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The who and what behind the success of Peter Hu?

An exclusive chat with the Kotharis about their nine-month-old pan-Asian restaurant

Karo Christine Kumar | Published 14.07.22, 08:24 PM
Siddharth Kothari outside Peter Hu?, from the house of Mocambo and Peter Cat

Siddharth Kothari outside Peter Hu?, from the house of Mocambo and Peter Cat

Ritagnik Bhattacharya

A plate of Belgian Pork Skewers arrives at the table. The pork, we are told, is purchased from someone who imports it to Delhi for the five-star hotels. A bamboo basket with steamed dumplings follows suit. As the lid is opened, a cloud of mist dissipates to reveal four delicate Brie Cheese and Truffle Dumplings. 

Peter Hu? is packed on a Monday night. Waiters are shuffling in and out of the kitchen, young diners are clicking selfies on the ornate green staircase that leads to the mezzanine level, and there’s a queue of customers waiting to be let into the part-period, part-Boho interiors. 

Well into its ninth month, Peter Hu?, from the house of Peter Cat and Mocambo, is doing brisk business. What has made it click? Is it the proximity to Park Street? The reputed backing of two established brands? Or the competitive pricing compared to any other pan-Asian fine-dine restaurant? 

My Kolkata caught up with the father-son duo — Nitin Kothari and Siddharth Kothari — to find out what has made this 145-seater pan-Asian address a success story. 

Nine months after opening Peter Hu?, did you think it would receive the kind of response it is getting? 

Siddharth: Honestly, no. I think it turned out a little better than I thought! Peter Hu? was just a vision in my head, which has come together pretty cohesively. 

Nitin: Having said that, while most new restaurants have a honeymoon phase of six months, a place that is backed with the reputation of Peter Cat and Mocambo, is likely to have a honeymoon phase for 12 months. The true test will come after that. It’s very easy to bring customers in once but to bring them again depends on what you deliver. You can advertise all you want but if they don’t like it, they won’t come back. So check with us next November (laughs)!

Initially, you thought of opening a Chinese restaurant… 

Siddharth: Yes, when we got possession of this place. Since we were lacking a Chinese restaurant in the group, we immediately thought of opening a Chinese restaurant. But one thing I did not want was Indian Chinese, which you get anywhere. I wanted authentic Chinese food. Then I thought, would that be appealing to regular Kolkatans? Maybe, maybe not. Keeping that sensibility, we decided to add a few more cuisines, and that gave birth to this pan-Asian fine-dining concept. 

‘I am a massive fan of colonial architecture. If you notice, the bannister, the railing… they have that old look. The property itself is about 100-years old,’ says Sid, who designed the interiors of Peter Hu?

‘I am a massive fan of colonial architecture. If you notice, the bannister, the railing… they have that old look. The property itself is about 100-years old,’ says Sid, who designed the interiors of Peter Hu?

Ritagnik Bhattacharya

Would you say Peter Hu? has bridged the gap between ‘expensive’ and ‘affordable’ in the city’s pan-Asian foodscape?

Siddharth: Once we decided that Peter Hu? would be pan-Asian, then we definitely thought about keeping the pricing as affordable as Peter Cat and Mocambo. We did our homework and then wondered, ‘Why is Asian food so expensive elsewhere?’ If you want this kind of food anywhere, it’s literally way more expensive, but the truth is that it doesn’t really have to be. So, inadvertently, Peter Hu? has bridged that gap. 

What is the average spend per person?

Siddharth: Around Rs 600-650 without drinks, which is on a par with Mocambo. One can go for an elaborate meal, but we’ve also got ‘Meals in Bowls’ like the Teriyaki Rice Bowl, Pad Krapow, Khow Suey and Laksa, which will set you back by under Rs 500. Like the Chelo Kebab in Peter Cat, which is a comprehensive meal for Rs 470. 

What are some of the dishes doing well?

