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Khai Khai restaurant, Newcastle
Khai Khai restaurant, Newcastle
Khai Khai restaurant, Newcastle

Hot new interiors and branding by Run For The Hills

Cool new interiors and branding restaurant project from creative design house Run For The Hills.

Khai Khai is the newest exciting venture from restauranteur Jaf Ali, founder of Newcastle’s multi-award-winning Dabbawal restaurants. Run For The Hills’ Graphics team has a long history working with Jaf, designing websites, graphics and branding for the Dabbawal group. Khai Khai is an entirely new F&B concept, and one which allowed both of the Award-winning studio’s Graphics and Interiors teams to collaborate from conception all the way through to installation and final styling of the space.

The restaurant sits across two floors in a stunning Grade II listed building in the historical heart of Newcastle, set within a stylish quayside location. Khai Khai’s innovative offering is centred around ‘Smoke play’ reflecting the expertise of highly skilful chefs cooking over coals, bringing to mind the shifting interaction of darkness, fire and transparency. The kitchen team is presided over by celebrated Michelin-starred chef Alfred Prasad and his exquisitely curated menu charts India’s extraordinary culinary evolution with its melting pot of distinctive regional food traditions and cultural heritage. These elemental, dramatic cooking techniques inform the food and also helped shape the concept for our interiors and branding.

The light-filled restaurant seats up to 110 people across its ground floor Heritage Room and basement Parlour Room. Reflecting the spirit of transparency, The Heritage Room offers dynamic views of the semi-open kitchen at the back of the restaurant where diners witness the skills of the chefs as well as the magic of smoke play at work.

Abundant planting to the exterior offers a lush, kerbside welcome; and then Khai Khai visitors then step into a dramatically fresh and airy space by day, with super high ceilings, and wonderfully characterful two-tone limewash walls. By night, the same ground floor space turns warm, dark, and invitingly moody. The design concept was centred around making Khai Khai feel effortlessly cool: keying into its heart-warmingly authentic Indian cuisine with the added pop of smoke play theatre and a cutting edge interior design and brand identity infused throughout. Run For The Hills’ wanted to create a sense of being transported to another time and place, with the use of glowing. fireside lighting and organic and tactile traditional materials. The lighting is especially important at Khai Khai for transitioning through day and night. From a fresh, light-filled day to a moody, transformative evening sitting. Working with Elektra Lighting, the studio developed the lighting scheme to be warm and inviting throughout the restaurant, reminiscent of fireside gatherings where truly authentic communal cooking and eating would have taken place. This softness is countered by stylishly raw and antiqued metallic finishes on the bar and gantry, adding a shot of urban cool to the space. One of the other standout features in the space is the creative signage, which takes the form of candle-light glowing light boxes, neon artworks and customised tube lights with characterful brand messaging, all evoking a Khai Khai time and place moment.

Offering the warmest of welcomes is Khai Khai’s hero bar, which is textured and architectural by day with its mesh structure.

“Our bar then turns dark and moody by night, with light refracting through the mesh. The bar’s design fuses humble sophistication with the flavours and the provenance of both India and Newcastle and the front bar is crowned by a gantry fabricated in antiqued mesh and metal, decorated with burnished studded details. 

The deep green marble counter top, is flanked by statement leather strap and antique brass bar stools and the entire bar is presided over by two of our favourite lighting as signage design features: including our Smoke Play light tube and the blackened steel light box in the front window designed by our graphics team."

Anna Burles, Creative Director Run For The Hills 

The tropical planting adorning Khai Khai’s alfresco front terrace continues throughout the space. Large potted plants enlivening the stairs and rustic style hanging planters offering privacy between intimate dining booths. Back-lit railing vines and bespoke metal planters suspended above the Parlour Room banquette bring freshness and a softly-diffused glow of light by night. The overall effect draws on the cultural heritage of the restaurant’s menu and its rural traditions. The large heritage sash windows running down each side of the restaurant have traditional stripped timber shutters and a café-height sheer curtain knocking back the most powerful rays of the sun.

