Vineet Bhatia opens up about opening his second Dubai concept
It’s hard to tell who is more jovial, Vineet Bhatia or the multi-coloured mural of Hindu god Ganesha that he is seated under.
Despite only flying into the country the night before amid a whistle-stop tour of some of his venues that will take him from London to Mumbai with multiple stops in between, Bhatia is bright, engaging, and looks genuinely happy to be here.
We’re sitting in Indya by Vineet in Dubai, and Bhatia has several reasons to be upbeat. One, we’re on the verge of the restaurant’s grand opening at Le Royal Meridien. And two, with Dubai now being where he is based, he is officially home.
He calls the city “dear to his heart” with Indego by Vineet opening up back in 2005 and proving to be a continued success, but while it is his legal home, it’s really “more of an office and a transit hub”. With 14 restaurants all over the globe to look after, Bhatia’s real home is in the sky.
Another new restaurant might have the appearance of a money grab, but Bhatia’s long hours and constant travel give the truth of the situation — he’ll only open a concept if he can give himself to it fully.
He says: “I could very easily go out and sell my soul and have 50 restaurants and just cash it in, but I’m not interested in that.
“I like to take projects on that are challenging for me as a chef — how much can I push myself and if I actually believe in them. There’s no point doing a copy/paste job because no two restaurants are the same. No two menus are the same. Every project we take is tailor made.”
The difference between Indego and Indya highlights that. Rather than create another “cliché, chic, trendy, and expensive” Dubai restaurant, Indya is much more casual and “fun loving”.
“Dubai has got out of hand in many ways in terms of its price structures,” Bhatia tells us. “There are some fantastic restaurants but there are also many closing down. Everyone is very cautious of what you offer them. Indego is fine, it’s established 15 years now so it’s got its own market. But we didn’t want to do a second restaurant of the same calibre in the same city.”
Bhatia says that when it comes to Indya, “the rules here are that there are no rules”.
Located in Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, it knows its market. The hotel is overrun by European holidaymakers, chiefly Brits, and so Bhatia has designed a concept made to appeal directly to the Indian-cuisine loving guests.
“I felt that there was an audience here who were not catered for. If you look at the various offerings within the hotel here, you’ve got Zengo [contemporary pan-Asian], Maya [Mexican], there’s a lot of variety here, but they didn’t have an Indian,” he explains.
”Most of the guests here are Brits and they love to have Indian meals, the so called ‘curries’, so I’m expecting chicken tikka masala to sell, I’m expecting the biryanis to sell, I’m expecting the samosas to sell,” Bhatia adds, with the caveat that the food is still authentically Indian, with the traditional flavours any person from India would recognise.
They’d also recognise the artwork, in particular the stunning elephant headed Ganesha that takes up a wall in the centre of the restaurant. Bhatia tells of the work and effort that went into creating the bright and vibrant piece… only for him to turn around and tell the designer to distress it — much to the designer’s own distress.
“He is one god who enjoys his food and drinks,” says Bhatia in explanation for why Ganesha was chosen. “He’s a very playful god and he’s also the god for prosperity so we thought he is the best one to have here. Religion can be taken negatively by serving alcohol and food around it but this beautiful god is a fun god and that’s why we wanted to have it here. We have it in a very relaxed, very friendly, and enjoyable manner.”
Indya certainly pops with colour, but remains inviting and relaxing without being overwhelming. Traditional touches surround the space, with Bhatia saying the colours are inspired by Jaipur and the furniture is “very Raj style, but Indian at the same time”.
The comfort level extends to the food which Bhatia calls “not pompous food, not fancy food” but rather “classic food but with a little twist — innovation will come into play in some shape or form”.
It’s meant to be shared with two or three items per person, and the prices are set at AED 55 for a vegetable dish, AED 65 for poultry and red meat, and AED 75 for seafood.
While heritage is key, Bhatia also realises he is playing for a local audience.
“Because we have travelled extensively in the Middle East, you also pick up thing from the local culture — what they like to eat, how they like to eat. They understand certain flavours so there’s a nod towards the local Emirati people and that is key. You have to have the connection wherever you go.”
All the innovation means Indya stands alone in the city and that’s just how Bhatia wants it.
He says: “We always said that Indego has a baby sister and it’s Indya. It will have its own growth. We are an independent child and we can go grow into something beautiful hopefully. That is all based on what our experience has been in this beautiful city here.”
Now for Bhatia it’s back to the airport. Another flight, another destination, another restaurant to take care of, with no signs of slowing down.
“I still have a spring in my step when I go to the airport,” he tells us as we prepare to leave.
“I love flying. I would love to take flying lessons. Maybe when I slow down and I’m slightly more retired I will learn flying… or maybe not. I don’t think I’ll ever retire.”