Indian pubs and bars

Posted on Analysis Mar 2011 - by Tandoori Magazine
Indian pubs and bars

Indian restaurants have been based in all kinds of premises, even pubs and bars. But does that make any difference? Tandoori finds out

They say location is everything, and can make or break a restaurant. But its not too unreasonable to assume that even the premises themselves can make a difference - not only to the kind of food and drink you offer, but also to how you are perceived in the eyes of the public.

In fact, Indian restaurants have been known to be based in all kinds of weird and wonderful premises, and we are not talking ex-retail outlets or even just previous restaurant sites. So don't be too surprised to learn that Indian restaurants have been based in converted churches, railway carriages, old railway ticket offices and even converted cinemas. It also puts an interesting spin on what a restaurant should or shouldn 't be, not to mention saying a lot of positive things about the entrepreneurial zeal and the lengths to which restaurateurs will go to, to make a success of their business.

Pub and bar premises naturally call for an informal environment where customers can gather round with friends and family, and enjoy drinks, watch sports and even Bollywood song and dance numbers on plasma screens while dining on food that is good, but not too high-end or expensive. That's the hallmark of an increasing number of Indian-style bars and pubs across the UK.

What's more is that more often than not robust flavours are at the heart of the cooking, the reason being that so many of these pub and club type venues are frequented by Asian customers - just the kind of place where succulent jeera chicken, a creamy dal makhni and a cold pint of beer go hand in hand!

The Blue Ginger, Zan Zi Bar, The Regency Club, Spice Rack Lounge and the White Moghuls, all in north-west London, along with the Crown and Pepper in Croydon, or even the somewhat quaint sounding Cheshire Cheese Fusion Pub in Crewe, are all examples of pubs, clubs and lounge type venues serving Indian food - as opposed to being in restaurant premises.

"What you get with pubs and bar set establishments," says Ketan Mandalia, one of Blue Ginger 's directors, "is a near perfect environment that fits and caters for everyone. In the old days, when there were very few Indian-style pubs, there was very much a male-orientated crowd and you still get that in certain outlets. Ours isn't a pub in any case. It was at one time, but we converted it and now it's a whisky lounge, a sports bar and, of course, a restaurant.

"At the time we were planning this concept, my co-directors and I knew that there was a demand for this kind of a place, so it was very much a case of utilising that demand to its maximum. Ours is the kind of place where parents can bring their grown-up teenage son to come and watch a game of football on our large TV screens and then settle in for a family meal, to one where friends can meet up for a cocktail and have some food. We have multiple generations coming in and they feel relaxed and comfortable so we have pretty much covered all angles."

As Mandalia notes, these types of pub-set places generally tend to be quite "democratic" and welcome everyone. They are not trying to be too upmarket or offer cutting-edge cooking. Instead, more often than not, you are likely to be dining in a place that offers home-style cooking.

Navin Sharma, owner of the Regency Club in Queensbury, London, where they serve north Indian style food with an "east African twist", concurs with this notion. Opened in 1991, prior to which Sharma owned the Premier Club in nearby Sudbury, the Regency has doubled in size from its original premises. With 1200 members currently, there is a nominal membership fee of just £1 to join the Regency, but what Sharma is adamant about is that the term "club" keeps the "riff-raff" out. It also gives members a certain sense of exclusivity and cachet where they can bring two guests with them. In addition, the licence allows the Regency to have three jackpot machines.

"We give our members a key fob which they swipe at the entrance," states Sharma. "There's a buzzer there and we let them in. It means that we can control whom we let in and whom we don't, though we don't have to worry because we always get such a lovely crowd and they are so well behaved. The Regency is also a real home away from home. No wonder we get so many English clientele as well, because they know that our cooking is very authentic. We even get members down from a Curry Club in Hampshire every couple of months because they love the food here so much. Good food with our best-selling items including chicken wings, garlic mogo and chicken methi, good service and a good ambience, you can't ask for more!"

Another buzzing pub-cum-bar-cum-restaurant is Zan Zi Bar in Edgware, which like Blue Ginger and the Regency is renowned for its robust cooking. Owned and run by the husband and wife team of Sameer and Sheetal Malik, and a Taj trained-head chef at the kitchen's helm, the establishment has mustered quite a following over the years.

"To have a premises such as ours," says Sheetal, "has given us an element of character. We are not a conventional restaurant and our bar is a feature in itself. When we first started, the decor was very traditional and pub-like, but we have put in a lot of work into it. Even though the bar remains a feature in itself."

