(January 8, 2022) They are calling it the ‘Bengali food’s latest outpost’. And it took two friends — former Indigo Airlines CEO Aditya Ghosh and well-known Indian hotelier Anjan Chatterjee to come together to open Chourangi in the heart of London. Located at the intersection of Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, Chatterjee calls it fulfilling to bring the eclectic cuisine of Calcutta to the city of London.
The restaurant opened to rave reviews last year and despite the pandemic, it is going strong. So how did Chatterjee and Ghosh come up with the name Chourangi? “Chowringhee, from where the name has been originally derived, is a central business district of Calcutta and is also a very famous movie (36 Chowringhee Lane) by Aparna Sen. The name apart from being iconic represents the soul of Calcutta,” he tells Global Indian.
On his union with Ghosh, Chatterjee says that it is a friendship of twenty years. Introduced to each other by late Pranab Mukherjee (Ex-President of India), Chatterjee reveals they connected over their love for food. “One fine evening over drinks I had shared my dream with him to take Calcutta’s cuisine to London, and he just jumped to the idea and thereon, he has been a constant guide in this venture,” says the Indian hotelier.
Chatterjee may want to take Calcutta/Kolkata to the world, but over the years, his Speciality Restaurants group, a listed entity, has introduced Bengali and world cuisine to much of India with very well-known restaurants such as Mainland China, Haka, Oh! Calcutta, Machaan, Sigree among others. Each restaurant is unique for its cuisine, and unlike each other. “Oh! Calcutta is a Bengali centric fine dining space, while Chourangi is much more than that. It represents Calcutta’s heritage cuisine and not just ‘Bengali’ cuisine,” adds Chatterjee.
A hotel management graduate, Chatterjee dabbled in the hospitality sector working for the Taj Group and others. He also had a stint as an ad-selling executive in Mumbai for Kolkata’s ABP Group. But the pull of the food was too hard to resist and in 1992, he started Only Fish, with the Bengali diaspora in mind. Then came Oh! Calcutta, again in Mumbai.
Since then there has been no looking back for this IHM Kolkata graduate. In these twenty-seven years, the Speciality Group has standardised recipes, created a chain of fine dining, casual dining, bar & lounge and bakery & confectionery outlets and restaurants not only across the country but also the world. There are around 130 restaurants and confectioneries in over 25 cities in India as well as in Dhaka (Bangladesh), Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dubai (UAE) and now in London.
Speciality Restaurants went public in 2012 and became the first food chain in India to get listed in the stock market.
When the pandemic came calling
The hospitality sector was coming out of a trough when the pandemic struck, and Chatterjee had to go back to planning with his son, Avik, taking active interest in the business now.
The Indian hotelier understood very early that something profound was happening for the sector and it would never be the same again. It called for alacrity to acknowledge and change.
From a restaurant company that was known for fine-dining, they had to seriously look at the home delivery side of business. “We have strengthened deliveries in the last one-and-a-half years. In the process, we have created a kitchen within the kitchen, where we increased the capacity of the kitchen by optimizing and by putting cloud kitchen because Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta and other brands are formidable brands,” says the Indian hotelier.
Cloud kitchen is a separate vertical within restaurants, and while it formed almost 60 percent of all business, it hasn’t come down 35-38 percent even after all restrictions got lifted. “A lot of cloud kitchens are being added to the places where either we do not have restaurants or we have shut down. We are expanding through the cloud kitchen. I think this has been the biggest learning because we knew that any variant of COVID can hit at any point in time,” says Chatterjee.
The new normal
Chatterjee feels that the trend of cloud kitchen is here to stay as it has now become the ‘new normal’ and has given birth to an ‘ordering out culture’. “The other reason has been the pricing and convenience of ordering food from the comfort of your home as it is incomparable to the experience of going to a restaurant or finding people to party in the first place.” he adds.
Cafe Mezzuna, the contemporary European all-day diner, is a hit among the young diners. It has also been adopted to the cloud kitchen format with Mezzuna Gourmet Pizza, an app for ordering deliveries. Chatterjee and his team concentrated on pizzas with some innovative toppings as well as regular menu. “We have created a brand that’s slightly more glocalised but with the Mezzuna legacy. We are quite a puritan brand when it comes to Cafe Mezzuna, it’s pure Mediterranean. We have done an innovation in terms of packaging. It’s thermo-insulated, so the pizza stays hot. These are gourmet pizzas 12-inch and 15-inch, slightly glocalised and not like (Cafe) Mezzuna’s. We have seen a good off take of the brand as of the present considering the prevailing circumstances,” he explains.
Increasing footprints abroad
The Speciality Group has opened their second outlet of Asia Kitchen by Mainland China at the Mall of Emirates (Dubai). “Riyasat is set to launch in Dubai and then there’s Mainland China opening soon in Houston too,” shares Chatterjee. However, considering the pandemic situation, the hotelier is more inclined towards expanding the Cloud Kitchen vertical in India. “Surely we wish to expand both the brands further but maybe through a cloud kitchen model,” he says.
A foodie family
His wife Suchhanda and son Avik are better chefs claims Chatterjee. But the family is involved in various parts of business. “While my wife, Meenoo has been the hands behind all the interiors and décor that you come across for Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, my daughter-in-law is not directly involved in the business but she keeps on sharing some valuable inputs time to time,” Indian hotelier says.
The family is into hospitality business, and it is but natural that it discusses food and latest trends even at the dining table. “Avik keeps bolstering me with the latest videos and updates on the changing food trends,” he says.
Despite having a busy schedule, Chatterjee loves to put on the apron once in a while for the family. As for his favourites, he has the usual Bengali cuisine suspects–chingri malai curry, Calcutta fish fry with gondhoraj lemon and jhurjhure alu bhaja on the side. “But, do not get shocked or surprised if I savour an entire portion of Calcutta biryani at two in the morning or a steamed jasmine rice followed with fish in Tobanjan sauce specially made by our chef De Cuisine, Rajesh Dubey!,” Chatterjee laughs.
- Follow Anjan Chatterjee on Linkedin