Chef Interviews

Champions of an Evolving Curry Nation. And Guess What’s Cooking at New Delhi Aerocity-Gurgaon.

Posted: April 2, 2016 at 5:22 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Third Homecoming of Britain’s ‘Curry Restaurants’ Saw Celebrated Chef Dominic Chapman & Curry Life Editor Syed Bilal Ahmed at ITC Maurya.

JUST LIKE his understated personality, and his ability not  to advertise his family history or his many claims to fame, there’s nothing flamboyant about Dominic Chapman‘s cooking.

I met the soft-spoken, smiling Englishmen at the ITC Maurya, where he was a part of a unique ‘curry-meets-British-classics’ food promotion, cut his teeth in the restaurant business under the wings of the guru of molecular gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal, for whom he successfully launched Hind’s Head and The Riverside Brasserie after starting out at the kitchen of the Michelin three-starred Fat Duck. He has also been on the telly (on BBC2’s Great British Menu 2015), he earned a Michelin star for the acclaimed gastropub, The Royal Oak, in the days when he was heading its kitchen, and he comes from a family that scripted a part of Britain’s hospitality.

The Chapman family has been running the iconic Castle Hotel in Taunton (Somerset) for 60 years and has employed such celebrated chefs as Gary Rhodes, Phil Vickery and Richard Guest. Dominic’s father Kit, apart from running The Castle, has been a well-regarded TV presenter and author. And his great-grandfather, Henry Pruger, succeeded Caesar Ritz as general manager of The Savoy, London’s landmark hotel, in 1906.

Discussing his genealogy with him, I asked whether he was related to Pat Chapman, Britain’s original champion of curry (albeit in the British Raj sense of the term), and he looked perplexed. I realised the other Chapman, who was once a celebrity famous for launching The Curry Club in 1982, is not quite as famous as he used to be, and the expression of Syed Bilal Ahmed, editor of Britain’s Curry Life magazine (his brother edits their adopted country’s only Bengali newspaper, Janamat), made me abandon any Pat Chapman talk!

Chapman, who was all excited when I met him about having lunch at Indian Accent, has stuck to being a master of gastropub grub — and his simple, unpretentious menu loaded with the classics has ensured that The Beehive at Berkshire, ranked 14th in the Top 50 Gastropubs 2016, keeps getting its share of customer accolades and critical acclaim.

I got a taste of his no-fuss comfort food style at the start of my meal, which opened with a fresh peas pithivier (an enclosed pie) served with a crisp fennel and orange salad. The experience only got better with what followed: a wholesome Potato and Leeks Soup; a flavourful Shepherd’s Pie; Fish and Chips minus the artery-clogging grease that you get at the neighbourhood shops in London; and a juicy Lamb Burger that I’ll remember for long for how deliciously mayo was replaced by yoghurt in it, and of course, the brioche was a welcome relief after standard burger buns.

There’s more about Chapman than his dogged efforts to keep the flag of British classics flying (a cause now being championed by none other than his first mentor, Heston Blumenthal). Chapman has been intrigued by the evident disproportion between the number of South Asian restaurants in Britain (9,000 or 12,000, depending on your source) and their minuscule tally of Michelin stars (just six in the 2016 list), so he has been working very closely with Britain’s ‘curry restaurants’, helping them in practical ways to start the process of being in the reckoning.

Chapman’s love for ‘curry’ shows up on his menu — Sea Bass with Tadka Dal and Curried Partridge Soup are hot favourites at The Beehive — and to promote a reverse flow of culinary knowledge, he has been teaming up with Curry Life‘s Ahmed for the past three years to fly down chefs of Bangladeshi origin — they continue to be mostly from Sylhet, like the original purveyors of ‘curry’ who jumped East India Company ships to become cooks — to expose us to the ways in which the cuisine of ‘curry restaurants’ is returning to its roots.

The cuisine is predominantly Bangladeshi and unapologetically rooted to tradition. I was surprised to find a fish preparation with satkhora, a lemon that grows mainly in Sylhet, among the dishes cooked by the visiting chefs. Like Chapman, these chefs have saved the classics being run over by bastardised imitations.


JUST when we had started thinking that the hugely successful Cyber Hub had lived through its honeymoon period, the country’s biggest ‘food mall’ is ready for another expansion, with the number of its restaurants said to be touching 72. The additions in this second wave will include two big-ticket imports from Mumbai — Bombay Canteen, the stupendously popular restaurant featuring local food with celebrity Indian American chef Floyd Cardoz‘s contemporary twist, and Burma Burma, the country’s first authentically Burmese restaurant and tea room.

That should raise the excitement, but as you go deeper into Gurgaon, the plush new corporate address, Hines Building, opposite DLF’s upper-crust housing developments, Magnolias and Aralias, and the golf club, will see a plush mini-food mall coming up to cater to the appetites of its corporate clients, such as Samsung and Coke. Apart from Marut Sikka‘s Delhi Club House and Oscar Balcon‘s Artusi, the address will see Lite Bite Foods (the company behind Punjab Grill and Asia7) launching a Korean restaurant (with Samsung in mind, of course), Zorawar Kalra (of Masala Library and Farzi Cafe fame) clone his much-acclaimed Pan Asian restaurant in Mumbai, Pa Pa Ya, and Ashish Kapur of Yo China and The Wine Company launch a whisky-themed restaurant, Whisky Samba.

At the other end of the arc, the Bird Group is ready with Dusit D2, a collaboration with Thailand’s Dusit group of hotels, which promises to be the first hotel in the country with a cinema theatre (PVR) and an outlet of TWG (The Wellbeing Group), the French luxury chain that has been in the business of tea rooms since 1837 and now has the world’s largest collection single-estate teas — 800 of them.

The hotel’s all-day restaurant, Del, will have, in the tradition of Balthazar in New York City, a new menu for each meal time, which will also be a first for Delhi, although it may be a logistical nightmare for the hotel’s chefs. The restaurant to watch, though, will be Kheer, which is being touted as a Bukhara meets street food outlet, where a line-up of kebabs will compete for your attention along with street specialties such as chaats and tikkis. Giving it company will be a cocktails bar named Chidiyaghar. Let’s raise a toast to these appetising prospects.

These articles appeared as a part of my Fortune Cookie column on April 1, 2106, in Mail Today. Here’s the link to the column that also appears in the Daily Mail (UK) website: