Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, has a lot of things going for it. Culture. Arts. Breathtaking natural scenery. And then, there’s the culinary scene. Downtown has several selections of fine restaurants. However, drive a few minutes and you’re in Miramar, the suburban home of Weta Digital, effects magic making company that worked on great films such as Lord of the Rings, King Kong, District 9 and Lovely Bones. Here, you will also find La Boca Loca, a fantastic Mexican restaurant with a fresh style.
Coming up on its first year since opening, LBL has become a favorite among Miramar locals and folks driving in from other areas of Wellington. The layout is divided into a more casual side where an open kitchen delights customers as they sit on colorful,custom-made Octo Stools and a more “formal” dining side with an assortment of seating areas: booths, chairs, and high stools at the bar. Additionally, there is a small back patio which, on a sunny day, is perfect for having guacamole and a margarita.
I not only had the opportunity to visit LBL (3 times in one week, the food is THAT good), I had the chance to interview owner, Lucas Putnam, about the space’s interior design.
1. What was your inspiration for creating LBL?
I grew up eating great Mexican food in California. There isn’t much of it in New Zealand so I wanted to share the experience with my new home. I started out cooking a lot of it on my own and the recipes of Rick Bayless of the Frontera Grill in Chicago were the stepping stone to the food we now create at La Boca Loca. Also, I work with a lot of expats from the USA at Weta Digital. Every time someone new would start they would ask, “where can I get good Mexican food”? I got kind of tired of hearing the question, so I thought I would just answer it myself.
2. What did you consider when coming up with the interior design?
We wanted to create a warm and lively atmosphere that wasn’t completely covered in the kitsch of Mexican artifacts. We sourced a few books from the library about Mexican kitchens and Mexican architecture. The mix of traditional and modern styles was one of our main influences. We tried to keep it simple and comfortable with clean lines, natural wood, bright colours and funky lighting. I think we have achieved that ethos. We also wanted to transport people out of the suburb of Miramar, not just with the food but with the feel of the place.
3. Did you have assistance with the design? If so, who?
My partner, Marianne, of course; we did a fair amount of traveling and a fair amount of research to come up with the layout and style. Also, Tanya Shearer-Gilbert. She came up with a lot of the design for us; especially the colours and the lighting, which I think really stand out.
4. How would you describe the style/vibe of LBL?
It’s comfortable and comforting, kind of like something your would find in Santa Barbara or parts of Oakland and Berkeley, California. We mix a casual atmosphere with an attention to great food and great service that you don’t get very often. It’s hard work, and expensive to keep up but it is worth it when you see how much people enjoy the food and the high level of service. It’s still fast and affordable food, but it’s not a fast food restaurant, nor is it simple Mexican cuisine. It’s regional, seasonal, mostly organic and free range, sustainable, extensive and made by hand every day. The style is a bit eclectic, but not too cluttered. We have a lot of natural wood, mostly recycled and bright colours splashed around. It creates that warmth that makes me think of Mexico and California. We’ve got an open kitchen so it’s an immersive experience, you see the chefs at work right when you step in the door. You smell the food, you feel the heat from the kitchen. Again, it’s what makes me think Mexico.
5. What do you think is the greatest influence in creating mood in your space?
It’s definitely the colours, the natural wood, and the lighting. Tanya found some great second hand lighting that has that rustic/modern mix to it and she also created some great light shades out of colourful Mexican blankets. We went with fairly bold colour choices, orange, yellow, bright blue. It’s not typical for this area and it stands out. It transports you.
6. Where did you find the accessories?
Some we found second hand, recycled, some we had made, some we bought online and some we sourced on travels to the states.
We also didn’t decorate everything right away. We did kind of ran out of money, so this wasn’t just a stylistic choice, it was necessity. It forced us to grow into the space we had created and I think it is a great way to go, especially for me since it is my first restaurant. It was such an intense fit out, with a lot of construction involved, it became a brand new space by the time we finished it, so we essentially moved into a new home and had to start decorating it. Which was great, we had a blank canvas. We got some great stuff brought over to us from Mexico by our chef, Christopher Martinez, and his wife, Monica. We have been sprinkling them around the place as well. A few great photos came from them too which we blew up large and framed for decoration. This was complimented by Mexican movie posters sourced from the USA. We’ve got a few funky art pieces by some local artist friends and a few great posters that were done by a few friends as well. On one trip to Napa (my home town) we stopped in at Rancho Gordo to talk beans and get supplies, they had just sourced some fantastic hand made ollas (pans) from Mexico. I bought one, filled it with chilies and hot sauces and wrapped it in bubble wrap and carried it with me onto the plane. Marianne and I have done a fair amount of that kind of sourcing; packing those bags to come home is an art form in itself.
7. If a song represented the space of LBL, what would it be?
Chris, (advising chef), will probably kill me for this but I think Bongo Bong by Manu Chao. It’s a really fun song. Like much of Manu Chao’s music, it mixes styles, backgrounds, and influences and makes me want to dance; it also makes me smile because it’s a song about a cheeky monkey.