When Farzi Cafe opened in the Capital earlier this year, critics named it the hottest new restaurant in town.
Set up like a French-style bistro with warm wooden panelling, plush leather sofas and chandeliers, the cafe soon came to be known for its global food with “an Indian twist”. So, the chicken tikka masala is served in a mini London telephone booth and its Parle-G cheesecake features on many Instagram timelines. “With both Farzi Cafe and Masala Library, we are making Indian food cool,” says Zorawar Kalra of Massive Restaurants.
He is on a brief visit to Mumbai, to take stock of things at his Bandra-Kurla Complex-based restaurant, Masala Library, which proved to be an instant hit soon after its launch. Part of it can be attributed to his attention to detail.
One can witness it even as he passionately discusses his future plans for his hospitality brand. “Get it changed,” he tells one of the staffers, pointing to a fork with a dented prong. “Every day I get close to 20 reports on restaurant set-up, inventory and quality from each of my restaurants,” says Kalra, who also owns Made In Punjab, a mid-priced brand specialising in Punjabi food.
Within the next six months, Kalra plans to bring Farzi Cafe to Mumbai and also take Masala Library to Dubai. The word ‘Farzi’ in Urdu has many connotations, but for Kalra, it translates as “creating an illusion with food.”
“We have found a beautiful location in Lower Parel for Farzi,” he says. An average meal at Farzi Café costs Rs 500, which works well for a price-conscious market like Mumbai. At the same time, the restaurateur looks to introduce many Mumbai-centric elements on the menu apart from popular dishes from Delhi, such as the Galauti Kebab, Bhel version 2 and Prawn tempura nimbu mirchi that is served with lemon and chilli foam. “We are working on a Mumbai sandwich that will have elements of three popular street snacks in the city,” he says.
It’s been a year since the launch but Masala Library continues to boast of a three-week waiting period for reservations. Since Farzi Cafe doesn’t have a reservation policy, the waiting period for a table in the Delhi restaurant ranges from an hour to two. Both these successful restaurants use elements of molecular gastronomy — a trend that picked pace in the last year — to enhance the dining experience. For instance, at Farzi Cafe, phirni oxide is made live on the table with the help of liquid nitrogen that adds texture to the dish. Similarly, at Masala Library, mishti doi candies, served as palate cleansers between courses, are frozen using similar apparatus.
While globally, most restaurants are going back to the comfort of basics, Kalra’s belief in creating food with the use of science remains intact. “The biggest technique we use in our kitchens is grey matter,” he says. Molecular gastronomy is only one of the elements of his food. Masala Library’s best-selling dessert, Jalebi Caviar, barely features molecular innovations. “Honestly, I agree that molecular gastronomy is a dying trend, but it will never cease to be relevant,” says Kalra.
With eyes set on Dubai and London in the near future, Kalra dreams of opening a branch of Masala Library in every major city.
And just like his company’s name, Kalra has massive plans for the coming year — setting up a lab for experiments with food and starting a gourmet ‘mithai’ brand, among others. For this 36-year-old management graduate from Boston’s Bentley Business University, taking his father, Jiggs Kalra’s legacy forward seems to be the sole mission. He admits to plans of opening a pan-Asian concept soon too. But before one can probe more, he smiles and says, “More on that later.”