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Happily stubborn at 10

Known for its incredible Kaukswe, Colaba's South East Asian restaurant, Busaba turns 10. Even as MD Nikhil Chib celebrates the evolution of the local palate, here's why he doesn't plan to change a single thing about it

Some things improve with age. Restaurauteur Nikhil Chib would agree. Days before Busaba, his South East Asian eatery housed in a heritage bungalow in a leafy lane in Colaba, turns 10, Chib has plans to neither overhaul its menu nor give the place a makeover. Confident that he'll widen his customer base regardless, Chib says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Excerpts from an interview:


Pic/Satyajit Desai

In the past, you have invited foreign chefs down and played around with your recipes. Any changes planned in the menu or decor?

We opened a branch at Lower Parel in January this year, and currently, I'm focusing on keeping up the quality of food and service at both places. I also hope to open a Busaba in Bandra soon, but those are the only changes that are imminent. After my 2005 stint at Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise, I did invite a French chef to play around with the presentation. But that didn't really work. I found it had no soul. So, although we've introduced dishes like Barramundi, Stir-fried Duck and Aubergine Carpaccio over the years, and I do hope to invite South East Asian chefs over at some point, I don't really want to tamper with my recipes because there's a steady demand for them. In fact, when I was once considering changes in the menu, worried regulars kept calling to ensure that their favourite dishes weren't struck off.

But hasn't the local palate evolved over the last decade, with people open to trying exotic dishes?
When we opened, acquiring funds was an uphill task because Korean, Burmese and Vietnamese food was an unexplored territory. I remember one financier advising me to steal a chef from Indigo (a fine dining restaurant next door), and replicate their cuisine. But over the last five years, there's been a greater demand for newer cuisines, which is why Wasabi and Hakkasan have been well received. And, I expect there's going to be an even greater demand for Asian food in the future, especially Korean food which is traditionally served as a set meal.

But as we already have an intense culinary culture in this country, it takes long for foreign cuisines to gain favour. While younger members of some vegetarian families are now willing to sample chicken, even beef dishes occasionally, we still have a long way to go before we can offer quail and eel. There's just not enough demand for exotic meats.

Several restaurants that opened with fanfare have shut down while Busaba has held its own. But with competition being what it is, how do you ensure customers keep coming back?
The restaurant business can be very demanding, and you have to stay on your toes. The difference between the establishments that have shut shop and those that have survived, is passion. Aside from all the red tape a restaurant owner has to cut through, he has to maintain quality of service and look after a host of issues -- every tiny detail makes a difference here. I'd love to be able to focus on just the food, but it's not enough. Someone may complain that his beer isn't cold enough or the coffee machine may be on the brink. But once you've found the right equation, customers keep coming back, provided your efforts don't slacken. Look at Trishna and Gaylord.

At: 4, Mandlik Road, Colaba.
Call: 22043772

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