THE MUCH-anticipated launch of Mumbai’s iconic restaurant Indigo in Delhi was touted to trigger a restaurant war in the capital, but Rahul Akerkar, the man behind Indigo, harbours no such ideas. He mentions Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent, the most talked about standalone restaurant in Delhi, as among the places that have shaken five-stars out of their complacency, but argues in the same breath that standalone restaurants can’t equal the Le Cirques of the world in scale.
“Restaurants housed in five-stars have institutions backing them. They can accomplish tie-ups with the best brands in the world. We can’t do that. But what a place like Indigo has is personality—that of the person behind it. It reflects in the food, the ambience and the experience.” That there’s space for everyone is the clear message!
The restaurant launched in Delhi earlier this week after almost a year of speculation of its opening within a few weeks… a few months… and so on. “Finally,” as Akerkar says, his relief palpable.
The restaurant had an open house a couple of days before it threw its doors open to the public, where the wine flowed and the food disappeared fast. But then this is expected at a restaurant associated with Akerkar. A chef-entrepreneur, he is a guy with a ‘crystal ball’, as he jokingly responds when asked if he has a golden touch, considering all his ventures are great commercial successes too.
But he has also had his share of struggle. From washing dishes as a student in the US to apprenticing as a chef in several kitchens in New York for about a decade to several ‘pre-Indigo’ attempts at running restaurants, he finally struck gold with Indigo, which he opened in Mumbai in 1999. The restaurant was soon acclaimed as a fine-dining establishment, and Akerkar capitalised on the brand with ‘Indigo Delicatessen’ or Indigo Deli in 2005. One opened in Delhi, too, last year.
Delhi was also the obvious choice for him when it came to expanding the restaurant brand, being the “only other big city after Mumbai”. He doesn’t readily agree when asked if the food has been tweaked to suit north Indian palates, but offers in a more roundabout way that people in Mumbai are more agreeable to sweet accompanying the salty, which Delhiites (read Punjabis) would not accept. Sweet chicken? Shudder! The menu at the capital’s Indigo is quite similar to the parent restaurant’s and there is no definite tilt towards chicken. As for the flavours being more pronounced, the debate is open.
It takes a bit of finding to locate the restaurant, but once there, the vast open space does wow, especially residents of a claustrophobic city. However, seeing the relatively small space indoors as compared with the deck and terrace, one wonders how many people would prefer alfresco when Delhi has extreme temperatures for the better part of the year (Akerkar is shivering as he talks). Maybe the pleasant climes of Bengaluru will beckon next…