Split levels

28 February 2002 by
Split levels

Refurbished after a fire, Soho's Red Fort restaurant has been transformed into a bright and elegant eaterie with a separate floor for the bar, combining European minimalism with the flavours of India. Carmen Konopka reports.

When the Red Fort in London's Soho was rebuilt following a fire, the designers not only refurbished the restaurant, but also changed its structure to increase its earning potential.

Caroline Dibble of Fitch Design Consultants explains that, before the fire in May 2000, the restaurant was on both the ground and basement floors, with an underused dispense bar near the ground-floor entrance and the staircase in the middle. "There was a lot of wasted space," she says.

In the new design, the staircase goes from near the front door to the basement, which has been entirely given over to bar seating and renamed Akbar, after a Mughal emperor. It has a fossil sandstone floor, lots of patterned Indian rugs, and intimate alcoves with built-in seats, loose cushions and low tables.

Meanwhile, all the restaurant tables are now on the ground floor, providing 84 seats. "We've kept the total number of seats about the same," explains Dibble, "but by turning the downstairs into Akbar we have also created a different offer."

In terms of style, the restaurant is a meeting of Europe and India - white linen and a minimalist look combine with Indian ornaments and the scent of joss sticks. "We wanted to create a contemporary restaurant which offers an elegant, European, fine-dining style, but with Indian overtones in its design and artefacts," says Edmund Farrow, consultant for Red Fort, which has been owned by Amin Ali since 1983.

Visually the restaurant has been opened up by the addition of a feature skylight, making the back of the long dining room much brighter and more welcoming. Also, diners are drawn towards the far end of the room by a broad "path" of red sandstone, leading to a massive slate water feature on the back wall.

This visual "opening up" has made the restaurant more attractive in the daytime, thus encouraging more customers at lunch. n

Food focus

Executive head chef Mohammed Rais, formerly of the Dum Pukht restaurant at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi, takes his inspiration from Mughal court cooking. Ingredients include wild duck, partridge, venison and rabbit. Typical dishes are Koh-e-Avadh (aromatic lamb shank cooked in a sealed pot) and Dum ka biryani (with whole quail). Average food spend is £20 at lunch and £35 at dinner.

The brief

The place
Red Fort, Soho, London.

The challenge To create a contemporary restaurant offering an elegant, European, fine-dining ambience with an Indian flavour.

Timescale A fire closed the restaurant in May 2000. Refitting took 10 months until the reopening in October 2001.

Budget £1.4m, including building work and a new kitchen.

Design team Caroline Dibble and Kristina Kaczynski of Fitch Design Consultants.


In the restaurant, walls are finished in matt paint in white, light sandstone and pale terracotta shades. On the floors are Indian red sandstone tiles with an inset stripe of cream mosaic tiles from Focus Ceramics, Passage pattern carpet by Masland Europe, plus blue-grey slate tiles from Burlington Slate.


Restaurant chairs are upholstered in Bamboo II Ash 211 fabric from Malabar (£23.70 per metre). In the bar, the barstools and cube seats are covered in Ingleston Acorn leather from Andrew Muirhead (from about £34 per metre).


Fitch designed the Red Fort's logo, together with a complementary one for Akbar.

Finishing touches

The slate water feature was made by Hydrotechnology for about £14,000. Most of the other decorative items were imported from India, among them a giant metal bowl in which candles and flowers float, vases, a horse ornament and light fittings.


Andrew Muirhead 0141-554 3724
Boline International 01869 340078
Burlington Slate 01229 889661
Coexistence 020 7354 8817
Dovetail Contract Furniture 020 7868 9000
Fitch Design Consultants 020 7509 5000
Focus Ceramics 01932 854881
Hydrotechnology 01474 874870
Malabar 020 7501 4200
Quinn Interiors 01706 353305

Shopping list

Tonon Follow Me dining chairs were supplied by Dovetail Contract Furniture. Origlia table pedestals (from about £85) came from Coexistence, and shopfitter Quinn Interiors fitted the ply table tops. Dovetail also supplied barstools, while cube seats in Akbar came from Boline International.

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