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Good luck to Inja and to the Bengali ninja!

Vikramjit Roy is one of India’s best-known chefs.

The sort of guy guests want to take selfies with. I first met him when he worked in the kitchen of Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi.


I was eating omakase (a Japanese expression that translates loosely as, ‘Leave it to the chef’) and was served two dishes that were not on the menu and were inspired creations. I asked to see the chef and Vikram came out of the kitchen and confessed that both dishes were the products of his own imagination.

   One day, Gautam Anand, then the top talent-spotter at ITC Hotels (his actual job had to do with opening new properties), came to lunch at Wasabi, was as knocked out by Vikram’s food and stole him away from the Taj.
   ITC recognised Vikram’s talents and broke with its own precedents to give this then largely unknown chef major breaks. The Pan-Asian at Chennai’s Grand Chola dispensed with the brand’s old guidelines and became a chef-driven restaurant run by Vikram. When that was a great hit, ITC brought him to Delhi and created Tian at the Maurya as a showpiece for his talent.
  When Tian became a commercial and critical success, Vikram’s future was assured. He went on to leave ITC and explore new areas. He started many new restaurants focussing on Oriental food. A couple of years ago, he finally turned his attention to the food of his native Calcutta and though Delhi’s The Tangra Project was a critical hit, it was too large and suffered from a bad choice of location.
   The Tangra Project went on hiatus till it moved to a new, more suitable location and Vikram disappeared from India.
   I tracked him down to Singapore where Vir Kotak, his partner and backer (in the Tangra Project and at a flourishing cloud kitchen operation) lives. Kotak and his foodie wife Simran have almost unlimited faith in Vikram’s talents and are the sort of supportive backers that most chefs can only dream about.
   It was Vir Kotak’s idea to plan a new restaurant, to be run by Vikram, at an iconic Singapore location: the space that housed Burnt Ends before it moved to its current, larger premises. It is a great location but what, I wondered, could Vikram cook in Singapore?
   He said he wanted to cook Japanese-Indian which, I told him gently, was not such a great idea. Yes there is a cuisine to be developed drawing inspiration from Japanese and Indian food but Singapore, which has some of the best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan and also has several top Indian restaurants (the ground-breaking Revolver and Thevar, which has two Michelin stars) did not strike me as the ideal place to unveil a new, daring cuisine.
   By the time I finally went to Ahara, as Vikram’s new restaurant is called, the chef (with some nudging from his partners) had finally got a fix on what he wanted to do: modern Indian food that drew on his skills as a Japanese/Oriental chef without trying to be Indian-Japanese.
"Oddly enough Vikram was not the only person to think of combining Japanese and Indian cuisine. Chef Adwait Anantwar in Dubai had the same idea."
   Vikram’s food used Japanese ingredients (herbs, leaves, shrimp, seaweed, oysters etc.) and some of the dishes looked Japanese. But Vikram was clear: this was an unapologetically Indian restaurant that incorporated all the skills and technique he had picked up in his decades in restaurant kitchens.
   An Indian from India (as distinct from an NRI) who experiences Vikram’s food will immediately see where he is coming from. This is distinctly Indian food with Malvani gravies and North Indian flavours but Vikram has used his love of the cuisines of East Asia to create dishes that are new and different.
   And because he is in Singapore, Vikram has been able to unleash his skills on luxury ingredients. There are truffles on the menu and one of his more innovative ideas is to do a chaat celebration for guests in the kitchen. What is so unusual about that? Well, the fact that he makes his chaat with caviar.
   Vikram is a gifted and original chef. With supportive backers in Simran and Vir Kotak, he is all set to try and find success abroad that matches the massive reputation he has built up in India.
   Oddly enough Vikram was not the only person to think of combining Japanese and Indian cuisine. Chef Adwait Anantwar in Dubai had the same idea. Adwait worked with Himanshu Saini at Tresind before joining Mohalla restaurant. Mohalla is part of Atelier House Hospitality, one of Dubai’s leading restaurant groups. 11 Woodfire may be its best known restaurant: it has a Michelin star and was number 11 on the list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the Middle East. I had a not-very-good meal there but I may just have been unlucky.
   Panchali Mahendra, a former Oberoi manager who is the President of Atelier House Hospitality, told me that the group held Adwait in high esteem and when he said he wanted to open a Japanese-Indian restaurant, they decided that they would make this their flagship Indian venture.
   They called it Inja (geddit?) and took over the old Indian Accent space at the Manor Hotel in Delhi’s Friends Colony. Mahendra flew to Delhi to launch the restaurant and though they had only been open to the public for three days when I went, she said she was very gratified by the response.
    Adwait’s food is more in-your-face Japanese than Vikram’s. While Vikram has tried to incorporate Japanese ingredients and techniques in his food, Adwait has taken the opposite route. He has taken dishes that look Japanese and introduced Indian flavours into them.
   This is virgin territory so there are no objective standards to judge the dishes by but I enjoyed the food. My favourite was a Panta Bhat (fermented rice) with torched scallops, uni, pickled cucumber, kombu oil etc. It was finished at the table and is an instagrammer’s delight. It may be the most Japanese and least Indian of the dishes I ate. The Udon noodles were flavoured with spices from Meghalaya. I liked both his mustard-flavoured dishes: small Bay of Bengal shrimp and fish served on rice with a mustard gravy. The Bengali influences were welcome though probably unintentional (the chef is a Maharashtrian from Nagpur) but Vikram would have been proud of both those dishes and he would have approved also of the very long menu.
   Both restaurants are important to their chefs. Vikram is a star in India where his Ninja-like charisma has won him as many fans as has the high quality of his food. This is his first attempt to take his Indian stardom abroad.
   Atelier House Hospitality is a force to reckon with in Dubai and in other countries. It hopes to make an impression in India with its first restaurant here. And Adwait has been brave enough to step out of his comfort zone and do something entirely different.
   Both restaurants have just opened. I hope they will both do well. So, lots of luck to Inja and to the Bengali ninja!
Posted On: 31 Mar 2023 11:55 AM
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