You tend to pay less for Indian food – can design change your mind?

London – I grew up in a small, agricultural town in California’s Central Valley – it’s a place where you see John Deere tractors in traffic roundabouts. The prominent Hispanic population in the area lends itself to a variety of home-style Mexican restaurants, often bedecked with the terracotta colour schemes, Corona neon signs and random piñatas one comes to expect. A Californian’s relationship with Mexican food could easily be compared to what the British have with Indian food: the presence of each harken back to colonialist roots, but both have also become irreversible mainstays of the culture into which they have integrated. But a question becomes painfully ever-present: why do we still expect to pay less for Indian and Mexican meals, compared to say, Italian or French?

Why do we still expect to pay less for Indian and Mexican meals, compared to say, Italian or French?

Take, for example, Gunpowder, an Indian restaurant in London that has become quickly beloved by the English community. According to Zagat data, Mexican, Indian and Thai cuisines consistently bottom on the ‘check-price spectrum.’ The answer? It’s the economy, silly: NYU associate professor of food studies Krishnendu Ray, author of The Ethnic Restaurateur, attributes this hierarchal range of pricing to the military and economic power of the cuisine’s respective origination country. Can changing these discrepancies and biases, from California to England, be a problem design can help solve?

When working on the new Gunpowder near the Tower Bridge, independent design agency Block1 and restaurant owners Harneet and Devina Baweja aimed to stray away from the ‘themed concepts’ that identify the vast majority of Indian dining locations. Areas like Brick Lane in London and Passage Brady in Paris provide visual testament to the commandments of Indian-restaurant aesthetic. Gunpowder describes itself as a home-style restaurant, one that interprets family recipes from the Bawejas’ native Calcutta, and showcases the vibrancy and confidence of traditional Indian flavours.

 ‘[Baweja] wanted a space that reflected the traditions of the food, that reflected India, but not in an expected way,’ said Block1 director Laura Kiely. ‘He wanted it to feel modern and authentic.’ To do so, they wanted to reflected traditional materials and colour palettes ­– on a trip to India, Block1 business partner Justin [Melican] took photos of tile patterns, and he noticed the layering of texture. ‘We tried to reflect that within the design,’ Kiely explained. ‘There are so many Indian restaurants that reference the street food of India, with posters everywhere, and that kind of thing. We wanted to veer it away from that as much as possible.’

A space like Gunpowder weaponizes itself against pricing bias

Colour-wise, Block1 utilised a variety of different teak-wooden tones and ochres, charcoal greys and warm oranges. Clean tile work in glossy black, linear patterns and variegating colour settings provide the texture Kiely mentions without disrupting the cohesive tonality of the space. Despite a luxurious atmosphere that the moody palette helps define, raw, blackened steel, exposed ceilings and zinc-and-wooden table tops help break up the decadence and promote a sense of inviting comfort.

A space like Gunpowder automatically, perhaps subconsciously, weaponizes itself against the pricing bias that haunts the hospitality industry and puts so many culinary talents at a disadvantage. Its interior design ranks itself among the army of coveted locations, which, beyond the food, cater to and satiate the hungry aesthete. By providing a spatial experience that uproots visual perception of ethnicity, it sends a message that it is perfectly viable and deserved to command the same status and reputation that Western cuisines have long held.

Location 4 Duchess Walk, London SE1 2SD UK

Liked this article?
We've got more for you

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly updates. Or view the archive.