Trade Secrets from India’s most prolific restaurant designer, Ayaz Basrai

Smoke House Deli, Cafe Zoe, Venom, SHROOM — meet the Mumbai-based designer behind the country’s hippest eateries and nightclubs.

Updated: March 22, 2016 7:24 pm

Ayaz Basrai is into a lot of things. The 37-year-old NID grad is involved with heritage and food conservation, courtesy The Bandra Project and The Gypsy Kitchen; he is a compulsive doodler; and he does installation art and 3D printing. But, his calling card is his restaurant design. Basrai and his architect brother Zameer, who run The Busride Design Studio, in Bandra, Mumbai, have designed some of the country’s buzziest restaurants.

caperberry basra_759 (left) Restaurant designer Ayaz Basrai (Source: Anurag Banerjee); Caperberry, UB City, Bangalore: “Chef Abhijit Saha’s 28-cover eatery is a cosy space. We decided to create this really well-cultured individual’s drawing-room sort of space for it. The art and curios on the walls are all objects that have been gifted to him by his friends.”

Their portfolio — the brothers have worked on over 75 restaurants in the last decade — is studded with assignments such as Cafe Zoe and Social, in Mumbai, Trishna and The Smoke House Room, in Delhi, Caperberry in Bengaluru and, among others, Venom in Kolkata. The BusRide’s eclectic work reflects a variety of influences — from graphic novels to acid jazz. In an interview with The Indian Express, Ayaz talks about design that stands out; his favourite restaurant and the high of an intellectual challenge.

Pizza Express Thane Pizza Express, Thane: India’s first passenger train ran from Bombay to Thane in 1853. “The technical drawing of the steam engine that pulled the first steam locomotive back then adorned the eatery’s walls,” says Basrai.

The fundamental thing about a well-designed restaurant
There is one thing common to restaurants with great design — they are places you think of going to irrespective of whether you are with friends and in a boisterous mood, or simply want to spend some time with a close friend or two. And, they are places where you can hear yourself talk.

 

Venom_759 Venom, Kolkata: “This was one of our first projects, and bar backs would respond to the music and become animated. This was, thanks to the use of acrylic tubes that were filled with a low density gel that provided a graphic equaliser effect.”

The buzz, literally
Why does a buzzy food space have a relatively close arrangement of tables? The reason behind it is the kind of demographics that it attracts. So, if you go to, say, Cafe Zoe (Mumbai), you’ll find that, more often than not, the conversation that is happening at the next table is interesting to you as well.

 

shroomcollage_795 SHROOM, Delhi: With a name that was a take on mushrooms, SHROOM, an erstwhile nightclub, had to be a psychedelic space. “We used lots of sinous, organic forms and hallucinatory lighting. And, lots of terrazzo. The cocktail bar at SHROOM, on the other hand, was like a vestibule. It was a foil to the nightclub.”

When the space corresponds to the food
It is always a challenge to bring a brief to fruition, especially in our cities that are starved of space. Nearly everyone wants more tables in their restaurants, and naturally so. But it is the intellectual challenge that really spurs us on. For instance, how do you get the space and other elements to correspond with whacky food? Our best work was probably the Smoke House Room and SHROOM, which adjoined it, in Delhi. It was avant-garde food. Like you had a dish called the P soup, and the name, sort of, made you expect something to do with peas. But, instead, what you got was a dish which featured pumpkin, prawn, pickled pumpkin plastic and pumpkin carrot air. So, it was like a well told joke. We designed a provocative space that unsettled the patron. He didn’t know what to expect, just like it was with the food. But, I think Smoke House Room and SHROOM were ahead of its time.

 

SMOKEHOUSE DELI BANDRA_759 Smoke House Deli, Bandra, Mumbai: The walls of Smoke House Deli were illustrated with hand-drawn stories of remarkable and interesting people who once lived in and around Bandra. “There was this aunty who is supposed to have had three panthers as pets, and she is supposed to have walked down Carter Road every evening with them,” says Basrai.

The thing about The Bombay Canteen
The Bombay Canteen, too, does food that is relatively different. But the way the space is designed — it’s like a shell of nostalgia, it has an Irani cafe feel — it settles people down. It is familiar and comforting, and that gets patrons to be more receptive to the kind of food they will be sampling.

 

bluefrogcollage_759 Blue Frog, Pune: “We had to stay true to the visual identity of Blue Frog in Mumbai, and retained the ‘pod-dy’ feel of the place. But we also used the roof to house the acoustic panels, and freed up space for dancing. The panels are angel-able, and help you direct sound energy better,” says Basrai.

Look closely
We spend months researching the area around a restaurant before we set about designing it. That research is reflected in little elements. Most people don’t see it, or are not curious enough. But sometimes people do take notice, and that makes our day. For example, the walls at the Smoke House Deli, in Lower Parel (Mumbai), are studded with hand-illustrated narratives that reference the influence of the mills on Bombay. Subhash Chandra Bose once gave a speech at the site of Phoenix Mills. Each illustration has a QR code at the bottom. It takes you to a custom website that provides you more details about the history of the place and what the illustration is referencing.

 

jamjar_759 Jamjar Diner, Mumbai: Basrai used a “trippy” language for the outside terrace area of Jamjar Dinner, in Versova, Mumbai. “The idea was to have an eccentric space, and Gaudi was an obvious influence.”

On Mugaritz and Philippe Starck
The best restaurant I’ve been to has to be Andoni Luiz Adruiz’s Mugaritz, near San Sebastian, in Spain. There is no menu, the cutlery is edible and you eat dishes such as candy caviar. When we went there, before our multi-course meal, we were asked to choose between two envelopes marked ‘Rebel’ and ‘Submit’. Some of us in our group picked the former, while some others chose the latter. But, at the end of the meal, we realised that the food we were served was the same. It was just their way of playing with your head. I also love Sketch, in London.

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