When musing on Indian food in London, you might once have
thought of ubiquitous, high street curry shops. But these days,
Indian food in the capital is a far more diverse, complex, and
often high-end proposition - and we have the Mumbai-born Chef
Vineet Bhatia to thank in part for that.
Chef Vineet Bhatia has helped
revolutionise Indian cuisine in London © Christopher Papan
With the Michelin-starred Rasoi - his flagship Chelsea restaurant - he
proved that Indian food didn't have to overwhelm the palate, but
that its infusion of flavours could be delicately balanced, even
artful. Now Chef Vineet Bhatia has 12 restaurants around the world,
including outposts in Geneva, Doha and Dubai. Clearly, his culinary
approach has won its admirers.
Chef Bhatia notes that Rasoi's modernist sensibility
distinguishes it from less thoughtful approaches to Indian cooking:
"We buy the finest quality ingredients. We understand how to
enhance the taste: often, people add too many things to fish or a
lobster and it camouflages the flavour of the ingredients. Our food
is cooked traditionally; it has to be gimmick-free and authentic.
But it's progressive in the way we dress up the food."
Quail is dressed up and given a
unique twist in Bhatia's recipe © Lisa Barber
Originally from Mumbai, the chef chose London in 1993 "for the
cold weather." When he began working here, he was shocked to
discover that he was the only Indian in an Indian restaurant. "I
refused to cook the Bangladeshi curry house stuff. A lot of the
guests would get up and walk out."
So he made the classics more accessible, and dishes like rogan
josh were reborn as "a slow cooked leg or shank of lamb with
spices." He recalls, "We persisted, garnered some great reviews
which eventually made a big difference." Following various
ventures, he opened Zaika in 1999 and five years later, Rasoi was
born. He says, "Rasoi was the turning point in my career. It was
our first independent venture and it defined me as a chef and an
Lamb with goat's cheese khichdi ©
At Rasoi, the recipes are modified to suit local palates (and
spice tolerances). "Not everyone can take strong flavours, so we
tone it down slightly in Chelsea; I wouldn't do that in Southall.
But there are some things you can't touch, like the tandoori smoked
salmon. We just put hot red chilli paste with oil on the side
When it comes to crafting his menus, the Mumbai-born chef says
that he craves the flavours he grew up with. "Mumbai is a melting
pot. You have incredible street food like pav bhaji (curry
with a soft bread roll), bhel puri (a puffed rice and
tamarind snack) chikkis (a nut and jaggery dessert)
laddoos (round sweets), fish, paneer - even Indo-Chinese."
But as he evolved as a chef, Bhatia began to dig deeper into these
traditional staples of Mumbai cuisine.
Rasoi's creative kulfi dessert ©
"You understand subtleties, like kulfi (ice cream) is
made with black cardamom and not green. Chikkis are made
from peanuts - we use pistachios, almonds and pine nuts to make it
more luxurious. You have to be open to changes to innovate and
create." The signature chocolate samosa is one of his favourite
modifications, a change that would make a purist blanch.
Chef Bhatia with his wife Rashima,
Rasoi's Managing Director © Christopher Papan
It's no surprise, given Bhatia's culinary inspirations, that he
predicts that Indian street food will continue to grow in
popularity, both locally and abroad. He says, "You can
glamorise it, it can be shared with family and friends and it
offers a more affordable price point." And besides - it couldn't be