Bengali beats

September, 2013


The cultural ethos of the city comes alive in the décor of Jhaal Farezi, an upscale restaurant in Kolkata serving the food of the streets in style.

Enter Jhaal Farezi, the designer street food joint in Kolkata, and you will be astonished to find yourself catapulted right into the city’s melting-pot of street culture. The diverse elements of history, art and cuisine meld together to produce the bewildering and ever-vibrant throb of the city, and it is this vibe that Jhaal Farezi captures through its stunning interior design.

Spread over approximately 10,000 sq ft, Jhaal Farezi – a property of Ambuja Neotia – houses a café, a fine dining area, a music room and an alfresco terrace garden with a sit-out. This space was the vision of Harshavardhan Neotia, Chairman, Ambuja Neotia. He says, “For me, Jhaal Farezi has been somewhat of an exploration, giving me the opportunity to interpret eclectic impressions and sensibilities that have dented and stayed on my mind over time.” Through graphic art and other elements of design, the space celebrates Indian pop culture, paying special attention to Kolkata’s unique contributions to it. Channa Daswatte and Swarup Dutta, an architect and designer duo, realised Neotia’ vision into reality.

Mind games

The site for the restaurant is an 80-year-old bungalow. The brief was to keep the house intact. Like any other house, it was to have different rooms with different ambiences, taking care that they still worked cohesively. “In terms of façade, we had a very strange mix of existing detailing and Channa was restoring it like an old colonial bungalow,” says visualiser and interior designer Dutta, who runs his own design studio called Hijibiji Designs.

Dutta, charged with the interiors, had a choice of extending the style of the exteriors to the interiors, or making a stark departure from it. Thinking it would be fun to play upon the human psyche, he chose the latter. “Going by the exteriors, the visitor would expect formal interiors…but when he came inside, he would get something totally unexpected!” says Dutta.

Riot of designs

Upon entering the restaurant, what strikes one at the first glance is the false ceiling created with iron bars that are lit up with small yellow lights, giving a harmonious balance of warm wood with cold metal. Neon lights and monochrome graffiti, chandeliers made from broken wine bottles and enameled plates with artwork take up the job of ambience-creation.

Recognised symbols and treasured legacies are recreated through artwork and custom made furniture and fittings. Beloved Bengali comics of Batul the Great and Nontay Fontay adorn the banquet halls, while the main staircase has an artwork of neon letters on multi-coloured wooden plates that echo Ghalib. The fine dining area is divided into five rooms, each of which highlights various thematic expressions. The first level has formal colonial-design chairs juxtaposed with modern minimalistic furniture, with the walls telling a short illustrated story of a Bengali character called Mr Mazoomdar in a comic strip format.

Reading between lines

The adjoining room is lit up by a majestic installation of 1,700 wine bottles that the team of Jhaal Farezi hunted down. “We broke around 100 and had to drink and empty around eight while creating this piece,” shares Dutta. In the Drama Queen room, the tables are rustic and the chairs have Murshidabad geometric kantha uphols­tery; yet another room has photographs of torn posters, a permanent feature of the city’s walls.

Dutta has given the café on the lower floor the feel of a French café with a colonial overtone, albeit with rustic walls and tables that look like old industrial pieces. “Creating our own visual language, we used Kalighat patachitra to depict the scandals of the city here,” explains the designer.

All this visual content has a hidden context and comment that a person familiar with the city and its culture will grasp. “A lot of people might be sarcastic about all this detailing. But I feel that when you are celebrating street culture, you cannot be judgmental,” asserts Dutta.

The restaurant certainly creates an impact; walking out, one can only appreciate how the décor of a restaurant, when done with passion and pizzazz, has the power to evoke affection for a city and its myriad hues!

Total Area: 10,000 sq ft
Text: Subhasis Chatterjee
Photos: Sanjay Ramachandran


Hijibiji Designs Flat 4B, 5 Radhanath Choudhury Road, Kolkata – 700 015. Mobile: (0) 98365 62262 E-mail:

Meet the designer Swarup Dutta

Firm: Hijibiji Designs
Firm specialisation: Scenography
Design philosophy: Listen to my heart.
Philosophy towards life: Again, “listen to your heart.”
Favourite architect/Designer: Antoni Gaudi, Daniel Libeskind, Anish Kapoor