"Our total investment so far is just under £4m, so it had better work": Zorowar Kalra is launching Farzi Cafe

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

"Our total investment so far is just under £4m, so it had better work": Zorowar Kalra on launching Farzi Cafe

Related tags: Restaurant, Chef

The high-profile Indian restaurateur and MasterChef India judge will open his 'experimental modern spice bistro' Farzi Cafe on London's Haymarket in November following success in India and the Middle East.

Tell us about Farzi Cafe...
Farzi means fake in Urdu. We serve very modern pan-Indian food that looks like one thing but is in fact something else. We were the first people to do molecular gastronomy in India. We currently have 10 Farzi Cafés in India and a franchised Farzi Café in Dubai. The project has been delayed, but we expect to open on Haymarket at the end of the month.

Isn't molecular gastronomy old hat these days?
Our menu and approach has evolved. We’re now using post-molecular and post-modern techniques. You won’t see any spherified caviar or foams on the London menu. We will also be exploring old techniques such as pickling. We will be looking backwards as well as forwards and always trying to innovate.

How similar will the London menu be to Farzi Cafe's other locations?
About 80% of it will be completely new. Our plan is to fuse classic Indian and UK dishes together. At the moment we’re working on one inspired by haggis and another inspired by fish and chips. The dishes coming over from the existing restaurants include our famous take on chicken tikka masala, which is served in a British red telephone box as a nod to its actual origin, and our dal chawal arancini. There will be a big focus on theatricality and interaction at the London site: guests will be able to cook our wagyu kebabs on hot stones and the amuse-bouche will arrive floating in the air thanks to superconducting magnets. The cocktail list has been put together by some of the team behind Artesian, which has been named the best bar in the world.

Cafe suggests a casual feel... is that the case?
Yes, the restaurant will be relaxed. The prices will be affordable, given the area and the quality of ingredients we’re using. We’re going to be offering à la carte alongside three set menus. We have not quite finalised the pricing but we’re probably looking at £35 for a set lunch, £40 for pre-theatre and £60 for the tasting menu.

Who is the chef going to be?
We have a very strong young team coming over from India. It will be headed by Saurabh Udinia, who has been named the best young chef in India. He is very good at research and fusing different cuisines together. He will be here for several months as the restaurant beds in. After that, it will be run by his executive chef.

Have you been tempted over by the success of Indian Accent?
Not at all. I’ve been trying to open in London for some time – it’s my favourite city in the world and a place that truly loves Indian food. I eat in all sorts of places but especially those that serve beef, because we aren’t allowed it back home. There used to be a black market for beef in India but it’s all but disappeared because the penalties for handling it are severe. I love eating here and I always seem to leave much heavier, but I still feel that the authentic Indian flavour is sometimes missing. Back home, there are two modern Indians that are considered best in class: Masala Library, which is part of our group, and Indian Accent. But they don’t use as many modern techniques as us – we are more experimental and cutting edge.

Where exactly in the site?
It’s towards the bottom of Haymarket, a former Prezzo. We negotiated the hell out of it but we ended up paying a lot. Our total investment so far is just under £4m, so it had better work. It’s a large site: 4,400sq ft over two floors. It’s been designed by Design LSM, which has worked with Zuma and some other international brands. Farzi Café won’t look like an India restaurant. It will be a striking modern space but it will be comfortable.

Tell us about your background...
My father [Jiggs] is a well known guy in the food world. He was one of the country’s most high-profile food writers and also hosted the first primetime TV food show in India. He was
very involved in restaurants but always as a consultant. He never owned them. I always found that a bit strange because he put so much into them. I started out in the business at a young age with traditional Indian restaurants but I sold that group in 2012 to launch a more progressive group called Massive Restaurants. We now have nearly 30 restaurants in total centred in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

What other concepts do you have?
Our other key concept is Masala Library, which was the first launch from Massive Restaurants. I had the idea for it after an extraordinary meal at El Bulli in 2006, but I had to wait because I did not think the market was ready for it. We launched in 2014 with an aim to modernise Indian food. My country’s cooking is fantastic, rich and complex but the presentation can be basic and there hasn’t been nearly as much innovation as in some other parts of the world. It’s been very well received and has allowed us to open more concepts, including Farzi Café, Made in Punjab and our modern Thai restaurant Bo Tai.

You recently received a large private investment to fund your expansion...
We did a private equity deal worth around £18m. The money will be used to expand across the world. We are hoping to open around 20 restaurants in our current financial year. New
York is the next place we plan to open but I will be looking to bring more of our concepts to London in the future, including Bo Tai. We believe there is a big gap in the market for a modern Thai restaurant in London.

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