As you enter Zan Zi Bar, there are tables and chairs to the left, the lounge area with leather sofas to the right while the bar and the main dining area are ahead. Large TV screens are dotted all around the place showing Bollywood videos and sports matches.

"I don't think there's any downside to being located in a pub premises," says Sheetal Malik. "Sameer always wanted to do something food orientated and having this site has meant that we can equally put an emphasis on the drinks as well. Initially, it was very much a pub operation with a menu that wasn't anywhere near as comprehensive as it is now. But within the year we opened, the food was becoming so popular that we decided to expand to a menu that was the equivalent of what it would be in a restaurant. That said, we still get customers who want to just sit in the lounge area with friends and just relax and chat with drinks and some nibbles or platters from our menu."

The pub or bar formula, depending on how it's executed, clearly works. What's common to places such as Blue Ginger, Regency and Zan Zi Bar is that they all offer full-blown menus that are for the masses with a standard of cooking which is good yet stops short of being adventurous. Or for that matter, too minimal and bar-like.

"I think that is a crucial factor in the winning formula," notes Mandalia. "You have to know your customers, know what they want and then give them what they want. You can't be stuck-up about it. Blue Ginger doesn't pretend to be a pricey London West End restaurant with food that only a handful of people would like or even comprehend. We know for instance that a lot of our regulars like Indo-Chinese food so we make a point of always having those types of dishes on our menu. Our clientele also like a good choice of mocktails so we ensure that we have enough of a selection for those.

"There is no secret to our success. Give your clientele choice, quality, fine service and fair pricing and that will always work."

 

Blue GingerTel.: 020 8909 0100

SAMPLE MENU

Starters
Grilled fish
Chilli chicken on--the-bone
Spicy lamb ribs
Garlic chilli mogo
Sesame Paneer

Mains
Machoozi chicken
Chicken chilli cashewnut
Kadhai lamb
Achari aloo baingan
Egg methi masala


Reviews
"Imagine a sports bar with a penchant for all things Bollywood. Blue Ginger may not look like much from the outside, but it certainly taps into the tastes of well-to-do British Asians... The menu embraces Indo-oriental cookery: North Indian kebabs, Punjabified shezwan chicken with extra chilli hits, and even South Indian idlis (rice cakes) doused in black bean sauce."
Time Out

"This is a very, very good restaurant for the price. though a bit of a trek from the tube, it is genuinely different from anywhere else."
www.londontown.com

"Fantastic food at a good price! Reasonable decor and very nice cocktails. The restaurant had a comfortable atmosphere and is a nice to place to visit with family, friends or a partner." 
www.viewlondon.co.uk

 


The Regency Club - Tel.: 020 8952 6300

SAMPLE MENU

Starters
Crispy fried wings
Malai jeera chicken
Chilli garlic prawns
Kachori
Garlic mogo
Crispy bhindi

Mains
Bombay chicken bahar
Patia chicken
Kheema aloo
Tawa lamb
Balti lamb
Murg masala


REVIEWS
"The Regency Club is a busy venue that offers a varied selection of authentic Indian cuisine"
View London

"Simply, the best place to enjoy Indian food in London... I've been here numerous times and the food is of a consistent standard - always excellent... The fact that the Regency is always busy is because the food is excellent and people like coming here!"
"You will probably have to wait ages for a table, but the food is worth it, as is the atmosphere."

www.londoneating.co.uk

"The food is excellent!"
www.urbanspoon.com

 

 

Zan Zi Bar - Tel.: 020 8952 2986

SAMPLE MENU

Starters
Chicken tikka (on the bone)
Reshmi kebab
Chilli chicken (Indo-Chinese Style)
Boti kebab

Mains
Asli chicken curry
Chicken lababdar
Methi keema
Sarson da saag
Punjabi kadhi
Corn masala


REVIEWS
"A magnet for aficionados of North Indian and Punjabi-style curries... The cooking is characterised by bold spicing and kebabs and tandoori items which would put an upmarket Indian restaurant to shame."
The Guardian

"Succulent tandoori lamb chops, asli chicken curry and sarson da saag (creamy textured mustard greens that had a fine, piquant kick) were satisfyingly tasty... Verdict: gutsy Indian cooking in boisterous surroundings."
Time Out

"An eating place with a difference..."
Optima Magazine

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