It is rare for an architect to linger on the ideal way of serving cockles and sardines during an interview. Yet this is what happens when I meet Maximiliano Arrocet at an intriguing new restaurant his firm, Amanda Levete Architects, has designed in London’s Soho district. An all-black affair – with black powder-coated tables and chairs, and Nocturne walls by Corian to match – Tincan only serves and sells tinned seafood, and it is owned and run by the practice. “We thought we would do one or two fewer competitions this year and invest in ourselves instead,” says Arrocet.
The idea of a restaurant devoted to tinned food began in Lisbon, where the firm is completing the EDP Foundation Arts and Technology Centre, an ambitious structure that follows the contours of the city’s shoreline. Nearby, a former tackle shop transformed into a buzzing tapas bar was a choice spot for dinner, even though the tiny restaurant had no kitchen. “All they did was open tins and serve them with wine and beer,” recalls Arrocet. “It was so simple and full of character. We loved it.”
Open since September, Tincan is a pop-up, London-style, with walls and windows lined in tins mounted on acrylic pegs. The diminutive cans appear as though floating, while custom OLED pendants pick up their metallic shimmer to theatrical effect. A “tin of the week” is placed in a sunken, thermo-moulded circle of Corian, as if framed to show off the label’s distinctive personality. The imagery that adorns each tin ranges from neatly drawn fish to cheesy photos of smiling fishermen and cartoon octopuses with oversized eyes.
It’s easy to see what Arrocet means when he says the studio wants to elevate the tins to “objects of desire.” This seems entirely possible with a menu offering up to 35 canned options, and a list of wines and craft beers sourced from throughout Spain and Portugal (including Er Boquerón from Valencia, said to be the first beer in the world to be made with sea water). When the six-month lease runs out, Arrocet says they may consider relocating: “That’s why the furniture is modular and stackable.” But first, the novel concept must prove financially viable. Meanwhile, I can confirm that canned cockles served with olive oil, chopped onion, parsley and crusty bread are delicious.