While it may be the nation’s favourite meal, the classic curry is arguably not the first cuisine you think of when considering a meal at a hotel.
But things are changing. Progressive concepts from chefs such as Cyrus Todiwala and Atul Kochhar are altering the way the British public, and hotel visitors, think about Indian cuisine. Delicate dishes and exquisite flavour combinations are adding into the mix and the phrase is very much ‘quality over quantity’.
At The Rubens at The Palace, chef Arun Kumar is looking to bring a bit of spice to the traditionally styled hotel, part of the Red Carnation Collection.
The Curry Room, launched at The Rubens in early summer, offers dishes created by Kumar and Kevin Joseph, head chef at sister property The Oyster Box Hotel in Durban, South Africa.
The intimate setting of the restaurant incorporates Rajasthani hand embroidery and rich red colours which reflect the vibrant diversity of the dishes.
The 30-cover restaurant serves a three-course set menu, bringing tastes and ingredients from both India and South Africa, with vibrant flavours and traditional curries. We caught up with chef Kumar to find out more.
Hi Arun, can you tell us about what guests can expect from The Curry Room?
The whole experience at The Curry Room is based on sharing and authenticity in an intimate and cosy setting. Located just below The Rubens’ popular New York Bar, live music fills the room from above, creating a lovely ambience – a special experience in itself! As a hotel, we can also create a bespoke dining experience for guests in one of our lovely private rooms.
What styles of curry available and why?
The curries take influence from both Indian and African spices and flavours. We have a sister hotel, The Oyster Box in South Africa, and we collaborated with their very talented chef Kevin Joseph to celebrate the lesser-known flavours in traditional KwaZulu-Natal curries. Meanwhile, the Indian curries draw inspiration from all corners of the country, be it the creamy butter chicken from Delhi or the coconut-based prawn curry, traditionally enjoyed in Kerala, southern India.
Is it more traditional and rustic, served up in bowls? Or more modern with individual portions and fine-dining elements?
I would say it’s the perfect combination of both – the curries are very much based on traditional flavours, and the décor features authentic Indian prints and Rajasthani hand embroideries. However, when the curries are served, it certainly has the feel of fine dining, with the curries in individual pots and on silver thali plates. And then there’s the warm, polished and personal service of our front of house team, headed by restaurant manager Mohan Senchuri.
As something of a rarity in hotels, why did you choose this concept?
As with most chefs, I have a traditional French training and have developed a wide knowledge of different cuisines over the course of my career. It’s Indian cuisine that’s in my blood, though – all of my inspiration in the kitchen can be traced back to my loving mother.
I think that, more and more, British diners are looking for authentic, speciality cuisine, and that is what we are very proud to offer our guests at The Curry Room. We’ve also seen similar concepts fare really well at other Red Carnation hotels – for instance The Curry Buffet at The Oyster Box in South Africa and The Curry Room at The Old Government House in Guernsey are both hugely popular with residential guests, visitors and locals alike.
How does it complement the other F&B offers at the hotel?
All of our dining venues use fresh, locally sourced ingredients of the highest quality, including meats from Aubrey Alley, Royal Warrant Holder to Her Majesty The Queen.
However, The Curry Room also contrasts our other F&B offerings at The Rubens beautifully. Our fine-dining restaurant, The English Grill, offers our guests elegant British dishes with modern twists on English classics and the theatre of a daily roast which is expertly carved from a bespoke silver trolley at guests’ tables. The Curry Room is the perfect alternative as the flavours and ideas are so different. This means that our guests have great variety of choice, and for locals it’s a fantastic addition to the dining scene in the newly developed Victoria area.
Does the concept have its own style and street entrance at the hotel?
The Curry Room is accessed through the hotel, taking guests past the live-music performers in The New York Bar, which always makes for an impressive entrance! The bar is the perfect place for a pre-dinner cocktail, and many of our guests choose to relax in there with a digestif after their meal to complete their evening. The Curry Room definitely has its own unique style, given the Indian influences, yet fits very well with the newly refurbished interiors of the hotel, too, being decorated with warm and opulent tones of red and gold.
Who have been your customers so far? More walk-ins, outside guests or overnight hotel residents?
We are very popular with residential hotel guests; however, we also welcome lots of walk-ins and outside guests into our restaurant. Thanks to the extensive development of Nova, and of Victoria more widely, we’re in the heart of London’s newest dining destination, and we offer some of the finest foodie experiences in the area.
Our customers include everyone from Londoners who are really knowledgeable on their curries and intrigued to try the latest offering to overseas guests who may not be familiar with the cuisine.
We had the pleasure of hosting an amazing elderly couple from Norway who stayed in the hotel a couple of months ago and had never tasted Indian food before. They were apprehensive that it was going to be too spicy, but we tailored the curries to their taste and they ended up leaving the sweetest Tripadvisor review. It’s lovely to think we’ve opened their eyes to a whole new type of cuisine.
What are the most popular dishes on the menu so far?
The most popular curry is actually my own personal favourite – the butter chicken. The recipe for this dish originates from Delhi and consists of simmering the chicken in saffron butter with a delicious chilli and coriander cream. On the dessert menu our baked vanilla cheesecake is always a winner, prepared to the legendary recipe of Red Carnation Hotels’ founder and president Bea Tollman.
How important is it for a hotel restaurant to have its own theme and concept, rather than just being “another branded hotel restaurant”?
This is extremely important to us. Whilst we’re very proud of The Rubens as a hotel, we also have our own unique identity – this is the same across all Red Carnation properties, with The Curry Buffet at The Oyster Box in South Africa and The Curry Room at The Old Government House in Guernsey. Each is a unique restaurant in its own right – not only through the décor, but also from having a dedicated and specialised team behind it.
The Curry Room Sample Menu
Jalpaan / Starter For The Table
Keema samoosas, poppadums, lime pickle, mango chutney and raita
Mukhya Bhojanan / Main Course
(All Curries served with basmati Rice, chef’s vegetable side dish and traditional Indian bread)
Traditional Natal Lamb Curry
Butter Chicken – simmered in butter, chilli and coriander cream
Chicken and Prawn Curry – authentic onion and tomato-based gravy
Bengal Fish Curry – with aubergine
Prawn Curry – a favourite among South Indians, simmered in a tomato and coconut sauce
Vegetable Korma – fried paneer, onion, peas and mushrooms in creamy curry sauce
Spicy Beef Vindaloo – slow-cooked beef, white wine vinegar, onions, tomato and a combination of Goan spices (pork option available)
Mistaan / Dessert
Indian-influenced Kulfi Ice Cream
Fresh Papaya and Sorbet Baked Vanilla