Courtesy of Camille Herren

Film and animation director Mustashrik Mahbub is constantly dreaming and drawing, and you’ll find the fruits of his labor on receipts, coasters and more at restaurants in London and beyond. Here’s why.

Elyse Inamine
January 16, 2018

Most restaurant regulars leave a nice, fat tip at their favorite neighborhood haunts. Or maybe cold beers for the staff as the last diners trickle out and they close down the restaurant for the night together. But across the pond in London, Mustashrik Mahbub leaves a trail of wonderful drawings on receipts, placements, coasters and more, capturing little moments in the restaurants and bars he loves so much.

Since late 2014, the film and animation director has been chronicling his restaurant doodles on his Instagram account, @mustashrik. The drawings vary, from stylized sketches of wine that play with the confines of the existing space and text to portraits of the people he’s eating with to overlapping, stream-of-consciousness-like doodles. And his habit started with the last type of illustration.

“I was on a dinner date, and I was trying to explain something very abstract,” says Mahbub. “There was a language barrier, so I ended up freestyle doodling. The result was this amazing visual evidence of meandering conversation that night, and it then evolved into an appreciation of the venue, service and food.”

Mahbub doesn’t remember what they talked about—“Likely something silly,” he says—but the practice stayed with him these last few years. It’s his way of saying thank you to the restaurant. He can’t count how many he’s made at this point because he tends to leave them with his waiter or waitress or the person he’s eating with. “I never take it home,” he says. “It’s a gift, from me to you.”

Making something out of nothing is typical for the creative. He’s constantly drawing on whatever he can get his hands on. His most recent obsession is leaving funny doodles on steamy windows at the gym—“It’s a nice, silly surprise,” he says. “But there’s something quiet and transient about it.” Growing up between England and Scotland, Mahbub didn’t have a lot of toys. Instead, he was raised by a supportive mother who encouraged him to, in his words, “create the toys” around him. That instilled the self-starter energy and imagination we see today.

With the help of mentors over the years, he taught himself how to draw. He then went on to graduate from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, then work at production companies and advertising agencies before taking his own path as a director. Clients like Louis Vuitton, Heineken and Ed Sheeran have been on his payroll, and his animated films have made their rounds at international film festivals—his latest, Girl Effect, is currently racking up awards. Mahbub is working on new TV content—he can't say what, just yet—and just finished directing a new film for Amnesty International that will launch later this year. He’s a busy guy. He starts his day at the gym at 6 a.m. and launches into meetings, calls and emails and keeps up with his industry at night by watching 3-4 films a week—and that’s when he’s not traveling for work. But he always finds time to retreat to his favorite restaurants and bars and paying it forward in his own way. Clearly, the restaurant is his sanctuary.

“There’s this timeless, romantic element to the encounters, stories and moments you can build by sharing a dining experience or even in the solidarity of just being at the bar and in conversation with the waitress or bar manager,” Mahbub says. “I love the hospitality industry and greatly admire the efforts behind what it takes from the front of house to the meal on your plate.”

And all these elements of the restaurant, from the temperature to the plate to the lighting, inspire the rising director as he pursues his next big projects.

“The restaurant inspires a scene or characters I could imagine ‘living with’ in that world,” says Mahbub. “It’s all just a continuous dream.”