The Mumbai institution of food delivery men, the dabbawalas, was the inspiration for London’s Bombay Bustle, designed by Fabled Studios
By Toby Maxwell
London design practice Fabled Studio has drawn on India’s famed dabbawalas to design its latest London project, Bombay Bustle, on Maddox Street in Mayfair.
Paying homage to the culture and people whose expanse of origins across India have influenced its culinary history, the designs for the restaurant take inspiration from the dabbawalas, the institution of men who use Mumbai’s railway trains to deliver home-cooked meals across the city.
Split across two levels, Fabled Studio’s vision for the space references the former Bombay’s train system, built as an offshoot of the first railway in British India, and the city’s vibrant art-deco theatres juxtaposed with the organised chaos of modern Mumbai.
The dining room on the ground floor, inspired by an old first-class railway coach, houses a pewter dining bar complemented with pale green leathers and a terrazzo and Marmoleum floor. Further along, past a large communal dining table, the space nods to the theatrical interiors of India’s art-deco cinemas in a second room that contrasts vibrant pink clay plaster walls with bottle green and candy pink leather upholstery. Tables have been marked with the dabbawalas’ alphanumeric codes produced for the restaurant by the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association.
Downstairs, the lower ground floor echoes the retiring rooms of Indian railway stations. The space has been enveloped in brilliant-cut glass screens and a timber-panelled ceiling, with a seated dessert bar and deep booths for larger groups.
Throughout the restaurant colourful artwork adorns the walls, showcasing witty illustrations from local Indian artists including Nandan Purkayastha from New Delhi, who specialises in caricatures, and Nilofer Suleman from Bengaluru, known across India for her quirky and idiosyncratic characters depicting Mumbai life. The artwork has been curated and commissioned by Madhu Nair, director of design and operations at Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts.
Tom Strother, co-founder and creative director at Fabled Studio, says: ‘Our concept for the design behind Bombay Bustle is a pastel-hued nostalgic look to the past of Bombay colliding with the vibrancy and bustle of modern day Mumbai. The design carefully mismatches a palette of fine patterns drawing on various imaginative and unusual elements that reflect the organised chaos of the Mumbai network of dabbawalas. We were particularly inspired by the spirit of the network’s railway carriages and the local hidden canteens of Mumbai and New Delhi.