorned style. The other end of the spectrum is likewise represented in some of the highly machined and customized metalwork, which is something we respect and admire about the Italian culture of design in general: the ability to balance irreverence and simplicity with deeply thoughtful and calculated craftsmanship and construction. 

On lights and iconic order
Craig: The lighting was designed in house at Ste Marie and executed by local fabricators. The wall lighting cues off of a sort of religious typology. We find the forms they make to evoke a degree of iconic order while the light they emit is entirely soft, warm and inviting. The chandelier on the other hand was conceived as a riff on the classic Stilnovo chandeliers or some of the lighting found in the work of Carlo Mollino, which we’ve always admired for it’s balance of elegance and drama. 

A lot of the work was bespoke for the space including custom shelving, lighting and seating. Skilled trades and craftspeople were key in executing the challenging task of realizing these pieces. Lock & Mortice Build Co was instrumental in helping realize the custom woodwork on all the furniture and the dowel style shelving system. We also worked closely with a metal fab company called Fabrikaat to realize all the custom lighting, stand alone metal display unit and custom baskets for the kitchen display system. It was deeply collaborative and rigorous process. 

On the art on the walls
Craig: The two prints on the north wall through which a set of art lights are threaded are from an Italian artist named Edoardo De Falchi. He was kind enough to sell us the digital file so that we could execute this unusual treatment of his work. We spoke with him and detailed what we intended and he was charmed by it and eager to see the result. 

Some of the other artwork was undertaken in house by Ste Marie by taking images from the public domain and giving them a Bruno Munari style collage treatment. Others were very classical in origin which we had enlarged and cropped and mounted in dramatic unconventional ways. Other pieces were thrift shop and antique finds that had been collected over a number of years. The pair of theatrical masks are a good example of how more eclectic ephemera stand in counterpoint to the more contemporary work.

Photos: Allison Kuhl