In tropical countries like Thailand and Vietnam, people can easily enter roadside restaurants or pubs. Dhaka's Garage Food Court is somewhat like that.
The 9,200 sq ft food court, with a mezzanine floor, was basically an old garage designed by architects Farhin Ashrafi and Talha Mahmud, the managing partners of "maison 'D Architects", two years ago.
Located at the Gulshan-Tejgaon Link Road, opposite the Shanta Western Tower, the ground-floored Garage Food Court is rather welcoming. As the area does not have any other food courts as such, people headed out for work can have their breakfast, lunch and snacks both during and after office hours.
"Our intention was to create a space that would be convenient for office executives to sit and enjoy their lunch, tea and coffee while reading a newspaper or book," said Farhin Ashrafi.
"Previously, our office was close to the newly designed food court. Back then, we had to bring lunch from outside," said Talha Mahmud. He added, "It is now a popular place for having food while enjoying some leisure time. Usually a food court is vibrant during the weekends but this one is vibrant even on the weekdays due to the number of offices here."
The open restaurant is of double height. The roof is designed with corrugated iron sheets - almost 50 to 70 percent has been reused, after being sprayed with anti-rust solution. The iron sheets are attached with metal structures. Belgian wrought has been attached with wooden frames to be made into chairs and tables for the seating area.
The plaster from the existing walls has been removed to give it a natural-looking exposed brick look. Apart from this, the architects designed a brick net to separate the washroom area from the dining food court.
No fancy materials such as flashy and marble tiles have been used at Garage. The food court is lit by a hoard of antique hanging-lights from ships. The architects kept the raw beauty of all the materials used intact in their design.
Farhin and Talha did not opt for the polished beauty of the space. They rather emphasised on functionality, following cleanliness and hygiene.
At one corner of the food court is a smoking zone, abound with greenery. A gap on the walls there allows natural light and fresh air to pass through while hot air can get out. On the side is a gutter for draining away rain water.
Garage Food Court currently has 10 kitchens - each measuring 160 sq ft, including a few combined ones. There is also a juice bar, a sweets shop, a tea and coffee stand, and three carts. Three more kitchens and two carts are getting added with the existing ones.
"While designing the mezzanine floor, we thought of three corners - one for a library, another for indoor sports and a cozy seating area in the middle," Talha said.
Farhin explained, echoing Talha, "The concept of a library meshes well with the food court as there is no library in the area. People can read newspapers and books while having breakfast here."
Currently all the three corners in the food court have been transformed into seating areas. "The separate corners will be incorporated during the next renovation period," Talha informed.
Initially, there was a challenge as the food court does not have any air conditioning. People in Bangladesh are not used to having food in open restaurants such as Kolkata's Coffee House.
The food court is mostly hidden from plain sight due to its placement being in the middle of a mosque and ECM Auto Workshop. The further renovation scheme, slated to start soon, will make Garage more visible to the public, according to Talha. Farhin mentioned that the interior lighting will be changed as well.
The scenario of the food court changes completely in the evening as it gets crowded by young people, mostly students, who enjoy their meals with a side of vibrant adda. The corporate executives, who usually have lunch here, join their friends here after office hours.
Food lovers can enjoy different delicacies from Asian, Bangla, Thai, Japanese, Italian and Indian cuisines. The food is priced sensitively as well. Navid Kamal Shovon, director of ECM Group, is the owner of Garage Food Court. Regarding his relationship with Farhin and Talha, he said, "As a team, we synced fantastically, which resulted in the wonderful project," said Farhin.
The place is not only a mingling place and a restaurant hub, but also a great zine for arranging open air concerts. Garage Food Court has housed several successful concerts where phenomenal musicians such as Shayan Chowdhury Arnob has performed.
It is more like a place for adda than a conventional food court. The feature of the Garage Food Court resembles the style of traditional rural restaurants of Bangladesh. The architectural designs have been done attuned to that spirit. It may even be called a hidden gem.