Earlier in May, filmmaker Karan Johar joined the long list of celebrities (think Priyanka Chopra, Virat Kohli and Shefali Shah) to have forayed into the restaurant industry. His newest offering, Neuma — co-founded by Bunty Sajdeh and True Palate Café Pvt. Ltd. — is a modern European diner set inside a colonial-era Portuguese villa.

Perched on Mandlik Road, Neuma is a worthy addition to the locale, which has for decades been a hotspot for culinary undertakings, like Mag Street Cafe and the soon-to-open Kohli-owned One 8 Commune. It comes up where once Indigo stood, Mumbai’s most sought-after fine dine, until it shut in 2018. 

The space is earmarked by a splendid thematic visual, offering a spatial experience that’s a real treat for the senses. And behind these imaginings is popular architect Asheish Shah, also known for his work with new restaurants like Bandra’s Joshi House and BKC’s farm-to-table restaurant, Sequel.

Ashiesh Shah karan johan neuma

With plenty of design heritage, tasteful statement pieces, and gorgeous decorative work, Shah’s work on Neuma might just set the blueprint for the limits of modern dining experiences in India. We spoke to the designer to understand what prompted him to take on the project and the tenets that governed his vision. 

Edited excerpts from an interview.

Tell us about how the Neuma project came to you.

Credits: Ashish Sahi

Having come across my previous projects, the client approached me to design Neuma. As with everything that stems from time-based decision-making, through the process we encountered an array of challenges, mainly, two bouts of Covid (Delta & Omicron) due to which there was a constant ebb and flow. 

While there was a definite change in pace, it enabled us to understand the space better and gave us more time to gather art pieces and collectibles, too.

You’ve also designed other restaurants like Joshi House and Sequel’s outpost in BKC. In what ways were these different, and how would you say you’ve evolved through these experiences?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

Through this journey, we’ve been evolving. While Masque and both renditions of Sequel were more minimal and sublime, Joshi House and Neuma are more stylised and come with a dramatic flair. 

For instance, with Sequel, we tried to imbue the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic through a touch of seamlessness. And it served the larger ethos of slow-living [that is central to the restaurant]. In contrast, one witnesses an infusion of colour, texture and form in Neuma, where each space has a distinct character straying away from monotony, making it a truly dynamic offering.

Also, how do you feel the approach to restaurant design has changed over the years? What are some of the things that were popular a decade ago but people probably don’t want at all today?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

Restaurant design has evolved and gained immense importance over the years. Unlike before, it is not just about the food but also about the space. The atmosphere and ambiance have a significant impact on the dining experience of the customer. Not only that, there has been a change in the way people are responding to it too. 

A designer’s online presence can attract more diners to the space and conjure a greater response. Besides this, there has been a shift in the market. While people were quite fascinated by upper scale dining bars earlier, they are now gravitating towards spaces that give them a wholesome and deeper experience.

What are you most proud about in Neuma? What are the unique requests or personal touches you enjoyed incorporating?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

The outdoor area, peppered with greenery, is quite exciting. Post the lockdown, there has been an increased appreciation for outdoor spaces. In Neuma’s case, we have borrowed cues from the existing palette to create a refreshing and delightful experience. 

Besides this, I truly enjoyed incorporating handcrafted design objects from the Atelier, infusing craft with a contemporary perspective. Whether the moonshadow vase from Manipur or the Channapatna pendant light from Karnataka, Neuma features collectibles from across the country.

Capturing Karan Johar’s ideas with your sensibilities sounds challenging. How do you generally approach a client and understand their needs?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

I’ve always perceived the design process as a collaboration and conversation between the designer and the client. If the designer strongly believes in something that a client is less convinced about, I deem it important to convince the client provided the design solution or concept is compelling!

In the interior design space, there’s a fair bit of copying and even credit-taking where it isn’t due. What’s your take on this?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

I face it on a daily basis and I am okay with it.  We began with the idea of arches and lingam a decade ago and now it has become an integral part of the design language in India. Having said that, we are constantly creating, innovating and pushing ourselves to move ahead.

What’s your go-to order at Neuma?

Credits: Ashish Sahi

I’m in the process of designing a special salad for them — a honey dressing avo salad, which should be out soon and will definitely be my go to at the restaurant.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

Credits: Ashish Sahi

Bringing my passion project, Atelier Ashiesh Shah, to an international platform through our launch at the Invisible collection and Gallery Volt. We would like to make Indian crafts and design objects more accessible globally. 

Besides this, we are exploring various crafts at the atelier, developing new design objects with a contemporary flair. I firmly believe that craftsmanship and a celebration of handmade processes will definitely be on the rise.

(Featured Image Credits: Ashish Sahi)