The news of the possible closing of the iconic Zodiac Grill in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace hasn’t come as a shock to all.
The five star dining scene in Mumbai has been redefined of late by some very interesting standalone restaurants and many believe that this is where the action is when it comes to eating out in the city.
You have got the Tables of the world following in the paths of Indigo offering international standard European food here. Then you have restaurants like The Fatty Bao and Pa Pa Ya catching the city’s fancy when it comes to Asian food. Between Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra at the higher end and The Bombay Canteen and now SodaBottleOpenerWala aimed at a younger crowd, you have all the exciting new restaurants in the Indian food space operating outside of five star hotels.
There have hardly been any five star hotel restaurants which have caught the city’s fancy of late which can compare with The Bombay Canteens or the Fatty Baos of the world. Barring coffee shops with buffets, most five star restaurants look pretty empty and lack the buzz of the standalone restaurants. It is not just about the difference in pricing say industry watchers.
Experienced insiders in the five star restaurant business cite the focus on numbers rather than on the food served in hotels, and the facelessness of these restaurants compared to chef or restaurateur driven standalone restaurant, are factors that weaken the five star restaurant offer.
Some city five star hotel chefs are revisiting the fundamentals of their business to reinvent themselves in a changing scenario. They have decided to focus on their core reason for existence, house guests. They recognize the fact that five star hotel guests are often corporate travelers, who are on the road constantly and need simple, home like food to fuel them.
One example of this realization is the recently re-launched menu at Masala Bay at The Taj Land’s End. Executive chef, Anirudhya Roy, has encouraged chef Amarinder Sandhu to bring in her mother’s mutton (goat) meat curry which has potatoes in it and is served in a pressure cooker and brings alive memories of a Sunday mutton curry (after which it is named). There is the lasooni palak which is very light and can even make non-vegetarians go weak in their knees. The Kolkata betki is grilled in a tandoor with a mustard marinade and feels pretty healthy and guilt free. The Amritsari vadi made with vadi bought from the lanes near the Golden Temple are full flavoured and yet not heavy on the stomach. The mutton in the Lucknowi styled masoor gosht, like the mutton in the Sunday curry, is very tender and is made from khashi meat shipped in from Delhi. The food served is largely light and doesn’t tax your travel weary tummy.
The ITC Hotel chain is another example of hotels focusing on home food (Indian and international) for its guests. They have a WelcomMeal section for in room diners which in Indian offers ‘ghar ka khana’. This is a set meal which has simple curries, rotis, sabzis, rotis, curds, salads, rice and a dessert, is prepared fresh and can be customized according to the guest’s needs. They also have the Kitchen of India range which offers local food designed by local chefs. The ITC Maratha, Sahar, offers indigenous Maharashtrian dishes from both the coastal regions and the interiors of the state in the Peshwa Pavilion.
These examples show an interesting trend of five star hotels becoming a place to try out local, Indian home food for the world weary traveler and international visitors eager to try out local food without knowing where to go to or how to get an invite to someone’s home.
Follow Kalyan Karmakar @ Finelychopped
Photo Credits: Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar authors the popular award winning blog, Finely Chopped and is an authority on the food of Mumbai. His extensive knowledge of the city's food scene has been featured in publications such as Femina, Mumbai Mirror and BCC Good Food. He was one of the founding critics of EazyDiner's Mumbai team.