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Chef Rahul Akerkar gets ready for a new beginning, plans to launch restaurant Qualia in Mumbai



“Everyone will start calling it Kaliaa,” says Rahul Akerkar, shaking his head, when I check on the progress of his soon-to-open restaurant in Mumbai — perhaps the most anticipated opening of the year.

Qualia Hospitality is the name of his new company and of the restaurant that will open in Lower Parel in December, says Akerkar, who is running around to get it started.

Akerkar, 58, quit deGustibus Hospitality in 2015, the company that he had built from scratch when he started the iconic restuarant Indigo in 1999.

Unlike deGustibus, the name Qualia has philosophical undertones. It means individual instances of conscious experience.


Akerkar says, “Indigo was considered one of India’s first fine-dining, stand-alone restaurants, with service and food that was formal. People eat differently now. Qualia has an open-plan kitchen and will offer a very immersive, interactive and convivial dining experience.” Its cuisine, which can be loosely termed Mediterranean-influenced, is designed to be more accessible and comforting than Indigo, with brighter and lighter dishes in a fun dining space.

What I have gathered from several conversations with Akerkar through the year is that Qualia’s spirit is going to be much like Indigo’s. Over a breakfast of Eggs Kejriwal at the Willingdon Sports Club earlier in the year, Akerkar spoke to me about his business past and how he built up one of India’s most loved restaurant brands before losing his entire business. At the core of his philosophy is the belief that, “If you pay attention to restaurateuring, business and numbers will take care of themselves.” By restaurateuring, he means not just cooking but the running of the entire restaurant as an experience.


“While running Indigo, I never looked at the numbers, yet we continued to do well,” he says, pointing to a spreadsheet on his laptop. As his eyes scan the graphs, he points out that in December 2007, “We were doing Rs 2 crore sales monthly.” This was eight years after Indigo opened. This is the kind of revenue that new restaurants even these days struggle to achieve. How that journey went downhill from there and how India’s first chef-restaurateur lost his brand and business is a story that is as poignant as it is well known.

As Akerkar’s new restaurant starts its first service year-end, there are lessons he is not likely to forget — just as diners hope there will be flavours that will be as unforgettable as the ones Indigo once rolled out.

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