On Saturday, The Oberoi reopened after a year-long restoration effort that has finally erased the bullet marks and cleared the debris of the 26/11 terror attack.
For Mumbaiites, this means three of their favourite restaurants are back in action.
Kandahar, the Oberoi’s flagship restaurant in Mumbai, has been renamed Ziya and features a revamped menu and India’s only Michelin star chef, Vineet Bhatia.
Tiffin has re-emerged as Fenix, an all-day diner headed by Oberoi veteran Satbir Bakshi. And Vetro, the Italian restaurant, has reopened under the direction of Finnish chef Tuomas Heikkinen.
“With what’s happened, we thought it best to start afresh,” says Oberoi executive chef Matthew Cropp. “We have retained our bestsellers while also redeveloping the menus, making sure to balance the expectations of our loyal patrons with our vision of raising the bar through innovation.”
A look at the new men in charge, and their vision for their restaurants.
Vineet Bhatia (42),
consulting chef, Ziya
In the hotel’s re-opening address, Oberoi president Liam Lambert made a reference to “the return of a prodigal son”.
That son is chef Vineet Bhatia, who has returned to the hotel 25 years after training at the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development.
Bhatia is the first Indian chef-restaurateur to be awarded a Michelin star (for his London restaurant Rasoi) and is credited with changing the West’s perception of Indian food by bringing it into the realm of fine-dining.
At The Oberoi, Bhatia is consulting chef for Ziya, where he will showcase his sophisticated re-invention of Indian classics.
“It’s like coming full circle for me. I worked in the same kitchen for five years and now I am leading that kitchen. It’s great to be back working for the mentors,” says Bhatia, a Mumbai boy who is back home after 17 years in London.
At Ziya, the Indian flavour is understated but unmissable, with crockery infused with gold and the fragrance of spices in the air.
Bhatia has also overhauled the menu of the erstwhile Kandahar.
“We basically cleansed and contemporised the overwhelming Indian thali,” he says. “We now offer a balanced blend of staples from Indian cuisine, presented with a sophistication that pleases all senses and surprises the guests.”
Tuomas Heikkinen (35),
executive chef, Vetro
As the only space that didn’t sustain damage during the 26/11 attack, Vetro has retained its original form, except chef Tuomas Heikkinen is now in charge.
“I’ve heard so many stories about Emanuelle Lattanzi, about his many local and loyal customers and I realise I have big shoes to fill,” he says, referring to Vetro’s former executive chef, who had completed his contract and has returned to Italy.
Vetro’s new menu packs in Lattanzi’s signature dishes and Tuomas’s creativity in equal measure. The chef has also retained members from Lattanzi’s team, to ensure that guests get the old favourites exactly as they like them.
But it’s the thrill of innovation that’s got Tuomas smiling through the challenge.
“I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the Indian palate,” says the Finnish chef. “People are much more accustomed to the fine-dining concept and to new tastes. I want to focus on exploiting the similarities between the two cuisines [Indian and Italian] and not just build on traditional fare.”
To prepare for his term at this cozy diner — even though he has worked at Travertino, the Italian restaurant at the Delhi Oberoi, for four years — Tuomas trained at an Italian restaurant tucked away in the Alps in northern Italy.
Back in Mumbai, he has introduced a new selection of cheeses, meats — including wild boar — and imported vegetables like white asparagus, artichoke and fresh berries.
“I will keep changing the menu and improve on Lattanzi’s legacy,” he smiles.
Satbir Bakshi (33),
senior sous chef,
While interviewing for a job at The Oberoi, Satbir Bakshi spoke out of turn and asked to be hired in Mumbai rather than in Delhi, his home city.
“This is the flagship property and the thrill of serving in Mumbai, I was sure, would not compare with Delhi,” says Bakshi.
His audacity served him well. For six years, Bakshi has immersed himself behind steaming stations across each of the hotel’s restaurants.
Having served at The Brasserie, The Rotisserie, Vetro and Tiffin, Bakshi finally zeroed in on the last one as his territory.
“During the restoration [Tiffin was destroyed in the attacks], I was in the Frangipani kitchen and old patrons would hound us for Tiffin’s signature dishes even though they weren’t on the menu… we’d make the dishes for them,” says Bakshi (33), who trained at the Institute of Hotel Management, Ahmedabad.
Tiffin has now been replaced by Fenix, an all-day diner in which Bakshi has tried to meet the expectations of old patrons while also offering a new and varied menu of contemporary international cuisine.
While the popular sushi bar headed by chef Ruben Santos has been retained, Bakshi has added a host of new gourmet sandwiches, burgers and salads to the lunch menu.
“Here, every measure is taken to please the guest,” says Bakshi, who included teriyaki chicken and beef on the menu, at a guest’s recommendation.
“As in a coffee shop you can spend all day here just unwinding and yet the food standards are at par with that of a fine-dining space.”