‘The Bombay Bustle team wanted something quirky and not too traditional,’ explains Tom Strother of his new Maddox Street project. ‘We came across the dabbawalla culture of Mumbai – they distribute these wonderful home-cooked lunches to workers in the city. It was the most chaotic and colourful, but strangely efficient, system I’d ever seen. And that became the foundation for everything we did.’
Steven Saunders & Tom Strother
And so the team told the story of the dabbawallas’ day with the restaurant’s interior. ‘The dabbawallas travel by train and so the ground floor is based on Indian rail network carriages and the lower-ground floor draws on the retirement rooms of the stations,’ explains Strother.
Team Fabled also captured the chaos and contrast of India through unusual materials – well, unusual materials for a Mayfair restaurant, such as aluminium, formica and limonium. ‘Once we embraced the materials, it was amazing what we achieved,’ Strother explains, going on to detail the custom formicas and jarring geometrically printed fabrics he had made for the project. All in all, Bombay Bustle is an example of a precisely executed scheme developed form an intriguing concept.
And it’s not surprising. Tom Strother and his partners, Steven Saunders and Simon Gallagher, are very much in demand. Within months of leaving David Collins Studio to set up on their own back in 2010, they were working on the redesign of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
‘When we first started, we were doing the project with Gordon Ramsay, but at the same time we were doing a hairdressing salon in Dalston in an old butcher’s shop on the Kingsland Road on a very limited budget.’
And it’s been up and up since then. Fabled has been responsible for creating the atmospheres of the Covent Garden Italian Margot; Mayfair’s atmospheric Luggage Room Bar; the ‘little jewel box’ that is the Prosecco bar Cartizze; Jamavar on Mount Street (which has since won a Michelin star); Heston Blumenthal’s Hind’s Head and Dinner by Heston; as well as cool Bloomsbury wine bar Noble Rot – quite the client list.
And what makes a great restaurant for Strother? ‘I like the restaurants that are designed from the front door in,’ he says, ‘rather than from the kitchen out. At Margot in Covent Garden the whole approach is about service and once you have welcomed the concierge, you’ll be in your favourite seat within two minutes with a drink in your hand before you know what’s going on. I love that.’
While Strother is excited by the London restaurant scene right now, his optimism is tempered. ‘At the moment, a lot of restaurants are opening and each has a really different approach to the way they work and it’s a reflection of London as a community, and it’s amazing,’ he says. ‘But I worry about the effect Brexit’s having,’ he adds. ‘I know lots of people are struggling to find good waiters with Brexit.’
And interiors and politics aside, he is of course careful to choose his words when describing his sometime employer the notorious hothead Gordon Ramsay. ‘He’s a very strong, charismatic person,’ he notes cautiously.
Rather you than us! But the Journal team might well head to Fabled’s new Mayfair establishment for a pre-Christmas dabbawalla experience.