India as the New Fine Dine Hotspot
By : | June 18, 2013
85-Hakkasan Mumbai-Press-Release

There are rumours that the London-based super-exclusive members-only club, Soho House, plans to locate its India venture at that starry Mumbai suburb, Juhu, a tranquil suburb with vacation homes, now home to the swish movie makers and actors. The members-only, Soho House is said to be the place even Samantha Jones (the scintillating PR Executive from Sex and the City), wanted to join, but couldn’t.

Juhu, incidentally, will also house India’s first Buddha Bar at the site where Sea View – that excellent sea-fronted restaurant where you could find a lot of Mumbai’s media, entertainment and advertising biggies shooting the breeze and some beer – once stood. HDIL Leisure has brought out that site, not just for Buddha Bar – the ultimate mecca for the beautiful people across the world, but also for a five star hotel to be managed by the Hilton Group under the brand ‘Conrad’.


And this is just the tip, or should we say the start, of the fine dining experience. Nobu, which was in talks with The Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts, is still scouting for partners. The New York-based restaurant, spearheaded by Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, has outposts in 20 cities across the world. Anton Mossiman and Atul Kochchar, the Michelin star chefs from Switzerland and London, are also scouting for both, Indian partners and space.

The new CII-A.T. Kearney India Luxury Review 2013 report shows that fine dining has shown the highest actual growth rate in 2011-12 – 40 per cent, when the estimate was only 10 per cent. Local and international brands expanding across India coupled with the significant increase in footprint in terms of people eating out are the primary reasons for such a high growth.

There are others who have already cooked their way into the nascent Indian market. If The Leela Palace New Delhi is now home to the iconic Italian-French cuisine restaurant Le Cirque, followed shortly by the Japanese restaurant Megu, Mumbai has the authentic Cantonese restaurant Hakkasan and the modern Thai restaurant Koh by Ian Kittichai. Months after Hakkasan opened in Mumbai, the group launched London’s Michelin-starred Dim Sum tea house, Yauatcha, at the Bandra Kurla Complex recently. And Delhi is likely to get Lebua New Delhi very soon, which will house two innovative fine dine restaurants, including the Sirocco II.


To beat the competition from international fine dining big daddies, Indian restaurateurs are also reinventing themselves, in the process offering experimental diners more to choose from. The Chinese restaurant icon, China Garden, is looking to expand to cities beyond Mumbai, while restaurateur-chef Rahul Akerkar’s Neel at Tote on the Turf in SoBo serves authentic Hyderabadi, Awadhi and Kashmiri cuisine. There are others, like chef Alex Bignotti’s sea-fronted Mediterranean restaurant, Two One Two Bar and Grill, in Worli; the multi-cuisine restaurant The Table started by chef Alex Sanchez at Colaba in south Mumbai and Amadeus, the Spanish/Levantine cuisine restaurant set up by restaurateur Farrokh Khambata at the NCPA, also in Mumbai

These international restaurant chains have made their way into India after a lot of hits and misses. In 2009, Monégasque chef Alain Ducasse claimed he had abandoned plans to open in Mumbai after several visits and surveys. “I found that Indians would not pay my prices,” he had said. A few years ago, just after Nobu had signed with The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts (a partnership that eventually fell through), he told eminent journalist Vir Sanghvi in an interview that it was “not worth his while to bother (opening in India) unless he could open at least three restaurants, each serving over 150 people at each sitting”.


But, of course, that was in the past.

Celebrity chefs are looking beyond the metros to give the taste of the unusual. Award-winning chef Vikas Khanna, who runs the Michelin-star Indian specialty restaurant, Junoon, in New York City plans to launch his restaurant at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, in 2013. “It will be my tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and serve holistic Himalayan cuisine,” says Khanna, who was also the judge and host of the popular TV show, Masterchef India Season 3.

(Alyssendra Mendonsa is a restaurant consultant and chef, and writes on luxury fine dining in India).

Aleyssandra Mendosa is a chef by training, but a restaurant consultant by profession. Greek by birth by British by nationality, Aleyssandra has been living in India for the past ten years, and has consulted with several fine dining restaurants. She writes often on the business of luxury restaurants.