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52: 27 - Don Don

Name: Don Don
Address: Francis St
Web: Nope. So new it doesn’t exist yet!
Owner: The God of Don Don (we forgot to ask!)

It’s no surprise that Super Tectonics holds in our hearts a special place for the people of Japan. A little place in Melbourne helped feed this obsession a long time ago. In the early days of Super Tectonics - when visiting Melbourne - daytime lunch trips always centered on a Japanese institution: the small and tiny street front of the original and the best Don Don on Swanston St. But with demand often comes expansion and although the second incarnation of Don Don wasn’t so great, we think this new little brother has some potential…Hai!

So what’s good about (the new) Don Don?

It’s hidden away. Literally. Like all of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. Although the first Don Don was on the busy Swanston St. you almost didn’t notice it due to its inconspicuousness. And the new Don Don is exactly the same, purely due to location. Positioned on Francis St, which runs parallel to the busy Collins St, people would miss it - which is most of its appeal.

Add to this that Don Don is also located in one of Melbourne’s most influential functionalist moderne architectural structures – The McPhersons Building and you’re definitely in good company. Completed in 1936, the building has a spectacular glazed façade and although Don Don is located in the back of what was originally a huge retail warehouse, the beautiful McPhersons signage and steel frame windows on the building’s rear façade, certainly hark back to an amazing era gone by.

And this history is very present within the interior of Don Don. Walking through the American Beauty style red double doors one is greeted with a nondescript counter on the ground level and small waiting area, here you order your Japanese meal and then walk up the stairs to the eating area. Upon ascension you notice the quality of timberwork in the building and it makes you realise that the bones of this form are of significance, the turned timber balustrade; the expanse of mahogany rich wall panels. Against the creaminess of the yellowed walls, the timber is beautiful but the space feels dull, almost unremarkable. That is until you walk around the corner and emerge onto the main eating area.

Here the North facing windows become the focal point. Ridiculously huge and overtly expansive, they offer views out only to the brick façade on the other side of the single lane street, which is nothing of great content, but they offer an outlook, a landscape and this in the CBD is rare. The light pours into the space, onto the maroon painted aged floor in an almost cathedral like way and it virtually feels like a choir is rising up behind you (but it’s just the waiter with delicious Curry Don). The vast amount of light these windows entertain only magnifies the luxurious height of the space, albeit rather underutilised.

In here the simplest of material palettes is used to great effect – existing brick, plaster over timber panelling and steel framed timber topped stools and chairs. Don Don is only 3 days old when we visit, so we are the only patrons. It’s quiet and calming, but we have no doubt in due time it will become bustling and noisy like all the other Don Don’s. .

What could be better about Don Don?

Due to its newness – the furniture in the main seating area was sparse (we were very kind in the photographs, framing the space to look ‘full’ because we are biased and love this place!). There is plenty of room for more furniture, so we’ll see how it evolves over time.

Given the height of the space and the hard surfaces, we can imagine at full capacity – with approximately 40 people, it could get quite loud, so we’re looking forward to going back once the secret has got out.

The takeaway area downstairs is quite small, and based on the how popular Don Don is waiting crowds may prove a difficult path to navigate, potential over flow area up the stairs can be used for this at peak times – although this is a little bit awkward.

The feature light with three pendants seems lonely in the high space. Wen you have a vast volumes like this, you need to populate it with something that makes a statement, so we say add two more of the light fittings and fill the space, it could use it.

And lastly, the odd colonial come royal come cherubic come renaissance framed photos on the wall, although pretty are rather odd. We think these hark back to era the building was built, hence why they are there. But the architecture and timber detailing references this enough – instead make a Don Don inspired statement, it’s brand is good enough to forge it’s own identity in the shadows of another.

What’s its thing?

Huge northern facing windows in an inner-city location. Even on a dreary, raining, miserable rainy Melbourne day, the light was simply magnificent.

Defining Design Details

  • North. Facing. Windows. Lesson learnt? Good. Now do it for all your future projects people!!
  • Location. Location. Location - Hidden but not forgotten.
  • Clever timber panel  - Suspended above head this cleverly conceals the services pipework and provides an anchor point to the pendant, complete smarts!
  • Pass through windows – making an awkward space suit your hospitality needs, one for takeaway and one for dine in.  Too cute, too quirky and wonderfully practical.
  • McPherson’s signage near the entrance – in all its wonderful 1930’s inspired glory.

We love that Super Tectonics was the first to review the new Don Don – BA HA HA! Take that you Broadsheet kids. So we are keenly watching how it goes over the next couple of months and hoping they get more furniture!