Remaining true to the lineage of a previous restaurant on the same premises, Laidback Café in Delhi designed by Sumeet Nath of Studio US Design has a contemporary ambience with a Moroccan aesthetic. It clearly harks back to the luxury bar which once occupied the space; bringing back the brand and making it current was a significant part of the design team’s exercise.
Moroccan style, a mix of Moorish, Spanish, French and Berber influences, may be hard to pull off – usually because most sites just don’t have the architectural detail associated with it. At its best, it is dramatic, vibrant and heavily patterned. But make a few wrong moves and the look begins to feel kitschy. Hinting of Morocco, without necessarily going the full distance, is like walking a fine line. But Sumeet Nath has managed to pull it off with élan.
“We executed this job without any drawings…all the work was done completely on site, kind of in an organic manner,” says Sumeet. “In fact, when we applied for licences after completion, we had to start creating drawings to submit to the authorities,” he laughs.
Part of the Qutub Hotel, the space previously housed a restaurant with a luxurious look. Dubbed ‘Laid Back Waters’, it was an iconic bar cum nightclub cum restaurant which shut down about six years ago, at the peak of its success. “But thanks to the brand recall and loyalty, diners have returned,” says owner Dhiraj Arora, who had good reason to orchestrate a comeback.
Because of the Mughal context of the architecture, a Moroccan theme was decided upon. The sensory assault which this kind of aesthetic is associated with, together with the related colours and textures, has been toned down for contemporary consumption. It reflects the dichotomy which is Delhi…at times structured and formal, whilst cool and laidback otherwise. Different attitudes sit side by side in the same atmosphere. Since two adjacent buildings were joined, levels had to be matched. And where they couldn’t, opportunities to create different levels resulted.
“Primarily an outdoor space, the first impression is the spatial interest created by the various smaller sections through the space plan. Through interesting planning and the levels, the space is divided into an indoor modern dining room, outdoor terrace café, indoor luxurious bar and an upper level, covered hookah terrace. The indoor and outdoor spaces are interwoven. There are different private dining areas that intertwine within each other, seamlessly integrating into the lounge space – thus maintaining privacy, yet connecting to the main vibrant area,” says Sumeet.
The Arabic imagery abounds, with jalis and intricate detailing in the lighting which casts lacy patterns on walls and floors, together with arabesque patterns in the upholstery. Shades of crimson and gold in the fabrics, carpets, rugs and printed tiles for flooring, cushions and wall hangings – all contribute to the mid-eastern experience, adding layers to the Moroccan vocabulary.
Rough-hewn sand-coloured wall textures enhance the look and feel of the whole area. “We toyed with the idea of using white for the outdoor spaces, but gave up the notion because of maintenance issues. With all the wear and tear due to dust, white can look quite tacky in bright sunlight. So we finally settled for beige,” says Dhiraj.
The seating is a mix of large and small groups. The options of seating vary from comfortable dining to casual lounge seating and an area with high tables and stools. Each area lends a different look, adding charm to the overall experience.
“A good deal of the furniture was sourced from China, where every style of furniture is available. Even the outdoor furniture has an Arabic jali, rather than the typical rattan mesh. But when we spotted the lamps that we were scouting, in Dubai and realised they were made back home in Moradabad, it made life easier for us. We promptly came back and ordered whatever we needed,” says Sumeet.
“The vividly coloured and patterned crockery was also sourced locally. Dhiraj tells me that guests often want to take a couple of pieces home. Maybe we should have set up a shop,” he laughs. Adds Dhiraj: “Though we did pick up the hookahs from Dubai. And they’re rather special, as is the plush hookah lounge.”
Sumeet recalls that his first break-through project was for Dhiraj, making them old friends. Since Sumeet lives just a couple of kilometres away from the site, it was possible for him to drop in almost every day. “We didn’t even bother with any 3D presentation,” he says. “I’d love to do every project like this.” Dhiraj recounts how the entire design was very hands-on. “I was privileged to have Sumeet come to the site every day. We even participated in slapping on the plaster ourselves,” he says.
“But we were mindful of two earlier references in this design. My earlier hotel which stood here in 2005 was ahead of its times. Even 10 years later, there isn’t another restaurant in Delhi with that sense of space and a 30 ft high ceiling,” he says.
But the spaciousness has been reconciled with a cosy feel, contrary though it may seem. “As an extension of my other restaurant, ‘Shalom’ in Greater Kailash, the vibe has to be one of a lifestyle…it has to convey a feeling, even though Laidback Café is now a multi-cuisine fast food place,” says Dhiraj, content that the pedigree and DNA of his brand has a continuity and that the legacy has been successfully passed on.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Courtesy The Client