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One dish wonder


The fatter the menu, the fancier the restaurant. Till recently, this was the formula that held sway in the cumin-and-cappuccino-scented world of eating out.

Restaurants once prided themselves on menus that criss-crossed continents and offered everything from Peking duck and chicken a la Kiev to vegetarian kolhapuri and vada pav. Ordering a meal sometimes felt as complicated as tackling a physics exam.

Suddenly, though, food entrepreneurs have stumbled upon a skinnier recipe for success. They’ve discovered the wonders of specialisation — or rather super-super-specialisation. The outcome is a slew of new restaurants and food-delivery services that focus on a single dish. Menus the size of the Oxford English Dictionary (Unabridged) have been replaced by a flimsy A4 sheet.

Sole focus

“Speciality is the future, multi-cuisine is on its way out,” declares Kaviraj Thadani of New York Street, a gourmet hotdog delivery service in Mumbai. “How can someone be good at everything? Nobody can be a Jack-of-all-trades. If you stick to one thing, you can create perfection. Today, there are so many eateries, customers are going to choose the one that does it best.”

This philosophy has clearly taken root in cities such as Mumbai. Take, for example, Death by BBQ that essentially serves four types of barbecued meats and fries. Then there’s New Leaf Restaurant in Bengaluru, which offers its diners all of two choices — hotpot with a white base and hotpot with a red base.

The Belgian Waffle Co does waffle sandwiches with fillings such as chocolate sauce, peanut butter and strawberries. Just like Wafflesome in New Delhi serves waffles with eight different toppings. And the various chocolate boutiques that have popped up all over the country create a sinful array of chocolatey goodies. Think mint hot chocolate, brownie shots and chocolate marshmallow pizzas.

Charcoal Biryani delivers five different types of Bohra biryanis to different corners of the city, while The Bao Haus Co serves soft, pillowy baos stuffed with flavourful fillings. And Sweetish House Mafia bakes just 10 types of cookies at any given time. “Keeping the menu small is a conscious decision,” says Neha Sethi, the hand behind those addictive Nutella and Sea Salt Cookies baked at Sweetish House Mafia.

Tried and tested

Of course, many traditional Indian eateries — from the wizards of Parathewali galli in Delhi to the kheema samosa restaurants in Ahmedabad — have stuck to the one-dish model with incredible success. But it was about five years ago that trendy eateries in New York began to adopt this strategy. “From macaroni cheese to fries and rice pudding, if you can think of a comfort food, there’s a New York restaurant for it,” The Guardian remarked in 2012, pointing out that the fad was rapidly crossing the Atlantic.

London, especially, saw the mushrooming of restaurants devoted to everything, from meatballs to mango-based dishes, cheese toasties to risottos. So much so that by 2015, one out of 10 eateries opening in London was a single-dish restaurant. Similarly, Paris experienced wild “monomania” — and the flavourful advent of restaurants dedicated to a single dish like soufflé or a single ingredient such as oysters, apples or mozzarella.

New beginnings

Though mono-dining seems to have worked overseas, how do Indian entrepreneurs feel about piling all their eggs in one basket? Are there enough hotpot-fiends, waffle-lovers and hotdog-fanatics out there to sustain business? These are the questions being tackled by the new breed of 20-something food adventurers — many of whom have quit steady jobs to see if their dream can be translated into profitable reality. Sweetish House Mafia, for example, began life as a “travelling bakery” in 2013 — a little Nano that popped up in different corners of Mumbai with its load of freshly-baked cookies. “By 2015, the demand was so huge that it made sense to invest in a brick-and-mortar outlet,” says Sethi, who now has six outlets and is planning to expand both in Mumbai and beyond. “By then, I knew I had enough loyal customers and the shop would not bomb.”

Similarly, The Belgian Waffle Co started out as a modest kiosk at Inox theatre in Nariman Point. “When we launched in June 2015, we were not sure if waffles justified a stand-alone restaurant,” says Shrey Aggarwal, 27, who was inspired by the aromatic waffle stalls that dotted Manila, where he’d worked. “It did so well that we opened our first standalone at Chowpatty. We now have nine outlets.”

Authenticity works

But do first-time customers protest the limited menu? “On the contrary, I feel we’re now known for specialisation,” says Aggarwal. Concurs Hira Mulchandani, 28, who launched Death by BBQ in May 2016, “In multi-cuisine restaurants, people know they will get a little bit of this and that, but nothing authentic. I believe in a small and undiluted menu.”

Mulchandani and his ilk refuse to cut corners. So, Benpramar Laitflang — an IT professional who opens his Mumbai home to Ramen lovers every Saturday — simmers his broth of pork bones and beef stock for more than six hours, while Thadani experiments endlessly to achieve a dark, flamy barbecue sauce made with 17 ingredients. And Death by BBQ smokes its Memphis-style pulled pork on apple and hickory wood for a full 12 hours. “We import most of the wood. Of course, this gets expensive, but then authenticity comes at a cost,” says Mulchandani, who is determined to infuse the flavours of Kansas and Tennessee into his succulent ribs and pulled pork offerings.

Adds Thadani, “Just making the barbecue sauce can take a couple of hours of effort and balancing ingredients. Similarly, the mustard we prepare takes two weeks to reach optimum flavour. I am planning to start serving a sausage, mash and gravy — and the gravy will involve roasting the bone for six to eight hours to fully extracttake out the flavour fully.”

All this effort is paying dividends. Well-travelled, eager-to-experiment consumers are delighted to find bowls of ramen that transport them to Tokyo, or smoky mutton biryani the kind that you get in Bohra households.

Thanks to technology, word of mouth is more powerful than ever before. Little wonder then, prospects look bright for one-dishers.
Source: The Hindu

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