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Masala Zone, London


Lighting Design by DPA has created drama at the Masala Zone chain of Indian Restaurants.

Following the success of Indian fine dining establishments Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy in London during the 1990s, the Masala Zone restaurants were launched in 2001. The casual dining concept was an instant hit, combining dramatic surroundings through good design with affordable, authentic Indian food.

Ranjit Mathrani, Chairman of Masala World, owners of Masala Zone, pays great attention to detail when it comes to the design and takes a hands-on approach to its execution.

“The Masala Zone concept is a manifestation of our approach to design. Combining form and function and optimising cost is the Masala Zone philosophy. Cubing the square as it were,” he remarks, referencing the multi-dimensional aspect of the practice.

This philosophy combines Indian tribal art, folk art, or pop art with clean contemporary design. The walls of the first three restaurants - Soho, Earls Court and Islington - are covered with tribal art from different regions - unique permanent exhibitions of Indian art. This art was traditionally painted only on the hut walls of the villages where the tribal artists have worked. Covent Garden has hundreds of vibrant Rajasthani puppets suspended form the ceiling, and Camden Town’s walls are covered with colourful fusion Indian poster art.

“Each restaurant has a unique character,” states Mathrani. “I believe that restaurant eating must represent something different from the ordinary – both in the food and the design. Masala Zone represents something of the Indian exotic interwoven with contemporary design, but not as a pastiche, it’s not a Thomas Cook tour of India.”

Lighting design has always been held in high regard by Mathrani, as exemplified by the hiring of Sally Storey as lighting designer for Veeraswamy and then for the first Masala Zone in Soho. “The bulk of our business is at night so lighting is very important to dramatise the design.”

Mathrani first came across dpa lighting consultants when he hired them upon recommendation for Amaya, another fine dining restaurant, in 2004. The scheme bagged a commendation at the UK Lighting Design Awards and he has used them for the Masala Zone restaurants ever since.

“To be involved in the lighting design for Masala Zone Restaurants is challenging and thoroughly rewarding,” comments Michael Curry, associate at dpa. “The sites are prominent with wonderful full height street front glazing providing framing to the vibrant and colourful interiors within.”

dpa worked closely with Mathrani and Interior Designer Jeffrey Wilkes from LTW on several new sites as well as refreshing existing ones with new lighting designs.

“For us, what is exciting and challenging is the diversity of ideas and interior interventions the client and interior designer bring to the ‘design table’,” states Curry.

Along with his wife Namita Panjabi and her sister Camilla, Mathrani and Wilkes’ research themes within India and bring the ‘concept’ back to the restaurant design.

“Ranjit’s attention to detail is impeccable with every element analysed to ensure authenticity and quality. This provides a unique approach for each restaurant and our lighting design,” says Curry.

Vibrant artwork in the Camden Town Restaurant has carefully arranged lighting to ensure these important features are brought to life throughout the day and night. Most of the interiors have decorative signature pendant elements from Wilkes, which again provide a strong focal point to the interiors. Camden Town Restaurant has a colourful “Jelly Bean” cluster of pendants, whereas the Earls Court Restaurant has a simple drum shade to complement the warm and intimate bamboo raft and red painted ceiling. Soho adopts a more organic clean glass shade arrangement, while Covent Garden takes a more radical design direction with hundreds of colourful authentic Indian puppets and masks adorning the ceiling and walls.

“Covent Garden was the most challenging for us as we had to contend with a swath of puppet characters all carefully positioned as though on a puppet stage set,” remembers Curry. “Our challenge here was to animate the various scenes and groups with light such as the wedding march, jugglers, musicians and dancers. The dancers were specifically positioned at the entrance to greet customers and also relate with the neighbouring Royal Ballet.”

Another important lighting element is the back lit Duotran images of India and Indian food, which complement and surround the show kitchens to Covent Garden and Camden and also frame the busy and animated kitchen activities behind.

Table lighting was an essential component to the palette of lighting layers within the interior. This was again challenging due to further M&E obstacles in the ceiling. 

Not only does Mathrani understand the importance of lighting, he also understands its purpose. “The walls and table tops are very important in mid market restaurants and the lighting onto these surfaces create warmth and drama.”

Again, the philosophy shines through – form, function and cost effectiveness. Keep on cubing that sphere.

Masala Zone
Lighting suppliers:
Illuma, Reggiani, Encapsulite LightGraphix, Light Projects, Cube Lighting, iLight, iGuzzini, Lampas, Meyer, Artemide, Aktiva


Masala Zone, London Masala Zone, London
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