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Chef Sanjay Kaul at Chor Bizarre

Asian food This restaurant has long been a favourite. Chor Bizarre in swanky Mayfair enjoys a reputation for excellent cuisine, seamless service and an ambiance which is unique. Chor Bizarre is Unique!

We are blessed in London with a raft of good Indian restaurants and this one has always been on that creditable list. It's noted not only for its food but its decor. One enters at street level into an exotic world of subcontinental charm. Here a table is not just a table but a former window shutter, a table is not just a table but a four-poster bed in another life. The restaurant is a textured tapestry of dark carved wood, marble, tile, mirror. A meal at Chor Bizarre is a delicious event.

There have been changes not only in the fabric of Chor Bizarre lately but also in personnel. There is a new chef at the helm and he is maintaining the high standards of Manpreet Singh, the previous incumbent. Chef Sanjay Kaul is enthusiastic about his new charge.

Had Sanjay's family had anything to do with the food Industry? "Yes, my father was a director of all the catering schools in India, and the principal of two hotel management schools. He started in Delhi as a kitchen instructor, and eventually became its principal. I followed his example as far as the practical side was concerned, but I didn’t go into teaching. He was an inspiration.

"I did a degree in business and commerce first; my father had told me to do an MBA because the catering industry is a hard route. He had been involved in teaching throughout his life, and said that if I was to succeed I had to do well on the kitchen side. It was hard work, and I did a management training programme at the Taj Palace in Delhi, and then to ITC Sheraton – I worked at Bukhara under Chef Manjit Gill. He gave me a big break by promoting me to run the restaurant at ITC Rajputana in Jaipur. I also managed the well-known Great Kabab Factory in the Radisson Hotel Delhi, and was a Master Chef with them.

Asian food "When I was at Bukhara, making the naan dough, you had to use your hands, they would never allow anyone to use the dough mixer. You had to feelthe elasticity of the dough, and my gurus teaching me there were very strict on how to knead the 60 kilos of dough! Some things just have to be done as they were a hundred years ago.

"I worked for a while in the UK with Wagamama, because I wanted the experience of other Asian cuisines; and it’s very important to learn the standards required in this country. I was senior sous-chef there for four years, then, missing my home food, I returned to India to work at the Habitat Centre for Mr. Rohit Khattar, and he gave me the opportunityto come to Chor Bizarre in London as Chef."

How would Sanjay define the food at Chor Bizarre? "I worked in Germany for three years: in Germany people often eat their curries with a little cream ... but here you can’t do that – every second person knows Indian food so well, and experimentation brings youinto the ‘fusion’ category. With a traditional restaurant like ours we stick to the original. We have a ‘Chor Bizarre’ in Delhi, and another in Pune, so it’s a well-known brand. This restaurant has completed 15 years, and we have almost all the regional cuisines represented on the menu – Kashmiri, South Indian, North Indian, and so on – a complete menu: whatever you want, you can usually find.

We have Kerala Fish Moilee, Chutney Nadroo, Pepper Garlic Fried Prawns, and amongst other things we have a good collection of Kashmiri dishes. I think ours is the only restaurant in London that serves authentic Kashmiri food, because the company in India has several hotels and restaurants in Kashmir – Indian Srinagar – so they know what Kashmiri dishes are all about. In fact my ancestors are from Kashmir, and I have been eating Kashmiri food since I was small.We have a lot of expertise here in this cuisine."

Asian food How does this chef describe the food of Kashmir? "Kashmiri food is aboutmustard oil which has been tempered. It has a distinct flavour: you heat the oil but don’t let it burn, let it cool a bit and add some yoghurt or onions. Fennel (saunf) along with dry ginger powder are the key ingredients, with onions and tomato. Rogan Josh is red from chillies, and Yakhni is more of a yoghurt dish, white in colour; both are tempered with mustard oil so that the distinct flavour can be appreciated."

I wondered what proportion of diners at Chor Bizarre are Europeans. "I’d say 60% of diners are not Indian – we have lots of Americans ... it’s Mayfair, so there are all nationalities. We offer traditional dishes, not fusion food, no deer meat, we offer what is well-known in India. Those who dine at top restaurants in India will find the same dishes here. We reduce the oil content, as people here are more health-conscious, but customers do want the authentic taste.

"We slowly adapt and introduce a few dishes as required, although this menu has done very well, and if there are slow-moving dishes we can replace them. Our most popular dishes are the Chicken Chettinad and our Sharabi Kababi chicken – a dash of spirits makes the difference. Rogan Josh and Yakhni sell very well here and a lot of thought has gone into this menu. Curries are more popular in this country than in India, and you won’t find Chicken Tikka Masala in the same form there!

"If I’m eating out, I would rather go to a chef who gives me authentic food, ‘like his mum cooked’ – if he forgets his way, he should go back to what he has eaten at home, or perhaps street food. You find so many stalls at the roadsides across Asia – freshly cooked, and it’s done well. I love to cook biryani at home – it’s a complete meal. Cooking rice is an art, especially in ‘dum’ (with a sealed lid). An excess of anyingredientmight ruin the whole thing! Being of Kashmiri origin, I love dal tadka (yellow dal), or anything spicy."

Asian food Although a loyal regular at Chor Bizarre in London, I had never ventured to the lower level. This is now a striking private dining area of great Bollywood character.
"We have just modified this room six months ago, totally redecorated, and with photos of stars in the Indian movie industry, from owner Rohit Khattar’s collection – heroes, villains, early and recent actresses – a unique theme. It’s a private dining room, and we can use it if we are full upstairs. There are about 95 covers all together." These portraits chart Indian cinema from the days of its black and white infancy through to the dash and dazzle of modern Bollywood block-busters. The overall impression of this room is of themed opulence, of quirky elegance. It works.
Chef Sanjay Kaul is a new chef here but there is so much that remains unchanged at Chor Bizarre in Mayfair. The location is still unbeatable, the quality is outstanding and the hospitality is still Old World. It remains a winner.

Visit Chor Bizarre here

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