Siddharth: Our sushi rolls are selling very well — better than we expected. We actually had to supplement our sushi section and get more hands on board. Apart from that, our dim sums are doing well, too, and of course, I was surprised with the response to our Pork Belly. We have two variations, the Buta No Kakuni, which is Japanese braised pork belly with a sweet hoisin glaze, and the other is the Barbecued Pork Belly, which is cooked on the robata. Both do well. So much so, that it’s not always available, because Belgian pork is imported and procurement is an absolute challenge. Someone imports it to Delhi for the five-star hotels and we buy it from them.

Charcoal Grilled Bacon and Prawn Bao

Charcoal Grilled Bacon and Prawn Bao

Ritagnik Bhattacharya

Our baos have been performing well, too. The best-sellers are the Belgian Pork Char Siu Bao, Charcoal Grilled Bacon and Prawn Bao, Spicy Chicken Bao and vegetarian options like the Silken Tofu and Sweet Potato baos. In comparison to Peter Cat and Mocambo, our vegetarian options at Peter Hu? are much larger. We get a sizeable vegetarian crowd. I have actually dined here with vegetarian friends and had a complete vegetarian meal, and did not miss the non-veg!

Are you planning to add more dishes?

Siddharth: We are. Maybe one salad, another soup, another dish on the Robata section, another sushi, and a couple of dim sums. I was thinking of introducing a Soupy Dim Sum; when you bite into it, your whole mouth is filled with its flavours. It’s a bit tricky to do because the dough is slightly thicker. Another thing we’re working on is a Thai fusion dim sum, and maybe another dessert like a Matcha Tiramisu. We hope to have these in a few weeks. 

Peking Chicken Dim Sum and Prawn Dragon Roll Sushi

Peking Chicken Dim Sum and Prawn Dragon Roll Sushi

Ritagnik Bhattacharya

What made you choose this location on Mirza Ghalib Street?

Siddharth: The first time dad told me about the location for Peter Hu?, I was like ‘No!’ Because it’s off Park Street, there was a tea stall in front of us, a dhobi guy, and it felt like a dingy corner that was away from the action. That’s one of the reasons why our facade is so bright, just to give it that spark. But I think it’s worked out very well and because of us, people have had the confidence to open up next to us. It made us realise that while location is important, it’s the product that will ultimately get people to you. 

Regulars would notice senior Kothari at Mocambo or Peter Cat almost every evening. How hands-on are you, Siddharth?

Siddharth: I’m here every day. 

We hear that you even designed the interiors yourself? 

Siddharth: It was me, myself and I (laughs). No interior decorator, I worked closely with mistris and plumbers! I am a massive fan of old colonial architecture. If you notice, the bannister, the railing… they have that old look. The property itself is about 100 years old, and we tried our best to maintain the carvings on the wall. We complemented this period look with a sort of Boho vibe. The design and idea was in my head, and it is a pleasure to see the way it has come out.

Nitin: Even the tables and the upholstery was Sid’s work. 

Siddharth: My creation, and their inputs. I would make a table and plonk it in the house and wait for reactions (laughs). I made a white one, but they didn’t like it. Then I made a black one and a brown one and finally we liked this. 

Nitin: The front of the chair is often the most exposed part, because people spill stuff and it gets stained. So, we got this leather-finish on the inside, and thought it would be something new to have tapestry at the back.  

Siddharth: I am a big fan of natural sunlight. But it could be dangerous to have a glass facade – you never know if someone throws something – so we had to get toughened glass.

Nitin: Thankfully, no one has tested it! 

‘Because the property is on a multi-layered level, we had to have a way going up. If you’ve ever been to Bankshall Court (in BBD Bag), there’s a place at the back where the 'babus' write, and there’s this beautiful structure there. That kind of inspired me,’ said Siddharth

‘Because the property is on a multi-layered level, we had to have a way going up. If you’ve ever been to Bankshall Court (in BBD Bag), there’s a place at the back where the 'babus' write, and there’s this beautiful structure there. That kind of inspired me,’ said Siddharth

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Was it challenging to meet expectations given the success of Peter Cat and Mocambo? 

