(August 28, 2021) “I’ve always said that in London there are only two addresses: 10 Downing Street and 10 Lincoln Street,” Vineet Bhatia once said in an interview. And he isn’t far from the truth… it is at Chelsea’s 10 Lincoln Street that Bhatia’s famous restaurant Rasoi is housed. With a bulging award shelf, plush interiors, and some truly gourmet Indian food being served in an intimate setting, Rasoi has been delivering signature dishes that are known for their sophisticated spices and balanced flavors since 2004. Its tandoori spice smoked salmon and tamarind and cumin glazed quails are testimony to Bhatia’s skill and technique in the kitchen. Probably why, he won two Michelin stars: one for Rasoi in London (2006) and the second for Rasoi in Geneva, Switzerland (2009) – making Bhatia the first Indian chef to be honored with the coveted culinary star.
The celebrated chef has built an extraordinary reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting, creative and accomplished Indian chefs: his plates showcase a melange of the traditional and modern. His food is never over-spiced, has innovative flavor combinations and a dash of Bhatia panache. Over the years, Bhatia has opened 11 more hugely successful restaurants across the world: UK, Switzerland, Mauritius, Los Angeles, Russia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to name a few. He has also appeared on the Netflix show The Final Table, has been a judge on MasterChef India and has authored two cookbooks: Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen and My Sweet Kitchen. But did you know, Bhatia initially wanted to be a pilot?
From Mumbai to London to the world
Born in the Bombay of 1967, Bhatia’s childhood was influenced by the eclectic sights, sounds and smells of the Maximum City. Bhatia and his family lived in a locality close to the airport. In an interview with Haute Living, Bhatia said, “When I was a young child, I didn’t have an alarm clock. I didn’t need one. I was awakened at six-thirty each morning by the roaring engines of the DC-10 that took off from the airport near our house.” His first passion therefore was airplanes and he wanted to become a pilot from quite early on. At age 17, he passed his NDA exam but failed to clear the physical round, which brought his dream to join the Indian Air Force to a grinding halt.
Not one to be disheartened, Bhatia turned to his next love: cooking, which he had inherited from his mother. So, in 1985 he joined a catering college in Bombay but also studied Economics upon his parents’ advice. By 1988 he was inducted as a trainee by The Oberoi Hotel, where he worked for three years learning all aspects of Indian cooking. “The wonderful thing about growing up in Bombay was the eclectic influence all around you. It is a melting pot of culinary delights from all over the many different regions of India.”
In 1993, he had moved to London at the age of 24 to work as Executive Chef at Star of Indian in South Kensington. However, he was mighty disappointed by the Indian cuisine he experienced in the London of the 90s. He told The Talks,
“I came from a very classically trained background, from luxury hotels and through hotel schools so I had learned the basics quite well and knew and understood classic Indian cuisine quite well. When I moved to London in ’93, it came as a shock to see this food being done very differently. Even though these days I no longer expect the exact style of classic cooking which I learned at home, these menus had dishes which are not Indian by any understanding.”
Coming into his own
By the end of his first year, he had completely overhauled the menu and changed the Anglicized curries to more authentic Indian dishes. His food gained immense popularity and some of the highlights from his menus included Sevian Talee Jinghe (prawns fried in a spicy vermicelli batter) and Multani Bateyr (quail stuffed with chicken and dried fruits served in a creamy gravy). Bhatia believed in using local ingredients and giving them an Indian treatment with Indian spices. But his food was never heavily spiced; he liked using not more than three spices when making a dish.
In 1998, he teamed up with Iqbal Wahhab, a journalist, to conceptualize Cinnamon Club and head the kitchen. But planning permission issues led to delays and the project failed to take off. But in 1999, Bhatia opened Zaika with his business partners which once again attracted praise. The Guardian described his food as ‘one of the very best meals I have ever eaten in London’ and in 2001 he was awarded a Michelin star – becoming the first Indian chef to do so.
Bhatia finally opened Rasoi, his own restaurant in 2004.
‘’Looking back – this was the best decision in my life. It not only gave me a chance to be my own boss, but also work in close association with my wife and life partner to realize our dream together,” he told Haute Living.
The Bhatia panache
Bhatia believes in constantly evolving his craft and his progressive attitude to India food has made him the face of Indian cuisine. Authenticity for him comes through the ingredients he uses. His menus include dishes like spice seared foie gras with wild mushroom naan and fennel-mango chutney salad, grilled sea bass with crisp okra fingers, coconut rice and dhal sauce. home-smoked lamb rack with lamb jus, apricot-walnut couscous and blue cheese-lamb tikki, and Rosemary chicken tikka, chilli pipette and black olive khichdi.
This Global Indian’s travels around the world have also opened his mind to new possibilities. He told The Talks,
“I remember going to Mexico where I saw black corn for the first time in my life. I saw black potatoes too, and that blew me off! We had never seen black potatoes or black corn before. And when you cook with them, it’s beautiful. Why should corn fritters always be yellow? Visually, black corn is so interesting and the flavours can be dramatic.”
Over the years, he has spread his culinary wings by opening restaurants like Indya by Vineet, Indego, Urban Turban, Safran, and KAMA among others. His wife Rashima works alongside him as co-director at Rasoi and oversees the consultancies abroad, while the family lives in West London.
The couple loves to travel with their two sons. “As a family, we love to travel, though. Once a year we spin a globe and find out where we’re going. Whether that’s Japan or Mexico, we do it properly – backpacking, in small places, remote parts of countries. We’re not bothered about luxury, I can get that anytime,” he told Time Out Dubai.
The world-renowned chef also believes in giving back to community through his work. In 2018, he trekked to the Everest base camp, spatula and woks in hand to host a 3-day pop up. It was a charity initiative with Heart for India Foundation to raise money for the girl child and Nepal’s earthquake victims.
A Father & Son journey of a life time.
Trekking to Mt Everest Base Camp to set up a 3 day Pop restaurant for charity, along with our chefs, media crew indeed was a special journey & cause
One of my highlights of 2018#cheftraveller #vineat #mteverestbasecamp #trek #charity #EBC pic.twitter.com/EDXNSPDjgk
— Vineet Bhatia (@TheVineetBhatia) December 22, 2018
Through his work and travels, Bhatia has been giving Indian food its moment in the sun across the world. For the West which assumed that Indian food was only about curry or tikka masala, Bhatia has been schooling them on the nuances involved in truly authentic Indian flavors through his melange of technique and innovation. He has truly been putting Indian food on the world map, and how.