Rohit Chugh: "I want to develop ideas that challenge and excite me"

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Rohit Chugh on Bambusa, Roti Chai restaurant and Indian cuisine

Related tags: Indian cuisine, Indian street food, Fine dining, QSR, Restaurant

Rohit Chugh, former managing director of The Cinnamon Club and the founder of Roti Chai in Marylebone, has moved into the fast-casual sector with the opening of his third London restaurant Bambusa.

Why the move?
It has always been something I wanted to do. I found this space on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia and thought launching an operation more geared towards the QSR market there would be appropriate.

How did you come up with the concept?
If I think about it, the restaurants I own are almost an evolution of me. Roti Chai reflects the food I grew up with; the dishes are exciting and adventurous, which is what I craved when I was a child. Chai Ki, meanwhile, is akin to the food I ate when I came to the UK; it reminds me of what my mother would cook, using ingredients that were more accessible in the local area and fusing them with Indian flavours. Bambusa, however, is my style of cooking. I’ve travelled around Asia a lot and I love the ingredients, the different flavours, the textures and the ethos. The food is broad, colourful, and almost impossible to define.

If you had to though, how would you define it?
I think of it as modern bento. What’s relatively unusual about Bambusa in my view is there’s no set menu, instead diners can create their own meal. So they can start with some rice or sweet potato, mix it with a protein such as ginger shoyu chicken or kimchi BBQ jackfruit, add salad, pickles, maybe some chilli sauce, and they have designed their own dish. If they come back tomorrow and change just one component, it creates a meal with a completely different profile. There’s a great variety of flavours, but we’ve kept the menu relatively tight. I don’t want Bambusa to be pigeonholed as often happens when people discuss the food in Asian restaurants; they try to define it in exact terms, and become very uncomfortable if they’re unable to.

Bambusa---Lunch

Do you plan to roll out the concept?
I don’t have any strict plans, but I may do one or two more if it works. I’m very fluid in how I approach the business: I want to find great locations where I can develop ideas that challenge and excite me.

What are your memories of working for The Cinnamon Club?
The Cinnamon Club was my first experience of the restaurant industry. I was fortunate enough to be appointed managing director early on, and my job was to try and define where the restaurant was going at a time when there were still deep-seated prejudices regarding Indian cuisine. Many were sceptical about the idea of Indian fine-dining – a lot of people struggled with the notion of coming to an Indian restaurant and having their meal paired with a wine, for example – and this was the primary challenge. But it was a wonderful experience, working with a talented team who were prepared to challenge what people perceived to be the norm. It helped emphasise to me why I originally wanted to work in this industry.

Do you think those preconceptions have started to change?
I think we have come a long way in the last 10 to 15 years, there’s no doubt about that. And I’m hoping that this is just the tip of the iceberg. But I try to look at it from a broader perspective. When it comes to Indian food, we’re talking about a tiny number of restaurants challenging people’s perceptions, which is such a small number given its popularity. For me, only when you have two or three hundred restaurants promoting this style of cuisine will it be normalised. Indian cuisine is an incredibly complex, and I want to see more consumers enjoying a restaurant just for being what it is, and not because of how it compares to what has come before. I think it has been fantastic to see how the Indian scene has progressed, but we still have a long way to go.

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