In 2001, Vineet Bhatia elevated the international reputation of Indian cuisine when he became the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star. Three years after this triumph at Zaika, on London’s Kensington High Street, Bhatia opened his own restaurant, Rasoi, in an elegant townhouse just off Sloane Square. There, he was promptly awarded a Michelin star for the second time. With just 14 tables and the ambience of a stylish private home, Rasoi has been one of my favorite dinner venues in the British capital over recent years. Even if you believe you don’t care for Indian food, this is one place you should try. The flavors are complex, but the dishes are light, fresh and delicately spiced. And Bhatia takes considerable pains to pair them with appropriate wines.
A native of Mumbai, Bhatia rose to become chef de cuisine at Kandahar in that city’s Oberoi hotel before departing for London in 1993 to further his career. During the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, The Oberoi was targeted, 30 people died, and Kandahar was gutted. I am pleased to say that the hotel has been fully restored and is animated and thriving once more. During the reconstruction, Oberoi approached its celebrated alumnus and asked him to open a restaurant on the site formerly occupied by Kandahar. Bhatia duly obliged, and Ziya debuted in 2010.
My recent trip to India presented a first opportunity to sample Bhatia’s cuisine in his native land. The new dining room has a “contemporary Indian” interior, with a color scheme of gold and charcoal gray, while a black granite and dark wood floor provides a dramatic counterpoint to the gold-leaf jali (trellis) screens and the burnished gold walls of the display kitchen. In short, it is extremely stylish. Some of Bhatia’s signature dishes were to be found on the menu, including his classic smoked salmon, presented at the table in a smoke-filled cloche, and the grilled chili-garlic lobster, dusted with cocoa powder and served with chocolate samosas. Feeling a tad conservative that evening, however, we opted for lamb chops with a minced-lamb samosa, and black spiced chicken on a bed of saffron upma (semolina). Both were delicious.
Despite the city’s wealth, Mumbai cannot boast a lengthy roster of outstanding restaurants, so Ziya is a very welcome addition. Even if you opt to stay at my favorite Mumbai hotel, The Taj Mahal Palace, you should still take the short taxi ride over to Nariman Point to savor Bhatia’s peerless cuisine, as well as the mesmeric view over the Arabian Sea.