When UK-based Vineet Bhatia, the twice Michelin-starred celebrity chef started consulting for Ziya, the luxurious Indian restaurant at The Oberoi, Mumbai, the idea was not to serve up butter chicken. As the chef says, India already does a phenomenal job on that. The dishes had be avant-garde, with a twist and look interesting. Bhatia, in an interview with Business Today, explains how attention to detail set the restaurant apart.
Q. There is a growing interest in luxury cuisine in India. Who are the consumers?
A. In India you have extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Mumbai is a great example of that. They both survive and aspire to do well. The rich are now so used to travelling internationally. There are international brands in India - there is luxury cars, luxury jets, banking, retail. They also want to dine in places that serve luxury food and luxury products. That is there lifestyle.
Q. Tell us about the concept behind Ziya at The Oberoi. How was it made into a luxury restaurant?
A. Ziya is a restaurant where the middle class can go and celebrate a certain occasion but it is not somewhere you would go regularly. For some people, however, it is a normal meal. The menus are designed in such a way that suits both the guest profiles. It is under-stated luxury. The idea is to provide a wow factor without being pompous and opulent. In the restaurant, the jaalis are all made of gold. The display kitchen has gold tiles on them. When you sit down to eat, the cutlery is gold polished. For an Indian, gold is the most important product for quality and for richness. Although it is gold polished, it is not in your face. It is subtle.
Luxury is also attention to detail. It is about the paper towels, the toilets, the lighting in the room, the uniform of the staff. The staff has to do a mouthwash before they go in and serve the guest. The guest never sees these but all are important. The pen that is given to you to sign the check, the visiting cards, candles, cutlery, teapots, flowers on the table, the flooring, the view - all of these are taken into account.
Q. When it comes to food, what ingredient do you consider luxury? Can you give us an example from Ziya.
A. The lobster is a good example - across the globe, it is considered a luxurious product. There are not big markers on these items and you may just recover the cost. However, you have them because they showcase the restaurant in the right manner. At Ziya, we have the Grilled Lobster with Broccoli Kichri and Sour Coco Powder. The whole dish is assembled in a modern way. The wow factor comes in because of the sour coco powder - there is a sprinkling of coco powder over the lobster dish - coco is slightly bitter and contrasts with the sweetness of the lobster and it is a marriage that goes well. The broccoli kichri gives a nice texture and green tinge to the dish.
Q. How has Ziya done as a business?
A. It has done well. It is on the positive side. Footfalls have progressively increased over the past four years.
Q. Is it easy to make profits running a luxury restaurant?
A. If you are a single operator with a small restaurant, you will struggle because the market is low. Being part of a hotel helps because lot of the costs are absorbed between the hotel. A standalone restaurant has more expenses and it will be harder. Hotel has the support of in-house guest and logistics. It is a bit easier to operate.
Q. Is molecular gastronomy on the decline?
A. Some people are swayed by it, others say it is passé. I don't think it is current right now. It seems to be a rage in India and the Far East. They are trying to catch up. These things have been done 15 years back in the UK and Europe. It is over-rated. We use certain elements of it, but it is not a focus for us.