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Red letter days in Liverpool Young partnership a+u:g is building up a portfolio of interiors and refurbishments which is contributing to the regeneration of Liverpool's run-down building stock BY DEBO

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ziba is a new Liverpool restaurant and bar by a+u:g and owned by Martin Ainscough, a brewer who runs a small brewery next door. The name - that of an old tea clipper - acknowledges the city's maritime past and the restaurant's proximity to Chinatown.

ziba is on Berry Street, opposite Steel Street, the main artery of an area that is being transformed by architect-developer Urban Splash. This is where Baa Bar, Concert Square and the warren of Modo bars are; it is also home to the independent radio station Crash fm and several of Liverpool's architectural practices, including a+u:g.

The building, formerly a garage and car showroom, was built in two stages: the front portion dates from the 1890s, the rear extension, with steel trusses, was added in the 1930s. Excavation work to lay new foundations for ziba uncovered basements to three Georgian town houses which had been removed when the road was widened in the last century. a+u:g has retained the existing structure, painted white to distinguish it from the new dark- grey steel I-beam frame which supports a dining and circulation gallery. The gallery supplies the theatrical element that Ainscough wanted for the restaurant and gives diners in the gallery prime views of jazz players (George Melly on occasion) when sessions are in progress. Attached to the gallery is an outdoor roof terrace with iroko decking, atmospheric bamboo planting and a handful of tables which are popular on those rare days when the climate is kind and the winds cease blowing in from the Irish Sea.

Ainscough wanted ziba to be more upmarket than its bohemian neighbours in the Concert Square area. This is reflected in a+u:g's low-key front facade, clad in aluminium panels with steel and timber-framed windows. A large pivoting timber door opens into a small lobby dominated by a mesh stainless-steel staircase leading to wcs on an existing level above. Inside the restaurant, a+u:g has raised the floor in front of the two front windows, to form a sitting-out area or band platform on one side, and on the other an intimate dining corner, with an open fireplace. These raised floor areas break up the large volume into several smaller components and improve views out to Berry Street.

Joinery in maple has been specially made by John Heatherington and includes the high-backed timber bench and balustrading: the handrail comprises a three-quarter round of timber fitted over a right-angled metal section. The bar, which runs the length of the east wall under the gallery, has a solid slate top and a red enamel steel counter front - complementing the red place mats which were found by the client, as were several of the light fittings.

a+u:g has preserved the industrial past of the building by specifying a simple range of materials - limestone paving, timber furniture, steel balustrades - and designing an open, uncluttered space which provides an ideal backdrop to ziba's first-rate food.

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