The vibrant Indian diaspora settled abroad has created its own homegrown but improvised cuisine that has become a leitmotif of Indian innovative expressions. NRI or Not Really Indian, a restaurant by Atul Kochhar, the famed Indian Michelin-starred chef from London celebrated for his iconic restaurant Benares at Berkley Square, brings you those very flavours from outside India, but crafted with mainly local ingredients.
Kochhar explains the concept around his new restaurant: “With every migration, there were some classic recipes that went out with people. And in their new habitat, they created a recipe with local ingredients that became part of their new homes and heritage.”
Atul’s keen spirit of innovation extends to the quaint cuisine that defines the casual dining experience. Names like Roti Canai, Pepper Crab, Caribbean Goat Masala with Buss Up Shut Roti, Mombasa Zeera Chicken or Paneer, South African Bunny Chow, Sri Lankan Potli and South African Piri Piri Chicken Wings bring back nostalgia of some familiarity of Indian food that boasts of a very distinct diaspora flavour.
The menu at NRI is inspired deeply from Atul Kochhar’s personal and professional travels across the world, his observations on how his own family’s food changed with migration from Pakistan to various parts of India. “It’s the stories that make food fascinating… There’s the time I tasted vegetarian chili for the first time in a Hare Rama Hare Krishna temple in Toronto. I thought that it was very Indianesque, although it was classic Canadian chili, made to the tastes of vegetarian Indians there,” Kochhar recalls. He strongly endorses and practices use of local, seasonal and sustainable produce with a low carbon footprint, and to that commitment Kochhar will be working with a horticulturalist, who will help him grow his own produce for NRI.
The ambience, interiors and aesthetics of this trendy restaurant reflect the signature touches and specialty dishes that earned Atul Kochhar his stars. The design was conceptualised by Andy Lampard from the UK and executed by architect Udayan Bhatt and it bears an interesting stroke of colonial nostalgia and deep-rooted Indianness in a warm and casual setting with graceful Victorian lamp posts, a chic thela (food cart), and seating that references railway stations from the 1920s.
The street hawker feel lingers on, a cultural, visual reminder of the streets we live on, from Marine Drive to Mahim Causeway, Bond Street to Bermondsey Road. With vibrancy and simplicity, cultures are represented at the street kerb. The high, soft-lit bar at the entrance is a welcoming introduction to the interiors, while an outside patio serves as a waiting lounge for diners. The liberally embellished entrance door decked with intricate old block prints is a fascinating element of creativity.
Carefully handpicked premium world wines make their lasting imprint with the adventurous cuisine here.
A chilled glass of Man Family Free Run Steen Chenin Blanc from Paarl, South Africa, heralds the flavours of a delightful cold starter, Dalim Shakarkandhi Chaat, and a hot number, Malay Butter Mushrooms. The consecutively diverse flavours add to the zing of each dish.
From their Robata section, Atul has created varieties like the thrilling Lemon Coriander Cottage Cheese with spicy chutney and South African Piri Piri Wings that pair superbly with a fine peppery red wine, Trapiche Malbec Mendoza Valley from Argentina. One could do a waltz with another splendid plumy and intense red wine, Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press from France, matching Pork Curlies or Mamak Lamb Chops and Mauritian Chicken Nuggets.
Other specialties like Caribbean Goat Curry, Sri Lankan Potli Murg, Malacca Bobra Pork or Pind Da Hummus marries cultures as much as the wines to go with them. In the Tem Pakora bracket Popiah Rolls and Benares Special Karara Kekda can intrigue you. Remember to blend it with the fine, deep purple hued Grover La Reserve Cabernet Shiraz with its cigar and burntwood flavours.
For cocktail enthusiasts, the bar lists exciting signature numbers—Mumbai Martini, Citrus Kiss, Indian Itch, ImliJeera Caipirojka, Redbush Refresher and Island Belle. NRI signature desserts include Masala Chai Baileys Brownie, Jaggery Bread Pudding, Orange Cheesecake with Ajwain crumble, etc.
By Kishore Iyengar
The Iyengars are lifestyle writers