Darjeeling Express Restaurant, Soho, London

A-nrd Studio commissioned to design and bring a personal touch to the Darjeeling Express Restaurant in Soho, London.

How were you commissioned?:    
I met Asma Khan, owner and mastermind of Darjeeling Express through common contacts in the hospitality industry who suggested we should meet and work together.

What was the brief from the client and how much were they involved?:    
Asma was very open to ideas and suggestions, I always like to bring a personal touch to every restaurant we design in order make it unique to the client. For Darjeeling Express we have studied the traditional architecture and home decor from Asma‘s heritage to put together the natural look of the venue.

How did the brief affect the materials and design choices?:    
The colour palette of the intimate space comes from golden hour scenery of India, where warm, earthy soft tones come alive. This palette is complemented with the cerulean blue - Venetian plaster - of Indian train stations and of Darjeeling Express’s namesake train. This colour combination is also reflected on the table tops and the Chai bar, all made in polished dyed concrete true to one of India most used materials alongside brass which is also used for table tops, light fixtures, and ironmongery. Looking up you’ll see the simplicity of Indo-Victorian architecture. The ceiling features fans, hardwood beams, greenery and pottery typical of Asma’s ancestral home and India in general. When your host or hostess guides you to your table, you may be seated at bench-like booths, inspired by the typical seating of the Darjeeling Express train. But these seats are also adorned with mismatched textiles in the same earthy tones of the restaurant and hand-dyed fabrics that remind Asma of home. The variety of prints represent the richness of pattern and design found in India.

How did your previous experience help you with this project?:    
It was definitely beneficial to have worked on projects in Soho/Carnaby before. These parts of central London never stop and a very thorough layout that takes into account number of covers and how operations are run is essential.

Can you explain the layout of the project:    
The layout is a pretty open plan, with 60 covers, partly open kitchen and Chai bar with no alcohol on display. We have a large communal table which was a request from Asma as she usually has large families coming for her famous Sunday biryani.

What problems or challenges did you face?:    
Everything went pretty smoothly, when we got the venue it was a completely empty shell which takes more time to plan but also give you complete freedom. We rotated the bar on due course of building works to open up space more, one of those choices sometimes have to be done on site when the layout starts taking place.

What do you feel were the most unusual design elements of the project?:    
My favourite feature is definitely the window seating area looking into Kingly court from right above. We maximised the space with back to back booth seating and gave it a slightly nostalgic feel with the slatted wood benches and mismatched fabrics.

How do you think this project is pushing design forward? What makes it special?:    
What makes it unique is the connection with Asma's story. Every choice has been carefully planned and proposed to follow her strong heritage and make the place truly hers.

Solus tiles
Onyx Concrete
Mullan lights

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