A look at India's three iconic F&B brands that are expanding beyond the confines of their original hotels
Wasabi by Morimoto and Shamiana in The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, Jamavar at The Leela Hotels and Bukhara at ITC Maurya have held their own in an industry where hotels continue to experiment with new formats and cuisines
Legacy F&B brands have stood hotels in good stead. Wasabi by Morimoto and Shamiana in The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, Jamavar at The Leela Hotels and Bukhara at ITC Maurya have held their own in an industry where hotels continue to experiment with new formats and cuisines. Their competitors also include innovative F&B formats in new luxury hotels, such as the various St Regis, Ritz Carlton and Conrad hotels that have opened in some parts of India. What, then, makes these F&B formats evergreen? It is clearly their legacy and their continued relevance that takes them through.
Three restaurants that have stood the test of time and how hotels are keeping them au courant.
Shamiana, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
Nostalgia for the all-day restaurant, which opened in 1973 at the Taj (Mahal Palace), spans generations—my grandparents, parents, cousins and I, all created our own special memories here, alongside fond recollection of Sunday family lunches.
“Taj has always stayed ahead of the curve in the culinary space,” says Prabhat Verma, Executive Vice President – Operations, South India, International & Ancillary Businesses, IHCL. “And this has resulted in achieving an iconic status for many of its restaurants. Notable amongst these is India’s first 24-hour coffee shop—Shamiana at India's first luxury hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Since 1973, it has been known by locals and guests as an iconic stop for a delicious selection of international casual food. In 2016, a new avatar of the legendary coffee shop was unveiled at the hotel and very recently, the brand forayed into international markets, with an iteration at the newly launched Taj Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai.
Shamiana is The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai classic that continues to find patrons.
Over the years, Shamiana has gone through a makeover in more ways than one. It was moved back to its original location by the lobby, making it more accessible. It has an outdoor terrace too, with stunning antique jaalis forming a shield against the city noise and hustle bustle outside. However, no iconic restaurant can boast of a loyal following without focusing on the cuisine. Unique only to Shamiana is the Taj Autograph menu, reflective of the cuisine culture of the marquee cities of the world where Taj has its presence. The menu is a curation of signature dishes from around the world, such as Cobb Salad from The Pierre, New York; Fish and Chips from St James Court, London; Chicken Bunny from Taj Cape Town; as well as specialties from Taj Exotica, Maldives and Taj Samudra, Colombo, which bring their own Sri Lankan spice and Maldivian flair to the Shamiana table.
Jamavar, The Leela Group
A couple of years ago, the then co-chairman and managing director of The Leela Group (and now cochairman and MD of Hlv Ltd) took Jamavar, the iconic Indian restaurant from The Leela, to Mayfair in London. It was The Leela Group’s first international standalone restaurant. Nair had run a short-lived restaurant on Mount Street before that. The Leela zeroed in on Indian as their choice of cuisine to foray into the London market, and there could have been no better brand than Jamavar.
The name of The Leela Group’s iconic Indian restaurant, Jamavar, takes cues from Kashmir’s intricate Jamawar shawls.
Over the years, Jamavar has achieved cult status at The Leela Mumbai and The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri. While naming it, the Nairs drew inspiration from Kashmir’s Jamawar shawls, which have very intricate embroidery. The intricacies of the Jamawar shawl matched the intricacies of the Indian cuisine served. The Leela hired chefs from Delhi to cook north Indian cuisine when they opened Jamawar to get the authenticity right. Jamavar London is designed by Fabel Studio. They have drawn inspiration from Lutyens’ Delhi; they have also incorporated some design details from Rashtrapati Bhavan in the design. About 40 % of the menu are Jamawar classics, picked by old hands, Chefs Surendra Mohan and Purshottam.
The consistency of its cuisine and the beauty of its décor and ambience are, perhaps, what makes Jamavar a royal classic.
Initially, 60% of the menu was designed by their then London chef, Rohit Ghai, who has worked in two Michelin starred restaurants, Banaras and Gymkhana. He got his third Michelin star while working in Jamavar London. Among the classics on the menu are butter chicken, the Jamawar daal, Lobster Neruli and Sindhi Ghosht, a recipe bequeathed by a friend’s wife to Chef Mohan. The restaurant introduced small or share plates, which are quite a rage in London. In India, too, Jamawar at The Leela continues to hold its fort. A sevencourse dinner in the lap of luxury at the so-called Maharaja Table at Jamavar, The Leela Palace, is an experience suited for royalty. From the Frenching on the lamb racks and Quenelling of the badam halwa, to the tastefully vibrant plating of the desert platter and the use of kokum extract to balance the sweet and mildly fragrant sandalwood sorbet, almost every aspect of the meal was curated with a surgical precision. The consistency of its cuisine and the beauty of its décor and ambience are, perhaps, what makes Jamavar such a royal classic. Today, it has a presence in five Leela properties, besides London.
Bukhara at ITC Maurya
Every celebrity who visits Delhi—From the Obamas to the Trumps —has stopped over at Bukhara. It has featured in the top restaurants list across the world. Conde Nast’s editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman had once written, “We love that nothing about this place has changed in 30 years. The result is the most masterful North-West Frontier tandoor-style cooking imaginable." Its four-decades-old menu features cuisine from the North-West Frontier and stands testimony to a culture which, itself, is over 5,000 years old. If there’s one thing Bukhara champions like no other restaurant in the country, it is the tandoor—the traditional clay oven used for making kababs, curries and breads. No wonder then that its iconic dish, Dal Bukhara, along with a serving of Sikandari Raan and Murgh Malai Kabab, are on the checklist of every Delhi visitor.
The ‘mindful cuisine’ approach to each dish has helped Bukhara at ITC Maurya survive competition and become the icon it is.
Interestingly, Bukhara was the first to go to London as a standalone, but it didn’t last too long. However, over the years, it has taken its famous cuisine to countries such as Spain, Singapore and the UK via pop-ups. There is a timelessness to the experience. The decor—cave-like and in dark brown tones, with hand-woven thick rugs hanging from the walls—has remained unchanged for its entire existence. The place settings are simple—just plates and copper urns for water.
ITC contends that its ‘mindful cuisine’ approach to each dish has helped Bukhara survive competition and become the icon it is. Bukharafollowed the ‘farm-to-table’ trend even before it because the buzzword in the culinary world. The black lentil used to prepare Dal Bukhara, for instance, is sourced from farmers who use pesticide free fertilisers. The spices that make the flavours robust are hand-picked by chefs from Khari Baoli in Delhi, known to be Asia’s largest spice market. And finally, the curry is prepared using the artisan method of slow cooking over gentle ambers for 18 hours, which gives it the unique creamy texture.
Interestingly, each of these cooking techniques and locally sourced ingredients are finding their way into kitchens of most hotels today.