While 2016 was straight out of a horror film, the food scene in India was one of the few redeeming features. By some strange alchemy (and a lot of venture capital funding), popular restaurants this year sprouted in many avatars in different cities. While this attack of the clones might not end a rebellion, it certainly helps the dissemination of interesting and well-curated menus across India’s culinary landscape.
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Heading the list is Massive Restaurants, the industry behemoth headed by Zorawar Kalra, which opened multiple brands across cities after a highly successful 2015. In that year, they introduced Farzi Cafe, which melded scientific cooking techniques with the bold, unrestrained flavours of regional Indian cuisines, while 2016 was all about expanding the brand consciousness. With outposts of Farzi opening up in
Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Dubai, it was a massive year for, er, Massive Restaurants.
They also expanded the footprint of their Made in Punjab and Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra brands in — Noida and Bengaluru, and Delhi, respectively — as well as opened the hedonistic Masala Bar on the hip Carter Road in Mumbai.
Their most exciting venture, however, came just before the year ended with the opening of Pa Pa Ya, in Delhi. A wild re-imagination of Asian food with 150 dishes such as tuna tartare pizza and a superstructure of sushi and sashimi called the Matrix meant to be eaten by hand, Pa Pa Ya was first opened in Mumbai in 2015.
The success of another brand is the kind that can only happen in India. After Parsi and Irani bakeries, and chai shops were allowed to die a quiet and ignominious death in Mumbai, its basic concept was distilled into a new restaurant in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub. SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW), which opened on the eve of 2014 under the umbrella of the Olive group of restaurants, resurrected classic Parsi dishes, served in a space with interiors as eccentric as the people its inspired by, and an in-house bakery and sweet shop.
“Gurugram was the first market we opened in, and then signed on the next outlet at Khan Market. We waited for both properties to settle down and see how people reacted to it. Once we were confident about the brand, we began expanding to other markets,” says AD Singh, Founder and Managing Director of the Olive Group. SBOW has mushroomed in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Noida and most interestingly, Mumbai, where the restaurant’s concept originated from. While most would have said this was a risky move (consider the comments when Domino’s opened its first outlet in Italy in 2015), it proved successful to the extent that another branch opened in Thane and another expected to open in Powai very soon.
“I think it made a connection with people and struck a familiar chord. Also, the fact that they are air-conditioned compared to the old cafes and their rickety fans might have helped,” says Singh.
Another frequent flier between Delhi and Mumbai is Riyaaz Amlani whose brand Social also marked its territory, dotting the foodie maps of Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru, with multiple outlets. Even if the flavours of food do change every 20 km one travels, as alleged, the presence of consecutive Socials ensures that you can have a
uniform dining experience. Amlani’s concept of merging work and party in to one space has been mimicked by other lesser-known entities as well.
Meanwhile, chef Manish Mehrotra of the formidable Indian Accent set up the venture’s second restaurant in New York City to great acclaim from the Big Apple and has great potential for a Michelin star, or three.
Other power players in Delhi such as Kazem Samandari (who operates boutique patisserie L’Opéra, which has more than a dozen outlets in the Capital) and Priyank Sukhija (who has as many brand outlets as a multi-cuisine restaurant has dishes) are moving beyond their borders.
Samandhari has his sights set on Mumbai, while Sukhija has larger ambitions after having already planted flags in Pune and Mumbai with his Flying Saucer and Tamasha brands. He hopes to establish a global presence within the next five years. A pop culture enthusiast, with his restaurants sporting all manner of superhero and movie memorabilia, Sukhija, like his peers in the industry, clearly believes the world is not enough.
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