The Heart of a Restaurant

Posted on Front of House May 2012 - by Tandoori Magazine
The Heart of a Restaurant

Jitendra Rana, owner of the newly opened Atithi, in Twickenham, believes that a good chef is at the heart of a restaurant. He explains more to Tandoori

Suburban Indian restaurants can often have a familiarity about them, which one becomes accustomed to. They give customers what they want and are good at doing that. But whilst there's nothing wrong with meeting expectations, what it can also mean is a lack of anything new and surprising to offer to your customers. So what is it that would thrill and excite them, and keep them coming back?

According to Jitendra Rana, proprietor of the newly launched Atithi, in Twickenham, it's a good chef – and a good chef is at the heart of a good restaurant.

"I've eaten out for many years," says Rana, "and had experience of aspects such as finance, service and marketing. So it was on my mind for a while to start up a restaurant. But I was also aware that in suburban enclaves, good Indian restaurants are hard to find, particularly ones that serve authentic Indian cooking. To bring that to the fore in a restaurant that I was going to open, it was crucial that I had a quality chef at the helm."

Having known Krishnapal Negi, who co-owns Swagat, in Richmond, Rana decided to include him in the project as head chef and co-director of Atithi. As discussions ensued, it was decided that Atithi would have a menu with strong north Indian leanings, but one where authenticity was partnered with some of Negi's own touches, particularly when it comes to execution and presentation.

"Twickenham is an area," notes Rana, "which has anywhere between 15 to 20 Indian restaurants just within a radius of a mile. So Atithi had to stand out from the competition and be truly authentic and distinctive. At the same time, a certain amount of flair had to come into the cooking. One thing I knew we couldn't do is to be adventurous or flamboyant in any way. That would really go against the principle of being a neighbourhood restaurant."

Negi's credentials are second to none and he's arguably one of the finest Indian chefs working in the UK today. Having trained with the Oberoi hotel group, Negi has worked under the likes of chef Vineet Bhatia here as well as garnering a Michelin BIB Gourmand at Tangiwizi, one of the previous restaurants he worked at.

"I was confident," states Negi, "that I would be able to assist Jitendra and his partners with what they required. Richmond, where Swagat is based, isn't far at all from Twickenham, so I knew the terrain and the overall customer base. At the end of the day, any chef worth his salt should be able to gauge customer tastes very quickly and decipher their likes and dislikes."

Did Rana ever feel when discussions were taking place that perhaps Negi didn't quite grasp how the project was going to pan out or vice versa?

"Nothing runs smoothly in business," he admits. "But what we mainly did have was a healthy argument over the price levels of the menu. For myself, I feel that what Negi was proposing was just too low. Then again, he has years of experience and knowledge, and can make a judgement, which is better than mine. He understands how to cater for different palates and to give the food a refined veneer, something which separates a good chef from a mediocre one. I couldn't have asked for anyone better to have joined me."

 

Sample Menu

Starters

Ambhi paneer tikka

Garlic mushroom

Prawn naryali

Murg malai tikka

Mains

Teekhay jheengey

Grilled sea bass

Masala liptey murgh

Gilafi handi

Sides

Bhutta methi palak

Pinde chole

Aloo udayagiri

Sabzee panj rattanee

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