New York’s Only Indian Restaurant To Get A Michelin Star in 2022 – Step Into Semma

  • 10 Jan '23
  • 5:37 pm by Shivya Ahuja

Perched in the south end of the West Village, Semma by Chef Vijay Kumar puts South Indian cuisine on the map. For the Indian diaspora, Semma has been quite the hotspot, especially once it received a Michelin star in 2022. The menu takes a step forward from the familiar dosas and idlis, and gives the taste of an unfamiliar flavor to an American audience. From curry leaf-infused gin cocktails to turmeric lobster tail, the culinary options offer a whirlwind of flavors. These ingenious family recipes come from the chef’s rice paddy farm in Tamil Nadu.

The abstractions of tropical wicker weaves can be seen playing the foreground on a ribbed ceiling and in the pendant lights and chairs. Image Credits – Will Ellis

Designed by Wid Chapman of the eponymous Wid Chapman Architects, Semma opened its doors in the Fall of 2021. WCA believes in creating an “undeniable engaging energy” in their spaces and Semma does justice to that. “We abstracted the form of a Kerala houseboat; we utilized rattan in many components to give that “Kettuvallam” experience,” explains WCA. The space instills intimacy animated by intricate colors, patterns, and light fixtures. Provocative elements inspired by the chef’s South Indian heritage are reworked to create the interiors of this Manhattan restaurant. Interestingly, WCA has the entire umbrella of the most sought after Indian restaurants in NYC under their belt. They have designed six restaurants for Unapologetic Indian, Semma’s parent company.


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The houseboat inspired interior has its arrival moment at the cocktail bar. Image Credits – Will Ellis

The ten-sipper cocktail bar being the central focus, divides the space into banquette seating, a slew of two tops, and a private dining area. With quarter-sawn straight-grain oak floors, rattan ceilings, and wooden chairs, the tonality of the space creates a warm palette. The bar has three dimensional wood panels on the front facade, where a tactile sense is engineered. The bar back features a colourful mural that blends into the background with an impressive liquor display. The space also features custom made Chandigarh Chairs paying homage to Pierre Jeanneret’s mid century modern designs. The mix of traditional and modern aesthetics creates a unique space in the West Village that feels authentic yet relatable to a larger consumer base.

Aesthetic contrasts divide the private dining from the main seating. Image Credits – Will Ellis

Showstoppers like the Kathakali mural catch the discerning diners’ eye. Kathakali, a form of classical dance from the chef’s native Kerala, is known for its facial gestures and vivid makeup. WCA created a playful mural with two halves of the face in vibrant shades of green and red. The green or ‘Pacca’ makeup with coral lips depicts gods and sages, whereas the red ‘Tati’ makeup symbolizes evil characters. This story play creates a dramatic entryway into the private dining space, which can be reserved for larger groups and more intimate gatherings.

This far end of the restaurant is encompassed in tropical foliage motifs that have a softer undertone to them. The flooring transitions into a smaller scale and lighter tone. The wooden banquettes following the lead of the public space are cushioned with upholstered backs in various tones of green and blue. A series of such elements ascribes the Deccan sensibilities in an effortless way.

The banquette has a striped upholstery pattern and wallpaper above that reminisces the tropical fauna of the region.Image Credits – Will Ellis

Breaking barriers as an Indian restaurant, Semma has New Yorkers making reservations weeks in advance. Chef Vijay Kumar, alum of Michelin star restaurant Rasa of California successfully brought forth his unique vision for Semma – serving a menu that is seldom seen in restaurants in New York, without alienating people from the traditional gunpowder dosa.


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