A LITTLE over a decade ago, when I began my career in the hospitality industry, the thought of starting one’s own restaurant was an extravagant one. When I spoke to my peers, many lamented having to work in the regimented world of five-star luxury (although the best recruitment option at the time) and clamping down on their own approach to food. Hotels are standardised, a new executive or chef works within the framework of what has already been established. Needless to mention, it is limiting.
Hence, new restaurant openings within the company were the most coveted positions. It was easily a decade if not more before a restaurant was shut down and replaced by another. Sitting in the present, it’s almost unbelievable to imagine that hotels got away with the same restaurants for so many years. But they did! Today, a decade or so later, many of those peers have moved away from the comfortable confines of daily routine and deep-dived into the restless and unpredictable world of being restaurant entrepreneurs.
Some starts have been modest, just a kitchen that delivers or caters to small parties. Another a gorgeous bed and breakfast up in Landour near Mussoorie (La Vila Bethanny), a lovingly restored beautiful heritage property, home stay and environment-friendly. Others have ventured further and invested in the classic brick and mortar restaurant and decided to leave their imprint on the burgeoning free-standing restaurant landscape. Drifters Cafe in Gurgaon is one such example by former hotel executive Mehul Sharma along with two other partners Ankur Gupta and Saumitra Suryavanshi. Drifters Cafe started with what they like to call a “happy truck”—this food truck drove into residential and office neighbourhoods and served up south Asian street food.
It also catered to private parties and commercial launches. Food trucks have been quite the hit, they have proven to be the trendy alternative to banquet catering. A friend has been calling in a pizzeria on wheels for her kid’s birthday parties for the last few years. It’s easy on the pocket and less fussy. The food truck drives in, the set-up is all in place, so no messy set-ups are required or after-party clean-ups. Always creatively festooned, their presence creates a natural buzz. The flip side: orders have to be on the dot since they come stocked up with limited ingredients, so if you go over on the plate count, tense moments can follow.
Drifters Cafe established a loyal following and also its mobile visibility. Its food truck doubling up as a billboard has helped. It’s worked for the folks behind Drifters Cafe. They are now ready with their first brick and mortar restaurant in Gurgaon.
Drifters Cafe Club Five (annexed to the DLF Club) is a cheerful and buzzy little outlet, which stays true to its promise of offering feel-good south Asian street fare in a comfortable ambience. If there was one thing missing with the food truck, it was the option of sitting down and “chowing down”. In its restaurant avatar, Drifters Cafe is loyal to the cuisine. If there is any standardisation, it is to be found here. I have eaten at both and apart from the comfort of “dining in”, there is no difference in the quality of food. This will be reassuring to those who were first introduced to Drifters Cafe on four wheels.
In the restaurant, the food continues to travel across south Asia. There are some old faithfuls like the Thai green and red curry (which could do with some improvement), but it’s the other items on the menu (an extended menu when compared to the truck) that need to be tasted. For example, the Indonesian Chicken rice, or “nasi goreng” for people who eschew culinary translations, also known as the national dish of Indonesia, is a winner on this menu. True to its essence, it seamlessly moves from the roadside to a restaurant and makes a great rival to biryani. The Balinese Fish Curry, served with steamed rice and crispy onions, is an aromatic and delicious option that is a must-try.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad.