It’s tough to keep track of the number of restaurants Atul Kochhar is opening in the UK. The last time we counted, it was nine, including the recently-launched Masalchi in Wembley Park.
“Nine is right,” Atul Kochhar tells My Kolkata from London. “When I left Benaras, I had three. I have a lot more coming, there are at least four in the pipeline. Our five-year plan is to grow quite aggressively and I’m lucky to have a team with the same mindset.”
Adding to the bouquet is Riwaz, a collection of modern Indian restaurants, the first of which opened doors three months ago in Beaconsfield.
Riwaz means tradition. “The thought behind this restaurant is that traditions are what guide us through our life. We are taught within our traditions, the guidelines and rules of what we should do, and what we shouldn't, so to speak. But as we move to different parts of the world, we grow and build new traditions,” explains the twice Michelin-starred chef (2001 at Tamarind and 2007 at Benaras).
“For example, I consider myself British-Indian, having lived here for three decades. I’ve lived and experienced the world and then I came to the UK and built some new traditions for myself. So, I thought, wouldn't it be beautiful to recognise that and give a nod to it, and create a restaurant that was inspired from my own journey?”
So, the menu at Riwaz is inspired by the history, stories and practices from Chef Atul’s experiences growing up in different parts of India. It takes you on a culinary voyage through the rustic Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and... West Bengal.
“We keep using a lot of influence from Kolkata and West Bengal on the menu,” says Atul, who grew up in Jamshedpur and went to the “nearest big city” Kolkata many times as a child and young man. “Then when I studied in Chennai, I would catch the fast train to Kolkata, the Coromandel Express, and then a passenger train to Jamshedpur. The stopover in Kolkata meant eating all the street food. As a student, it was a delight because I had little money and wanted to eat a lot.”
The Bengal influence in the Riwaz menu can be seen in dishes like Begun Bhaja and Roti Roll. “There’s also Khichuri, which we call a Salmon Kedgeree, and a lobster curry, Mocha Chingri Jhol,” says Kochhar. On Mothers’s Day, the restaurant served a root vegetable chorchori with kasundi (mustard).
Around an hour away from Beaconsfield is another restaurant that gives Londoners a taste of Bengal – Chourangi by Anjan Chatterjee, on Oxford Street. “I went there, not to eat, but to say hello and wish them luck. I haven't had a chance to go and eat there but I will soon. Anjan is one of my favourite heroes,” says Atul. “The place looks beautiful and in the right location as well. It’s good to have them in the neighbourhood.”
A second Riwaz is expected to open in The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells.