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© Photography by Scott A Woodward


Art-infused restaurant Carlo’s is Manila’s latest gem

Location: Asian Century Center, Manila, The Philippines
Designer: JJ Acuna
Project type: Restaurant

A new American-Italian restaurant in Manila, Carlo’s combines vitality with old-world charm, and tempts with vodka pizza and Aperol spritz.

Manila has always had a thriving dining scene, but go-to designer JJ Acuna sets a new experiential standard with Carlo’s, a cosy restaurant inspired by the idiosyncratic style of New York City’s Little Italy. ‘We wanted to capture the unique hospitality that Italian immigrants brought to New York, and which then developed its own distinctive soul,’ says Acuna.

The restaurant’s location on the ground floor of a modern commercial building downtown persuaded him that the first step was to set the scene with a sense of vitality and add an unexpected touch of old-world charm with a dark raw walnut floor, green beadboard timber millwork, and sheer curtains trimmed with woven green ribbon.

Acuna’s signature attention to a strong design narrative shows in the retro Italian interior and its polished, contemporary edge; the lush colour palette features rich burgundies, deep pine green, and mustard touches that recreate the typical textures and colours of Little Italy’s eateries.

The designer found skilled local artisans for the medley of material finishes, signage, and furnishings. The ceiling lamps and sconces illuminating the dining area were custom-made locally, while the original ‘Akari’ paper lamps are a nod to the owner’s Japanese roots. All graphics are by up-and-coming studio Kix Suarez.

The 190 sq m rectangular space is arranged in four zones, with subtle shifts in décor that identify each area and create a natural flow. The main dining room is typically Italian with an oak coffee-to-cocktail bar, an antique brass-framed mirror, and hand-plastered walls.

Then the central area – Nonna’s Open Kitchen – brings on a wave of nostalgia with terrazzo flooring, poured in place the old-fashioned way; it's teamed with brass trims and quirky green tartan counter seating opposite a striking white-tile pizza oven imported from Anagni, a medieval hill town between Rome and Naples, birthplace of pizza.

To the rear of the restaurant, banquettes provide more intimate dining, and are framed with a geometric motif in three shades of burgundy. Recycled PET fibre wallpaper from Omexco in Belgium adds a playful touch to the semi-private dining room.

© Photography by Scott A Woodward