A Cultural Platter

Vadodara-based Chirag Shah & Associates creates a restaurant which rides high on Gujarati flavours and showcases the state’s art and cultural traditions.

Text: Manasi Tahalani
Photographs: Sudhir Parmar, courtesy Chirag Shah & Associates

This is the main entrance to the restaurant. The gate, which has been made from wood with ornamental metallic studs is placed at a low height to create a physical barrier while having a complete visual connection between the inside and outside.

American novelist, Jonathan Safran Foer rightly said, “Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity”. We Indians certainly abide by this in every way. We have a true love affair with food. In fact, our dining culture comes with a history of traditions that speak volumes about who we are and where we come from. At a time where dining out has been taken over by generic chains and quick fixes, it is a game changer when a restaurant owner takes the onus of honouring our culinary traditions and customs. Laxminarayan Hotels & Resorts Pvt Ltd took it upon themselves to create a Gujarati restaurant in Vadodara that not only articulates the food of the region but also illuminates its arts and crafts.

The task of designing Rotlo – Gujarat ni Parampara was handed to Chirag Shah & Associates (CSA), a well-regarded name from the same city. Headed by principal architects Chirag and Manisha Shah, CSA has served over 900 clients in various sectors. The firm had been working with the client on various housing and commercial projects for several years now, and thus was the natural choice for their new 16,000-square-foot restaurant.

The design brief was very detailed: “The client wanted the restaurant to have an open village-like feel. The menu and the ambience needed to be in sync with each other. The space would not just cater to the customers’ palette but provide a holistic experience of Gujarati culture. Since it was their first experimental venture, they wanted it to be economical. But the most challenging aspect was that the project was to be completed in mere six months,” informs Chirag.

At the waiting area, a beautiful tree mural hand-painted in tribal style by local artisans takes all your attention. In addition to that, stone
brackets have been added for holding diyas.

The architect decided upon a traditional or vernacular design philosophy. “It commands deep interest and respect as it represents the lives of the region’s indigenous people,” explains Chirag. The team devised a scenario typical of a Gujarati village, replete with hut-like structures separated by narrow, well-lit lanes. Architectural features seen in a Gujarati home were also incorporated. For example, the waiting area of the restaurant was represented as a ‘delo’ or arrival space, and the entrance courtyard was designed as a chowk.

Chirag took ample inspiration from the heritage havelis of Gujarat. Take for instance the entrance gate which is made from wood with ornamental metallic studs, and is placed at a low height in order to create a physical barrier while facilitating a complete visual connection. On the other hand, the main gate of the restaurant is a refurbished haveli door painted with an antique finish. “In earlier times, havelis used to have a small door which used to be kept open for people to use at night when the main entrance was kept shut. We have followed the same ideology as it adds to the charm of the space,” says Chirag. The windows and grills at the entrance have also been repurposed. The architect has also tried to replicate the porch of a typical haveli with timber columns and stone pedestals. Additionally beautiful stone wall niches have been placed on either side of the main door with diyas for illumination to complete the look. The materials used in this arrival setting see kota stone on the floor, exposed brickwork and block-printed jute fabric which cover the steel-frame structure on the ceiling.

The entrance courtyard or the chowk includes a stage and some informal charpai seating. Here one can be entertained by dairo performance, folk dances, shehnai or flute recitals and puppet shows.

As you move inside, you are presented with a stunning view of the reception and waiting area. The highlight of this space is its vibrant, contrasting colour scheme. At the reception, the architect has raised the seating height and placed a treasure box (the traditional ‘kacheri’) that functions as a reception desk. The area is marked by terracotta coloured flooring with handmade ceramic tile inlays and diffused lighting. Regional handicrafts are highlighted in the form of small, yet defining elements such as torans, embroidered tapestries, mirror-work murals and beautiful beaded wall-hangings. “During my research for the project, I came across marvellous wall paintings which has been inspired from old tribal scriptures. We tried to recreate them with the help of a team of six local artisans. A fitting example would be the peacock artwork and tree mural, which have been strategically placed to conceal the door leading to the office cabin. Further, some of the furniture that has been designed by us are reminiscent of the traditional charpai. The seating in the waiting area is new whereas the centre table at the reception was revamped by us while maintaining its authenticity,” informs Chirag.

The next area you encounter is the chowk, which is an artistic gathering space that comprises a stage and informal seating and serves as an additional waiting area. Here, customers can enjoy ‘dairo’ (a local theatre form) or folk dance performances, a shehnai or flute recital, or puppet shows while settled on kathiyawadi style charpai seating made from neem and mango wood. Additional elements, such as chabutro or bird feeders and kothi or earthen pots used to store grains, which are commonly found in a village scene, have been incorporated to make the setting feel more authentic. The material palette includes TRCC (IPS) flooring and load bearing brick masonry walls plastered with cement have been used.

Strategic landscaping along the backs of the huts create a sense of privacy. The wooden cart, which is used to serve complimentary munchies, is an example of the accessories that have been incorporated into the decor for added authenticity.

The AC dining area comprises cottages with RCC (IPS) flooring painted in rangoli designs. Large glass French windows have been placed along the walls to keep the cottages open visually. Adjacent to this space are semi-open huts with private seating, ideal for small families. These are placed in rows to create the street typology found in a village. Each hut bears paintings by local artisans, and strategic landscaping along the back creates a sense of privacy. The rustic aesthetic has been carried forward into the tiniest of details right down to the earthenware vessels and thalis stitched from leaves.

However, the journey was not entirely smooth sailing for Chirag. “The real challenge was to get the appropriate local artisans from across Gujarat to maintain the authenticity of the traditional art ie furniture, paintings, murals and the overall ambience of the project. Another was the short deadline of six months within which this project was to be delivered. Since we were bound by a tight budget, we primarily reduced the expenditure by using steel frame structures and creating large openings in the walls to cut down the overall construction cost. We have also tried to incorporate locally available materials,” concludes the architect.

Paying great attention to detail, the architect has created a space that will transport visitors back to Gujarat’s roots from the moment they set foot inside. The result is a successful celebration of the state’s rich, intertwined culinary and cultural traditions that will appeal to locals and visitors alike.

CONCEPT
To create a Gujarati restaurant that not only articulates the tradition and culture of the state but also illuminates its arts and crafts.

MATERIALS
Floor: IPS flooring, kota stone, ceramic tiles, exposed brickwork
Walls: Load bearing brick masonry walls plastered with cement
Ceiling: Truss system made of steel-frames with fibre roofing concealed with jute fabric
Windows and doors: Reused wooden windows and doors, glass French windows (AC cottages)
Furniture: Timber

FACT FILE
Project: The Rotlo – Gujarat ni Parampara
Client: Laxminarayan Hotels and Resorts Pvt Ltd
Location: Bhayli, Vadodara
Area: 16,000 sq ft
Principal architect: Chirag Shah