Opening in December, Veronika at Fotografiska is inspired by grand European cafés.

By Bridget Hallinan
October 24, 2019
Rendering by CetraRuddy

Stephen Starr’s new restaurant officially has a name. 

News broke earlier this year that the mega-restaurateur behind Le Coucou, Upland, Morimoto, Buddakan, and more had a project on the horizon in New York City. It would be modeled after a classic European grand café, with chef Robert Aikens (previously of The Dandelion and Rainbow Room) heading up the kitchen.

As for the location? Fotografiska, a Stockholm-based photography museum that’s opening its first U.S. outpost in the Flatiron district later this year. There were hints about the cuisine; other than that, details remained scarce. However, Starr recently pulled back the curtain and revealed that the new venture will be called “Veronika.”

“The concept is inspired by these moody qualities with sprinkles of tones and textures from the 'grand cafés' in London, Paris, and Vienna before the turn of the 20th century,” he told Food & Wine.

Starr says the name is a nod to Veronica, the patron saint of photography, in keeping with the museum’s theme. Accordingly, the space will also prominently feature photography, with a focus on femininity and female photographers—expect to see works by Julia Hetta and Cooper & Gorfer. Amanda Hajjar, Director of Exhibitions at Fotografiska New York, said in selecting the photos, they wanted to expand on what femininity could look like.

“Most of the photographs are portraiture, with an emphasis on women and gender fluidity. Some of the images by Hetta show tablescapes, empty plates, whole fish… it will be playful and fun,” she says. “The hope is that we can extend the aesthetic of the restaurant into the hallways and entryways, so the restaurant experience starts as soon as you enter Fotografiska.”

The interior design is being spearheaded by Roman and Williams, a New York-based studio Starr has previously worked with on Le Coucou and Upland. Founders Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer describe Veronika as a “gestalt of light, form, and composition”—the museum inhabits the Church Missions House (pictured above), a Renaissance revival building that gives the second-floor restaurant grand windows and high ceilings. Upon entry, guests will find a “surreal bar experience” with a garden landscape mural, meant to convey the relationship between photography and painting. Then, they’ll be drawn to the dining room.

“[It’s] filled with creamy hues and massive brass lighting fixtures, complemented by mohair seating that embrace the feminine and punctuate the journey from the speakeasy below, also designed by Roman and Williams,” Alesch and Standefer said.

The one thing that isn’t set in stone is the food. Since the restaurant is still several weeks out from opening, the menu hasn’t been finalized yet; however, we do know that Aikens will serve brunch, lunch, and dinner at the restaurant, with cuisines inspired by northern France, Austria, and Eastern Europe. Charles Puglia will oversee the wine program, while Becca Punch is on as executive pastry chef, which Starr says the team is very excited about.

Apart from Veronika, the museum will have a more casual café with “lighter fare” and pastries supplied by Punch, as well as the aforementioned speakeasy—both are also overseen by Starr, and will open together with Veronika in December. 

Veronika wasn't his only project this year, either. Electric Lemon opened at Hudson Yards' Equinox Hotel in August, promising spectacular views and a health-forward menu; Starr also took over day-to-day operations for the revamped Pastis, which debuted in June. 

Looking to the future, he says he has half a dozen projects in mind, and that “half of those will come to fruition and about half will remain in our imagination.” But if his portfolio is anything to go by, whatever does come to fruition is bound to be pretty special.

Veronika will open in Fotografiska New York, 281 Park Avenue South, in December.

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