Force Majeure

Studio OEO and former noma chef Thomas Frebel blend Japanese and Danish cultures to cook up a lushly refined Tokyo eatery


Every surface in Inua is so deeply textural or, by contrast, sleekly smooth, so robust or delicate, that visitors can almost feel and taste the restaurant with their eyes: grainy woods, coarse tile, taut leather, chalky plaster, tangled wicker, and paper lanterns that float like moons and clouds. Designed by Copenhagen Studio OEO in Tokyo's Iidabashi district, Inua is a meticulously imagined hybrid of Japanese and Nordic cultures. The restaurant is helmed by Thomas Frebel, a former chef and head of research and development at noma, the 2-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, famous for its reinvention of Nordic cuisine in tune with the natural world. Referring to the life force that runs through nature, inua is an Inuit word that describes the inspiration for Frebel's menus in three short, easily pronounced syllables: ever-changing like the seasons, rooted in Japan's variegated landscape and wild, local ingredients — and then crafted using international techniques and influences. Just so, OEO designed Inua's interiors to blend the masterful hand-making and sophisticated simplicity of the Japanese with the spare comfort, sculptural pragmatism and warm textures of the Danish, along with both cultures' reverence for nature, natural forms and materials.

The 60-seat, 700-square-metre restaurant, located on the ninth floor of an office tower owned by publisher, film producer and Inua partner, Kadokawa Corporation, takes advantage of the site's virtues and constraints. Accessed via a separate entrance, a corridor leading to the elevator —  lined with plants in glazed ceramic pots, graphical stepping stones and a matte-white 30-metre wall plastered using a traditional Japanese method — immediately draws diners into another world. ‘This transition zone is where you forget where you are,’ says Thomas Lykke, OEO Founder and Head of Design.

‘Thomas’s food is a perfect combination of ingredients, perfectly balanced,’ Lykke says. OEO's interiors, too, draw practical elements (functionality, acoustics, a lush materials palette) and the poetic (light and shadow, contrast, texture, colour) into a single fabric. The pared-down space might have felt cold, but instead exudes a luxuriant warmth in muted warm grey hues, blue, green and burnt clay with darker and lighter shades defining the layout. Even the acoustical ceiling grid, made with Nishijin textile maker HOSOO and inspired by the mathematics and lines of tatami flooring, is a soft tiling of neutral tones. 

OEO collaborated with Japanese artisans to create bespoke artworks and furnishings: from functional wardrobes to the wait station, and a series of dining tables with tops resembling water-worn pebbles softened by time, which complement the Hiroshima and Kamuy chairs by Naoto Fukasawa. But to many Japanese materials and details, the studio applied a Nordic variation, inspired by classical modern Danish architecture from the 1960s and 1970s. ‘We worked hard to integrate inspiration and details from both cultures to make them feel natural and authentic, not artificial and alien,’ Lykke says. ‘Denmark and Japan are closely linked in our way of understanding design.’

OEO paired high-quality Dinesen wood planking with local ash, Hinoki cypress and spruce. Kvadrat's Kinnasand hemp curtains hang beside metalwork in brass, copper and hot-rolled steel, and artwork made from local Uji clay and wood. It is, sometimes, possible to identify the origins of a furnishing or finish, a Japanese artisan or a Danish workshop, and yet one can't always be sure; the space is a broth of unusual clarity.

Text / Shonquis Moreno
Images / Aoki Michinori