Food & Culture

A Sydney designer has immortalised his favourite restaurant dishes in Perspex

At the height of Sydney's lockdown, COVID-19 stopped Ian Tran from frequenting some of his favourite eateries, so he’s paid homage to them in the only way he knows how.

By Yvonne C Lam
The "Sex Panther" hot chicken with chips and pickles from Belles Hot Chicken, by Dinner A La Perspex.
Like many restaurant enthusiasts, Ian Tran remembers his last dining out experience, pre-lockdown. It was a weekend brunch at Sydney's Saint Peter, and the lemon tart in particular was a stand out.
Then COVID-19 came knocking. Vivid festival was cancelled; so too the bulk of work from his Rockdale laser-cutting studio Domus Vim. (The studio typically provides a number of Vivid installation artists with construction drawing and fabrication services, and works with retailers throughout the year to produce shelving and display units.) The studio turned to creating their own range of furniture and products, made from leftover pieces of acrylic accumulated throughout the years, to keep busy.
Tran toyed around with producing a Perspex (a brand of acrylic) wall mirror, in the shape of an egg in a frypan. Then, he immortalised that Saint Peter dessert in three-dimensional plastic form. "I love making random objects and pieces, and I love eating out," says Tran. "This is kind of my homage to restaurants."
The lemon tart from Saint Peter.
Since then, he's given other Sydney restaurant dishes the plastic-fantastic treatment and showcased them on his Instagram account Dinner A La Perspex. There's A1 Canteen's plate of curried eggs and sausages, the puddle of soft scrambled eggs rendered into a rigid yellow; four plump pieces of bluefin tuna nigiri from Sokyo fashioned into shiny, solid decks; and the Neopolitan ice-cream sandwich from Totti's, its sculptural form accentuated by the sharp corners of laser-cut Perspex.
The Neopolitan ice-cream sandwich from Totti's. Photo: Supplied
To replicate these dishes, Tran refers to his archive of photos, then draws each dish element – a breadstick here, a cube of pineapple there – into architectural CAD software or Adobe Illustrator. The drawings are scaled to size and laser-cut onto a piece of coloured perspex. The Perspex he uses is about three millimetres thick; to recreate the lemon tart for example, Tran produced multiple yellow-perspex triangles, then stacked the shapes to produce the body of the tart. More sculptural works, such as Belles Hot Chicken's "Sex Panther" chicken, require a blow-dryer or heat gun to contour the perspex. All dishes are laid on a black acrylic plate that measures 30 centimetres in diameter. (Tran acknowledges this canvas may present difficulties in the future. "You can't do ramen on a plate," he says.)
Perspex dishes in the making.
Tran recently completed his masters in architecture, and his skills in this industry have served him well. "In architecture, we're trained to think in geometric shapes and spaces, and the theory of colours. Surprisingly, it's easy to apply this to food," he says. The hardest dish to replicate was the scarlet prawns with noodles and XO from Lotus in Potts Point. "I'm trained to draw on a computer with a mouse, but if I use a tablet and a pen, it's easier to capture the messy nature of noodles." It takes about 30 minutes to produce one dish. "To me, they're short design exercises."
So far Saint Peter's Josh Niland, Lotus' Sam Young and Tottis' Mike Eggert have inquired about purchasing the works, and Tran is holding out hope that Ester will be in touch. Pre-COVID, Tran visited Mat Lindsay's Chippendale restaurant once a month, and nominates it as his favourite place to dine in Sydney. "On Dinner A La Perspex, I only follow two people: me and Ester." He's already cloned Ester's "scarlett prawn, crispy legs". How much will he charge Lindsay, should the chef get in touch? "He can have it," says Tran. "I'll swap him for the Ester bread."
Instagram / @dinneralaperspex
To enquire about purchases, direct message Tran via Instagram.
  • undefined: Yvonne C Lam