Dining furniture comes in a mix of dark stained rattan banquttes and dining chairs and a mix of zinc, timber and dark emerald green marble dining tables, accented by leather and brass dining chairs. Decorative lights within the scheme were chosen for their atmospheric design both on and off, including retro-inspired wall lights from Chantelle Lighting and prismatic table lamps from Felix Lighting and Mullan, adding a shot of urban cool to more traditional finishes.

“Drawing on the smoke play motif, the interiors palette and our graphic art palette both combine earthy mud tones, the texture of charcoal and fire, aged, charred timber, balanced by off-whites, rich metallics, rustic stones, bold patterned tiles and urban style Crittal-glazing. Our art also contains a suite of patterans created especially for the Khai Khai brand, springing off from them to create a suite of mixed media art pieces and framed prints.”  Chris Trotman, Creative Director, Run For The Hills

The Heritage Room design exudes the past: with rattan chairs, deep leather banquette seating in dark brown tones and classic tiled flooring creating a sense of nostalgia. Dining tables are topped with a mix of green and Emperador brown marble, dark brown timber and zinc.

A vintage host station sourced from Retrouvius stands in the main restaurant entrance. Elsewhere another vintage dresser beautifully displays Indian antiques and vintage finds from Scaramanga. All vintage-style wait stations were updated to carry operational kit and cabling and were given complementary new marble tops and metal shelving. Run For The Hills’ chose the XXXL vintage mirror in The Heritage Room from a selection at Aldgate Home; which was restored and re-glazed, and now takes pride of place at the back of the dining room, reflecting the light, airiness and warmth of the vast ground floor dining and bar space.

Bespoke black and white artwork created by the studio’s Graphics team continues the smoke play motif and is spread throughout the restaurant.  Giclée prints were hand finished with charcoal and pen and finished with gold foil; a custom wallpaper and art on the Washroom corridor abstractly captures the movement of smoke; whilst treasured recipes passed down by Grandma have been framed and dotted around the dining rooms.

The chosen materials and finishes also had to reflect the mood of Khai Khai’s rustic charm and humble sophistication. Lime washed walls by Bauwerk have been created in two-tone warm putty tones. Other textures include burnt chocolate-brown timber joinery; blackened steel frames and mesh; with reeded glass windows around the semi-open kitchen. Elsewhere antique brass accents sit in contrast above strong black and white tiled floors.

The lower ground floor Parlour Room has its own bar, wrapped in a dark, textured timber front, topped with a customed poured oncrete counter. The bar is dressed with vintage finds and Indian antiques, set with candles for a low-light bar fly mood in the evenings. This exciting new basement space is perfect for private parties and comes with a surprise feature: three dark-stained curved windows looking onto a hidden underground passageway (which historically linked the top of the hill behind the restaurant to the river in front of it). The Designers have turned this unique feature into a rural street scene, with adobe textured mud hut walls, atmospheric planting and vintage Indian props, reminiscent of the menu’s heritage. Their deep, amber Smoke Play neon sign creates the glow of a rural fireside with a playful, modern twist.

The restaurant’s characterful Washrooms have deep, dark tiling in large geometric patterns, offset by fresh ceilings and upper walls. Bespoke vanities are topped with concrete, playfully contrasted by softly back-lit mirrors above.

Outside the Washrooms the corridor has been turned into something of a carnivalesque installation: with a bank of distortion mirrors creating smoke-styled movements, reflecting abstract art created by our graphics team.

The curious space is draped with festoon lights, creating the perfect Insta-worthy moment.

Khai Khai has launched with amazing reviews and has been visited by a list of A-list stars already loyal to Dabbawal, who have now added Khai Khai to their list of favourite places for a magical dining experience.

Find out more on the Khai Khai website (also designed by Run For The Hills):

https://khaikhai.co.uk/