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colours and lots of decoration. Or there was the Indian fine dining category and in terms of design they were not really challenging, in many ways they too were becoming stereotypes. A couple were different, like Masala Zone and Tiffinbites but really there was very little out there. During my research I collected lots of stuff that I liked that came from India and I came across some soaps that were made in the 1970’s that I thought were amazing. Tey had beautiful packaging and wonderful graphics. Tey were called Chandrika soaps and when I showed them to the guys they all remembered them with great fondness, as they were a part of their childhood, although they’d never realised how beautiful they were. Tat was a very important moment because we’d found a reference point and when we went to Mumbai together for four days we discovered some of the few remaining Bombay cafés that they’d all remembered as being very significant to their youths but were now dying off, and when I saw them I knew that this was exactly what we should be doing. Te interiors were the complete opposite to what we have in the UK. Tey were monochromatic, a bit eccentric and weird, they had elements of India but also influences from the Western cultures of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Tey were jaded but beautiful in a rather bizarre way. And I said “Tis is it. Let’s do it.” And from then it took us about a year getting everything together but it all became very easy because we had a channel.


We changed the menu, we got people in to create the music, to devise the drinks, to create a website: all these things were in keeping with this unique story of the old Bombay cafés.


GS What was your first restaurant project? AK Itsu. I met Julian Metcalfe, the founder of Pret a Manger, for one hour. He had taken a space, next to a McDonalds in Hanover Square, just off Regent Street, and told me he wanted to start up a new chain and he wanted me to design it. I had never done anything like this before. I was young and inexperienced. He said “Don’t worry, you’ve got eight weeks!” I thought he was crazy! But I took the job, worked as hard as I could and learnt so much


in that time. We actually opened in ten weeks. Tis was interesting because it was different, nobody thought it would work, including the press. Tey said people wouldn’t spend £6 for a take-out lunch and it was too niche. One journalist was very negative and said we would never ever open multiple sites. But in fact, in just five years we’d opened 35 sites and the brand is very successful.


GS What has made Itsu so successful? AK Well to start with Julian Metcalfe is brilliant. He’s become my mentor for life! What he has is a desire to be different. Plus belief and confidence in what he’s doing and total commitment. Te perfect Salmon!


GS Magazine 41


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