Tote turns tables
Fine dining restaurant does a volteface, to serve ethnic cuisine as Indian restaurant Neel.india Updated: Jul 23, 2011 15:49 IST
Less than a year after his most ambitious project Tote On The Turf opened at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, the western grill restaurant has now turned into Neel — top chef Rahul Akerkar’s first Indian venture. But use the word ‘overhaul’ and his wife Malini Akerkar vehemently disagrees. “We didn’t overhaul the menu, we decided to create a new brand, Neel, which we hope to take internationally,” she says, adding, “ It all started with our catering arm, Moveable Feast, which served Indian food that people enjoyed. In fact, we were urged to create a platform for it.”
Malini insists that they found Tote On The Turf eating into their existing client base at Indigo and Indigo Deli in Colaba, and Indian food was the obvious choice for the restaurant’s makeover. “We have a great chef, and we’ve been researching the food for over a year. We’ve had food-tasting sessions for over four months now,” she reveals.
The menu features dishes from Kashmiri, Awadhi and Hyderabadi fare, and while the owners insist that they are dead against fusion cuisine, the ingredients are where the magic lies. “We’re using traditional techniques of cooking — not trying to create fusion. But the ingredients, from duck and salmon to Portobello mushrooms and Australian lamb shanks, are unusual because we made a conscious effort to use quality items,” Malini reveals.
Ask if the high pricing for Indian dishes, albeit with such gourmet ingredients, will take some mental adjustment, and Rahul jumps to the defence, saying, “If you go to any top-of-the-line Indian eateries, you’re going to have to pay their prices. I don’t think there will be any problems.”
And just because it’s now an Indian fine dining restaurant, don’t expect the usual trappings of kitschy décor and beaten steel plates. The Akerkars have largely stuck to the original décor. Malini says, “I wasn’t planning to change the integrity of the restaurant, we only created a garden area for the al fresco dining and made the interiors a little warmer by adding wooden tables and cutlery in three different colours. We live in contemporary India, I don’t think we need to have Indian décor to serve Indian food.”