Siddharth: I know exactly what you mean. It was a crazy amount of pressure on me because there are two established brands that are where they are because of my dad and if this failed, it would not only be a slap on the face for me, but for the group. So, I definitely had a number of sleepless nights! I’m glad that it’s worked out and more than anything, I’m glad that everyone’s enjoying themselves here.

Nitin and Siddharth Kothari outside Mocambo, which was started by Nitin’s father Shivji V. Kothari in the summer of 1956

Nitin and Siddharth Kothari outside Mocambo, which was started by Nitin’s father Shivji V. Kothari in the summer of 1956

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Mr Kothari, did you have any apprehensions?

Nitin: I think I’ve been long enough in this business to know that there are certain parameters that one must follow when you start a new restaurant. If you follow those parameters, you should not go wrong. I’m sure you’ve seen many, many restaurants coming up in Kolkata in the last 15 years. You’ve also seen many, many restaurants that have shut down. Opening a restaurant is the least challenging, all you need is money. But one may not know much about its management. When we decided on this place, we were constantly working together. I know that Sid knows enough of the business to make it a success. I didn’t have too many apprehensions. We are extremely proud of him. It’s his show and he’s done a marvellous job. No two ways about it!

The name Peter Hu? has raised many eyebrows. Tell us the story behind the name once again… 

Nitin: Initially, we wanted a Chinese or Vietnamese name, and we thought of Peter Chow or Peter Dragon. Then I remembered, around 10 years ago, when we were in Mumbai, and staying at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel for a wedding, the then-president of China, Hu Jintao, was in town. I wanted to pull my friend’s leg, so I told him, ‘You know Hu’s in town?’ I was punning on the word ‘who’. He looked at me and said, ‘Who’s in town?’ ‘That’s right,’ I said, ‘Hu’s in town.’ Then the penny fell and he got what I was saying. So, we thought about that and said, ‘Why not Peter Hu,’ and then we put a question mark at the end. So the name of the restaurant is not Peter Hu, it’s Peter Hu? 

The exterior of the restaurant

The exterior of the restaurant

What’s the best and not-so-best thing you’ve heard about Peter Hu?

Siddharth: The best thing I’ve heard is that the food is fantastic and it’s an experience in itself coupled with the ambience. I know some die-hard fans who come here once a week, to the point where they see me and get embarrassed. And I’m like, ‘Please don’t be, it’s a pleasure to have you! You can’t ask for a bigger compliment!’ The worst thing I’ve heard is about service. It’s a new place with new staff; it’s a relatively fast-moving place and issues can happen. 

What next? Can Kolkata expect another restaurant from the Kotharis?

Siddharth: I’ll let the senior answer that!

Nitin: We would like to expand. As a matter of fact, we already have the premises. It’s a long way off and we still have to finalise what we’d like to open there but yes, we are definitely looking to expand. Will it be an existing brand? Possibly. Unless Siddharth comes up with a new concept. 

And you didn’t have to find a spirits store this time? (When Mr Kothari wished to expand Mocambo in 2016, he mustered the courage and approached the spirits store next door. The owner said, ‘Mr Kothari, I’ve been seeing the queue outside your restaurant every day and I’ve been waiting for you to make that proposal for the last 10 years!’)

(Laughs) This time it is a chemical godown, which was closed by the owner during Covid. 

Siddharth’s favourites on the menu are the Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Salad, Asian Greens, Pad Thai Noodles and Pad Krapow (in picture). ‘I am a little biased towards Thai,’ he smiled.

Siddharth’s favourites on the menu are the Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Salad, Asian Greens, Pad Thai Noodles and Pad Krapow (in picture). ‘I am a little biased towards Thai,’ he smiled.

Last updated on 14.07.22, 08:40 PM
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