Sumessh Menon.
Sumessh Menon.

Why is Sumessh Menon called the Super Potato of India?

His name is at the tip of almost every Indian restaurant owner’s tongue, judging from the number of F&B projects designed by Sumessh Menon

Sumessh Menon has come a long way from the first Spanish tapas bar in New York and the Indian restaurant in Manhattan that he designed – a journey spanning a decade, that has made him India’s hospitality design specialist with projects in various cities. While he seems to have sailed easily to his destination, he has weathered some storms too, especially when a restaurant he designed caught fire…and he and his firm were inescapably caught in that fire. But like a phoenix, he rose from the ashes. Menon has been feted for his work for some time now, and should have got accustomed to the praise – but he treasures the “very generous compliment” paid to him by an “ace architect” from Mumbai, who christened him the Super Potato of India.

It’s no small feat to have earned that title, for the firm in question is a renowned international hospitality design specialist…and Menon admits that he has been working towards that goal! His journey is an eye-opener for young designers who have chosen to travel on the same path. Recalling that when he started his firm, Sumessh Menon Associates (SMA) in 2009, restaurant design was  very standard, he observes that it’s no more about just going to a restaurant to eat. Today, it’s a more holistic experience. “Working on my earlier projects has equipped me with the required skillset to create not just a restaurant, but an experience,” he concedes.

Koko became so popular a destination, that Menon was asked to design the extension too. SMA relied on the hints of colour in the largely grey overtones, to reflect its theme.

Menon’s constant and relentless effort has been to excel in each project that comes his way, which is probably the reason why each of them has been a stepping stone towards success. “Over the course of my journey in hospitality design, I have been blessed to be associated with several hospitality giants – be it the Tham brothers, Zorawar Kalra, Priyank Sukheja or Sudheer Bahl,” he acknowledges gratefully. “In due course, Koko, Foo, PaPaYa, Farzi Café, DragonFly have all been landmark projects for me. More than executing these projects, the experience itself has been a huge learning curve that has changed the very dynamics of my firm.”

Every project has been a challenge as well as an illuminating process for SMA. Right from contextual challenges within the site, to regulation constraints and adhering to a client’s brief seamlessly, there have been several hurdles along the way. But with each one, Menon learnt that there is always an appropriate solution once you give it due thought – and, of course, that design is in the detail. “Accepting the challenges and then pursuing the solutions has been my method of overcoming them,” he discloses. “An eye for detail has given me an edge when it comes to design, so I always make sure that detailing is a part of every project I undertake.”

Pigeonholing SMA does not do them justice, though – for they are equally adept at residential design. “It is both an advantage as well as a disadvantage,” declares the designer about being slotted as a hospitality specialist. “The best part is that we land up with some of the most premium and complex projects to explore. The advantage, of course, is that we are associated with some of the most renowned hoteliers and project brands. Clients also trust us with our design instinct and encourage us to explore new ideas and concepts.  But the disadvantage is that smaller, simpler projects often slip through our fingers. Also, the expectations from us is inevitably high – [clients want us] to come up with unique concepts, which is basically what our USP is, and the pressure is constant to meet these expectations without failing.”

Cheery yellow terrazzo flooring with chunks of Jaisalmer stone bind the whole space together at Talli Turmeric. The grey coffered backlit ceiling is acoustically treated.

Working on a resort has been on his list of dream projects for a while now, so the Super Potato of India considers himself lucky and is “super excited” at having bagged a new resort project in the untouched, beautiful islands of the Andamans. He elaborates, “We are working on a very unusual and sculptural design structure with the surrounding context being geographically challenging, thus requiring a lot of planning and research before its successful execution.”

Based on his vast and varied experience, Menon strongly advises young designers to tread their own path and not be repetitive. “Always aim for cutting-edge design that will automatically give an edge.” The projects undertaken and executed by SMA certainly have an edge, as you will see from the selection of key projects we have featured, some in the past, and illustrated in these pages.

One of the new entries into the burgeoning restaurant scene of Mumbai is Talli Turmeric at Atria Mall in Worli, completed in December 2018. Owned by Innovative Culinary Concepts and headed by three partners – Tapan Vaidya, Atul Vaidya and Mansij Vaidya, it promises gastronomic adventure, as the name itself brings to mind the magic that is Indian cuisine.

With an intention to cater to the millennial and Z-Gen, the 4,500sq-ft space is translated through semi-rustic, industrial-urban design with naturally finished elements including custom terracotta bricks, wood with knots and usage of vibrant fabric and artwork that represent Indian culture. The use of turmeric, an inevitable part of Indian cuisine, in the name of the restaurant is itself, is an ode to the richness of Indian cuisine. Apart from adding zest to the food, this aspect can be seen in the use of the colour as a design element too.

Cheery yellow terrazzo flooring with chunks of Jaisalmer stone bind the whole space together, paired with a grey coffered backlit acoustically-treated ceiling. The splash of vibrant artwork done on the live kitchen wall as well as the customised motif wall fabricated entirely in FRP, both reflect Indian culture. The lavish use of custom-design terracotta bricks and roofing tiles implies the Indian influence of materials.

A rich layered wooden panelling with intricate Indian scenery etched on it, and wooden furniture with colourful prints lend warmth to the space. Terrazzo has been used on a customised 10ft-long communal table that stands in the centre with a stunning customised light installation above it. The 50ft-long showpiece bar displays floral motifs arranged in an ascending design order with fluted wooden corners and a rich yellow travertine stone top.

