The Designer: Ayaz Basrai of The Busride
Even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you have likely encountered the hand of Ayaz Basrai. The founder of self-described environmental design studio The Busride has an enviable resume of popular restaurants to his name: Salt Water Café, Prithvi Café, The Elbo Room, the now shuttered Café Indilite, Mocha in Andheri, Smoke House Deli and most recently Café Zoe. And if you extend his CV to our culinary rival Delhi, then you can throw in Smoke House Grill, Smoke House Room, Mobius, Mocha Arthouse and Trishna as well.
Curiously, even with such an expansive resume with which to pinpoint common patterns, Basrai’s hand subscribes to no identifying aesthetic. “Our only connecting thread is eccentric quirk in everything, a little bit of strangeness,” says the Bandra-born and raised Basrai, 33, who studied at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and worked in Dubai before returning here in 2007. Together with his architect brother Zameer, Basrai first evaluates functionality, allowing the space and contextual history of the surroundings to guide their work. Their method is to absorb rather than impinge, something that’s readily evident in the Mumbai-centric doodles that cover the walls of Smoke House Deli and the industrial rawness of Café Zoe that both celebrate Lower Parel’s sprawling mill compounds. At Café Zoe, for instance, Basrai pitched the idea of creating the mezzanine level, so people could sit close to the original ceiling trusses. For a new bar in Versova that’s near the sea, Basrai has opened up the roof, bringing in skylights to flood the place with daylight.
If anything, you could say The Busride’s singular identifying trait has been in lending the city’s casual dining scene a sort of global cool, the kind that often finds itself featured in online design bibles like The Cool Hunter and Contemporist (Smoke House Room made it on there). Enter Salt Water Café, Café Zoe or even Smoke House Deli, and you could be in just about any hipster neighbourhood in the world. Riyaaz Amlani, owner of the Smoke House and Mocha chains, who has stuck with Basrai for all his projects since the two met in 2007, explains it this way: “He’s driven by wanting to change world, and add value. A lot of it comes from a strong sense of civic pride, which he feels towards city he lives in, to better the experience for all of us. He wants to add value to the space he calls home and that’s awesome.”
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