Concept-based Indian restaurants are here to stay. On May 8, Filmy Masala, an Indian restaurant with a Bollywood theme opened at Gurgaon's DT mall. Earlier, two other Indian joints, Khaja Chowk and Pind Baluchi, also in the same area, got noticed for painstakingly creating an "Indian ambience".
Filmy Masala, as the name suggests, has been inspired by Mumbai's glitzy film world. Every detail from posters to music to menus has been painfully researched to lend a cinematic experience. While Khaja Chowk attempts to create an Indian street scene, Pind Baluchi is betting on the Punjabi dhaba theme, complete with a fibre glass well and fibre glass mud walls to a plastic mango tree.
So is there a sudden revival of Indian theme restaurants? Food consultant Marut Sikka, who researched over 50 restaurants in Delhi, says that a review of sales of all kinds of food outlets, including five-stars, showed that Indian restaurants are still a big draw.
The question then is how do Indian restaurants attract attention when they are more or less dishing up the same menu? Of the 72 restaurants in Gurgaon, 40 per cent are Indian. The attempt is to create concept-driven outlets to generate initial hype, coupled with a strong public relations exercise. Filmy Masala, for instance, got actress Monisha Koirala for the opening to add a genuine filmi touch. "We decided on Bollywood theme to attract both the young and the old," says Param Vir Anand, CEO, D&A Hospitality.
Khaja Chowk's promoter Vikram Nair, has hired Ambrish Arora, designer of restaurants like Fbar to "celebrate the Indian life". "The idea is to recreate the masti and humour of the Indian street and food," says Nair. The idea is also to create an Indian version of McDonald's. Nair plans to open five more outlets in Delhi at the cost of Rs 2.25 crore (Rs 22.5 million) while Anand, who has already spend Rs 1.5 crore (Rs 15 million) in the first project, plans to open three more in Delhi.
Pind Balluchi's J S Chadha, who decided to turn his multi-cuisine open-air restaurant into a covered "village-theme" outlet when he heard that Bikanerwala is moving next door, is chalking out similar plans. "Concept works. We will open three more similar outlets," he says. Chadha engaged two Bollywood film set designers to make an artificial rural landscape to complement the haveli interiors.
And as everyone is lapping up the Indian theme concept, there are charges on stealing concepts and designs. Varun Aggarwal, the promoter of Not Just Paranthas in west Delhi, is unhappy with the way another restaurateur has stolen his "Old Delhi" concept. "We will file a suit against the restaurant for copying our art works," says Aggarwal.
But ultimately it's value-for-money and service that will decide whether the concept clicked. But Nair is optimistic. "If Indian street food has existed for so long, why can't a restaurant based on a similar theme survive?"