Tell us about Manthan
I wanted to bring something new to the market and introduce people to dishes from my home that will be less familiar to people in London. Manthan means ‘to churn and reflect’, and the restaurant echoes my own culinary experiences, both professional and personal. There’s a lot of emphasis on street food and flavours I first encountered growing up in Madhya Pradesh.
What’s on the menu?
It’s all new dishes and will mostly be sharing plates. Bone marrow is a great ingredient, it’s very versatile, and we’ve used it as the base for a sauce to serve alongside the goat shami kebab with paratha. There’s also curry leaf pepper fish, and Jaffna lamb. About half of the menu will be either meat free or vegan; my family is vegetarian, and I wanted the restaurant to be as accessible to them as everyone else. We’ve got a fritter with lentils that’s mixed with pepper, chilli, cumin and ginger, and served with fresh relish and pomegranate seeds, which will be offered as an alternative to the more traditional samosa; Andhra jackfruit dosai; and aloo paratha that’s taken from a family recipe. I’m very confident about the menu, we tested the dishes recently at Taste of London and got lots of positive feedback.
You have a strong connection with Mayfair [Ghai previously worked with India’s Leela Palace Hotels to launch both Jamavar and Bombay Bustle before going it alone to open Kutir in Chelsea], were you always planning to return there?
I wanted somewhere where I could create something unique. I’d considered Mayfair when I was looking to open Kutir [Ghai’s Chelsea flagship, which opened in 2018], but at the time there was a saturation of high-end Indian restaurants in the area, and it didn’t feel right. Those restaurants are still there, but for Manthan, because the concept is so personal, I thought Mayfair offered a perfect platform. We’ve got the old Lucknow 49 site on Maddox Street. It’s a small space, but the landlord gave us a generous offer on the rent that made it very hard to not take up.
Lucknow 49 was still a relatively new restaurant, have you altered the fitout much?
Completely. The Lucknow interior was quite basic, so we’ve ripped it all out and over the past three months have redesigned it, so it fits much more neatly with what guests expect a Mayfair restaurant to look like. You have to consider your location, and if you’re expecting a high-end clientele in your place you have to make it look luxurious. We’re a neighbour to Versace and we want to attract those customers. We’ve got wood-panelling and lots of art on the walls, with a large bar area where people can sit, alongside banquette booths and table seating.
What will Manthan’s price point be?
I want to break down the barrier to entry. Mayfair is an expensive area, but you have to be flexible to those on a budget and be as welcoming as possible to them. Dishes will start at £9 and go up to £22, with generous portions. There will also be set menu options for around £30.
As well as Manthan, you’re also preparing to launch your first cookbook called Tarkari….
Yes. It’s entirely vegetarian and vegan-led, which I chose to focus on as there aren’t many cookbooks like that that are solely Indian-focused. It’s going to be available on an international platform, and I’ve designed the recipes to be approachable to as wide an audience as possible. It’s simple cooking. One of the chapters is dedicated to spice blends, which are the same as the ones we use in the restaurants. I’ve always enjoyed sharing my recipes. When I started out in restaurants in India, the top chefs would never share their recipes with juniors or their teams; all the prep was done using pre-prepared packets of spices and ingredients, and I never understood why. If you have the knowledge of how to cook, you should want to spread the word and share it with everyone.
Manthan means ‘to churn and reflect’; how do you reflect on your career working in London’s kitchens?
Consistency is key, both in terms of presentation and the execution of the cooking. Manthan will be the 19th restaurant I’ve helped open in my career. Every time there’s pressure to meet expectations, but it doesn’t worry me like it used to. I spend a lot of time with my team, overseeing the training and then the preparation. I don’t have a lot of movement in my kitchens; my staff are loyal and that always means the quality is consistently top.
And you’ve recently partnered with Qatar-based hospitality group Fork & Knife to head up Indian fine dining restaurant IKSHA 360 in Doha
I have my team deployed over there at the moment. There are actually three different concepts in total of around 400 covers altogether. They include the fine dining restaurant; an all-day concept; and a bar area serving nibbles and bar snacks. I was able to get there once before we launched to help with the menu design and training, and I’m hoping to get back out there soon. It’s an exciting project, with lots of opportunity to develop new ideas over time.
Manthan opens later this month on Maddox Street in Mayfair.