New-age restaurateurs Avik Chatterjee and Ishaan Bahl bond over lunch
New-age restaurateurs Avik Chatterjee and Ishaan Bahl talk about taking over from their famous fathers, why small plates are the next big thing and how online reviews are their morning alarms
They share a bunch of common friends but this is the first time Avik Chatterjee, 25, and Ishaan Bahl, 24, are meeting each other. “Whenever I'd go to Liv [Kala Ghoda pub] with my friends, they'd call him to put us on the guest list. I can't believe we haven't met before,” admits Chatterjee, as he sits next to Bahl in the lush green al fresco section of a chic Bandra restaurant.
Avik Chatterjee (left) and Ishaan Bahl at Su Casa, Bandra Reclamation. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Both warm up to each other quickly, considering they have a similar story. They come from families that have left an indelible mark on the city's F&B scene — Chatterjee's father Anjan has given Mumbai well-known fine-dine chains Oh! Calcutta and Mainland China while Bahl's dad, Sudheer, is the man behind SoBo's north Indian hotspot, Khyber. What's interesting is how the sons joined the family business a few years ago and stepped up the game, with Chatterjee launching the runaway hit chain Hoppipola and Asian fine-dine Poh among other eateries. He's also bringing Gong, his Asian offering from Pune, to the city. Bahl's 145 is going strong in Kala Ghoda and Bandra, with a third outlet coming up shortly.
Krutika: Was there family pressure to join the business?
Avik: No. It was a natural choice. My father launched Only Fish the year I was born. I would store my toys there; it was my second home. Plus, I love cooking, especially Asian, Indian and Lebanese, and my family members are foodies. In fact, during dinners, my mother and sister get irritated because dad and I are constantly chatting with the chef or checking the plates and glasses to see if they're sturdy and if we should get them at our restaurants.
Ishaan: (laughs) Oh, same here. When I'm out of town, I keep sending photographs of glasses and tables to my purchase manager to find out the materials used. However, I was a vegetarian till I turned 12. My father suggested I try chicken and that's when things changed. Before going to college [in Los Angeles], I was sure of starting a restaurant.
Krutika: With a strong family connect, was it easier to find your groove?
Avik: No. My father doesn't like to take much risk. So, I had a limited budget to start Hoppipola. He wondered how I could sell alcohol at such low prices but seeing it click, he gained more confidence in me.
Ishaan: I was hell bent on having milkshakes at 145 and my father was clear that they wouldn't sell. But, he didn't resist my putting them on the menu. They are our bestsellers now. He supports me.
(Caesar salad, patata brava and charred grilled chicken with blue cheese butter arrive)
Avik: (Taking a bite of patata brava) Oh, this is great. I'll be definitely creating a similar dish at my restaurant. (Digging into the salad) I've recently subscribed to a delivery service that offers four meals a day as per my diet requirements. The health food space in the city is
Ishaan: Yes, at our Bandra outlet, we've introduced a menu of healthy fare; it's really popular. (Tries the grilled chicken)âÂÂÂÂThey've used blue cheese butter to grill the chicken. That's interesting.
Krutika:âÂÂÂÂWhat cuisines does Mumbai lack?
Ishaan: Something like a Bollywood bar with Indian regional food, but it needs to be bite-sized.
Avik: Small plates is the future. People prefer five different flavours on their table. It has also been a while since I've seen a pure Italian, Korean or Japanese stand-alone. With Asian food too, regions like Malaysia remain unexplored. However, there's a risk in ventures offering specialist cuisines since Indian consumers want a bit of everything.
Krutika: With the competition increasing by the day, would you prefer to open in an already crowded neighbourhood or tap a different suburb?
Ishaan: Suburbs like Vikhroli, Versova and Oshiwara are really good options, as well as secondary markets like Pune. However, if you are in a neighbourhood that's already a food hub, there's high footfall. Then, you strive to be different.
Avik:âÂÂÂÂThe smart thing is to launch in a key area and then move into other zones, like Malad and Vashi.
Krutika: An advice from your father you follow to date?
Avik: He told me to focus on what I was doing and not take criticism to heart, especially in reviews [on a restaurant discovery site].
Ishaan: Oh yes, the first thing I do after waking up is check them. Recently, a guest came with a pitch to supply nacho chips to us. We told him we weren't looking for it, so he made a fake profile and wrote negative reviews.
Avik: Unfortunately, the movie and restaurant industries are judged the most. For instance, no one writes a review about bad service that they may have received from a sales attendant at a fashion store. I'd really like to see such a platform for the retail industry. The guy who makes that app will be a billionaire.
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Your favourite street food:
Avik: Dosa from a stall in Versova, especially the schezwan cheese version.
Ishaan: You should try the dosa guy at Babulnath. But, for me, it would be bhel.
Your favourite culinary destination:
Avik: London. I studied there.
Ishaan: Los Angeles.
A dish you'd like to cook for your father:
Avik: Butter chicken.
Ishaan: I was just going to say that. It always hits the sweet spot.
A celebrity you'd like to invite to your restaurant:
Avik: Tanmay Bhat. He's a foodie and I'd like to know his take.
Ishaan: Gordon Ramsay.
An underrated cuisine:
Ishaan: Goan. The cuisine hasn't seen the rise it should have.