145 has always been about an energetic and upbeat restaurant and bar space. The design brief given by the client was for a high-energy space with stylish yet casual interiors that cater to 25- to 35-year-olds. Since it is situated in a premium location at Kamala Mills, with several strong brand names to contend with, this restaurant was to be the flagship 145 outlet that raises the bar. Keeping the design brief of the clients and the location in mind, SMA tried to achieve the desired effect by introducing stylish furniture and design elements mixed with vibrant artwork. An eye-catching façade and stunning washroom design further amp up the design quotient of the space.

When it came to aesthetics, design goals were achieved by incorporating a 60ft-long art wall with a playful concept and a high-energy bar that radiates the same playful yet stylish vibe of the rest of the restaurant – which carries forward the legacy of a distinct space for a pool table and their classic reruns of Tom & Jerry cartoons played on a large screen. A variety of seating styles were mixed to lend a trendy yet functional touch. Various designer loop lights and disc-shaped light concepts are innovatively incorporated into the space. Glass block flooring and a concrete and WPC railing is placed strategically, serving as a partition and as standing space.

145 features stylish furniture and design elements mixed with vibrant artwork.

The washrooms have customised tiles with printed faces on them adding a zingy vibe to the space. The ceiling is treated for acoustic as well as aesthetic function, so that it looks less busy. The 70ft-long and 7ft-tall façade with an abstract map design is definitely one of the highlights of the design, along with the 60ft-long abstract collage art mural indoors. The artists have incorporated a lot of layers and textures in addition to a symbolic horse (a part of the logo of 145).

The linear property is located in the heart of Havelock with an existing functioning resort. The landscape is mainly flat, although it stretches from a white sandy beach to the face of a small hill. The client’s brief was to upgrade the resort by redesigning all the existing common area structures with specialty restaurants added, so as to reconstruct them with better purpose and appeal. The structure of the cottages is to be maintained, but interiors revamped along with the addition of new rooms. The installation of a swimming pool is essential from a business standpoint. The goal is to renovate the resort, taking it up a few notches – and creating something eye-catching without upsetting its regular functioning, by strategically doing this in phases.

”The concept came from the existing resort, as we had to design a space unique to the island without creating something completely alien to its surroundings,” says Menon. “We borrowed the sloped lines from the roofs of the cottages, and carried forward the symmetry followed in the linear planned rooms. We will be working with natural and sustainable materials.”

The designers found the triangle to be the perfect shape that would add to the architecture of this resort with its sloped sides and symmetric form. While planning the spaces, SMA wanted to create something that drew people inside while passing by, so they decided to give them a glimpse of the larger-than-life pool sprawling through the entire resort. “To do this, we needed a double-height space – and it all fell into place when we overlapped two triangles together in a symmetric fashion, with the overlap forming our double-height entrance,” points out Menon, adding that a pond was included as a welcome feature at the entrance.

To enhance the existing natural feel of the resort that comes from the haphazardly positioned trees, SMA proposed an organic swimming pool that avoids trees with its curves and harbours some of them inside the pool, while maintaining proper circulation through the resort. The next phase of this project will introduce rooms on to the hillside, adding a new scenery and landscape.

Dragonfly is a high-energy bar in Delhi, housed in an erstwhile theatre.

Located in New Delhi’s upscale Aerocity, is Dinesh Arora’s brand-new venture called La Roca that stands as an ode to modern Spanish design. Right from vaulted ceilings to vibrant artwork on the walls, the entire 3,250sq-ft restaurant has a high-energy all-day vibe. The striking flagstone flooring sweeping across the expanse is custom-made using a local stone, and the one-of-its-kind horseshoe shaped bar with an elliptical motif design becomes the piéce de rèsistance of the space.

The bar display at the back follows the arched shape of the ceiling set against a background of bronze mirror-finished cladding. Reminiscent of the cathedrals of Spain, the vaulted ceiling design was sculpted out of a rigidly square space and was the result of Menon’s travels to the south of Spain. The muted finish of the ceiling creates a canvas for video mapping of modern progressive content on the ceiling vaults, varying as per the mood and vibe of the space. A raised pod seating area is defined by an intricate railing with a backdrop of flamenco dancer artwork across the walls, adding that perfect touch of Spanish exuberance to the space.

The walls display striated pinewood finish on one side, while one can see a play of textures and materials including veneer, bronze mirror, exotic stones and metal frames on the other. The colour palette was kept earthy with beiges, browns and greys mixed with splashes of burgundy.

At the resort on Havelock, Andaman Islands, SMA used the triangular form as it echoed the existing slope-roofed architecture.

Situated in Aerocity, New Delhi, where a number of bars are planned to open, SMA went all out to create something Delhi hasn’t seen before. The client’s brief was to create a high-energy bar within what was previously a theatre. “As the theatre was completely stepped and had a double height, we had to decide how we wanted to use the space,” recalls Menon. “To enhance the height of the space, we decided to create a wall out of hollow cinder blocks, with a free form breaking the regular rectangular shape of the space. We designed a free-form ceiling installation to further enhance it. To draw focus to the centre of the space and the location of the DJ, we added a full height X-ray wall, showcasing a large number of random insects and plants.”



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