Michelin star-winning chef is opening a new restaurant in Bahrain
The bar for Indian cuisine on the island is about to be raised as Chef Vineet Bhatia, the only Indian chef in the world to hold two Michelin stars, makes his debut in Bahrain. Katy Gillett speaks to the man himself to find out more.
The plans for Chef Vineet Bhatia’s new Bahrain-based restaurant have been kept fairly hush-hush up until now. He wouldn’t give us its name. And we can’t tell you a concrete opening date. But one thing we do know for sure is that this new venue is going to revolutionise the landscape of Indian cuisine on the island.
The unnamed restaurant, which will open in the Gulf Hotel in the next couple of months (most likely October), may be his debut in Bahrain but it’s certainly not Chef Vineet’s first foray into the region. He’s already launched three other successful restaurants in Dubai and Qatar, and there’s another to open in Riyadh in September. Saffron Lounge, in Qatar, even beat a Time Out GCC record when it won ‘Best Indian’ for the fourth consecutive year at the Time Out Doha Restaurant Awards 2014.
Chef Vineet shares with us the secret of his success. ‘It’s a matter of understanding local culture,’ he says. ‘Giving the guests what they like to eat and having a strong focus on quality, product care and passion regarding food and service towards your guests. You want them to feel great and to leave happy. You also want them to come back regularly to you.’
Definitely no easy task, but Chef Vineet is not one to shy away from a challenge. When he first moved to the United Kingdom back in 1993, he tells us, ‘it was a very sad affair. You could get curry and rice anywhere in the country but it wasn’t cooked the way it’s done in India because it wasn’t done by Indian chefs.’ So he set out to change peoples’ mindsets and eventually broke the mould. Since then, the Indian cuisine scene in the UK, and particularly in London, has changed dramatically. And Chef Vineet has scored two Michelin stars, an achievement no other Indian specialty chef can claim.
‘When we were first starting out [Indian people in particular] were skeptical,’ he tells us. ‘“What is he doing?” they would ask.’ As opposed to the regular heavy curries that have become synonymous with Indian food, Chef Vineet tried something new and evolved. It’s modern, healthier and not so oily but still tastes authentic. ‘The quality has to come through and when they try it, they realise it’s good,’ he says. ‘We control spices so they’re matched together in a harmony of flavours and not too pungent,’ he explains. ‘So you can have a seven-course meal and still have a clean palate. It’s subtle in a way and that’s very important to me.’
With up to ten years of experience cooking for customers in the GCC, Chef Vineet has got the region’s tastes down to a tee. When he was first starting out here, in Dubai in 2005, however, he again faced skepticism. ‘Everybody asked why [we were starting this kind of Indian restaurant] because you can go to old Dubai for a great curry for really cheap... But I say you cater for where you are and we set the benchmark high from day one. There is a demand.’
In Bahrain, we’re also used to a range of Indian restaurants but what Chef Vineet is promising is something very different. ‘We want a much more fine experience. More drama, more theatre, more style.’
He and the Gulf Hotel team have been working quietly together for the past year to evolve this concept. ‘We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. These things take a long time… it’s a whole new restaurant being built from scratch so there are lots of logistical issues. It’s not just about good food – a lot goes into opening a restaurant.’
Everything from the electrics to the plumbing, light fittings to table cloths, has come under scrutiny. ‘You have an empty shell, a blank canvas, and you decide how you want it to flow,’ says Chef Vineet. The restaurant was set to open this month, however Chef explains they’ve had to re-evaluate a few design aspects. ‘We need it to fall into place,’ he says. ‘Ninety percent of issues are in pre-planning and planning. No matter what you do, if you want to achieve perfection you have to put it all in from day one.’
When it comes to the food at this new restaurant, however, everything has been crystal clear from the get-go: ‘The ethos is classic cuisine of India but lighter, healthier, finer in many aspects. It’s not a greasy spoon. It’s everything down to the crockery, cutlery, glassware – you want it to be a complete experience.’
But, we had to ask, why Bahrain and why now? ‘It’s a small country but it’s got a lot of eating out and a lot of exposure for restaurants,’ Chef Vineet says. So when he was approached by the Gulf Hotel he was interested. ‘There are already [many] food and beverage outlets in there and they’re all doing well but there’s nothing Indian... It’s an iconic property so it made sense for us to get into a joint venture to showcase our cuisine to the highest level.’
With the success Chef Vineet and his teams have already achieved, we have no doubt that this new project will be a huge hit in Bahrain as well. So bring on the Michelin-starred kebabs.
Other Indian spots to try
It’s Mirchi A very reasonably priced eatery in the heart of Juffair offering above average Indian food. Ramee International Hotel, Juffair (3838 1615).
Lanterns Lounge and Restaurant
Wallet-friendly, flavoursome Indian served in bazaar-style interiors. The Adliya spot has a beautiful lounge area too. Budaiya Highway and Block 338, Adliya (1724 6777).
Good value food served on a banana leaf. It attracts a primarily Indian crowd which is a good sign. Ramee Baisan International Hotel, off Exhibition Ave (1729 0600).
Sophisticated yet authentic Indian food in a plush, intimate setting. Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Spa, Seef (1758 0000).
Authentic Indian cuisine in a lovely venue at Seef’s newest five-star hotel. Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa, Seef (1711 1973).