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Food for the senses

Film star Nagarjuna's Touch could set the trend for celebrity restaurants catching up in our city, writes RADHIKA RAJAMANI

IMAGINE VISITING a swanky resto-bar, cafe or a restaurant and rubbing shoulders with celebrities... Thisis happening in our own Hyderabad. Food is big business today going by the restaurants mushrooming in many cities. Celebs too have entered the fray, either turning restaurateurs or lending their names to such ventures. Suniel Shetty, Sachin Tendulkar, Prahlad Kakkar are some of the famous names associated with restaurants in Mumbai. Actor Dino Morea too has a café in Mumbai. Hyderabad is not far behind as our own Nagarjuna along with his partners has opened "Touch" in the city.

Eating out should ideally be a fine dining experience. So restaurants such as Tendulkar's(Sachin Tendulkar), Crepe Station (Dino Morea), Mischief (Suniel Shetty) and Touch (Nagarjuna) promise this to the discerning gourmand. Elaborate planning and conceptualisation goes into the making of a celebrity restaurant, which provides the perfect ambience. Classy interiors, well chalked out menu (a blend of various cuisines or distinctly European), good music to the ears... what more does a customer want?

"I like to eat good food in a good ambience - it's an experience one should enjoy. Whenever I go abroad I feel good when I visit a restaurant. There's nice music, good quality sound and tasty food. One can compare it with cinema. One goes to a film to enjoy. The restaurants I visit in Singapore, England or France provide that kind of experience. So I want to do the same," says Nagarjuna. Suniel Shetty, who opened Mischief in Hyderabad last year, believes that Hyderabad is a fast growing city. "Mischief is a family restaurant The idea is to give families a good experience," says Suniel Shetty, who has plans of opening a celebrity speciality restaurant in Hyderabad some time.

"Food and entertainment are two big industries and I wanted to be part of both," says Dino Morea.

Touch opened without much fanfare. "The celebrity status is only for a while. The restaurant has to stand on its own strength. One will be damaging it if it is hyped and expectations are not commensurate," emphasises Nagarjuna.

"Initially people may come to eat because of the connection but finally it is the quality of food which matters. Repeat customers come because of the food," says Morea.

Décor is an important aspect of these restaurants. "Sensitive, simple, sensual and not overwhelming," describes Nagarjuna about Touch. Suneil says,"Tendulkar's in Mumbai has a sporty ambience with quite a bit of memorabilia."

"The ambience is excellent," vouches Harsha Bhogle, while Morea says, "Crepe Station is a small café and has a simple and modern look. There are just chairs, benches and cushions."

Touch has a contemporary, minimalist look with quite a bit of Zen influence. In white with soft, coloured lighting, the simple look in the bar-lounge and restaurant area is uplifting. Done up by Sandeep Khosla with valuable inputs by Nagarjuna, Preetam Reddy and Vishwas Raju, the décor is soothing to the eye. Plush white furniture and curtains accentuate the modern `abstract' look. The Hyderabadi influence is evident in the wall paper designs which have an enlarged Nizam's crown (studded with emeralds) on one section of the wall and some floral motifs (in white).

Everything is top of the end from the diffused and muted colour lights, furniture, to the kitchen gadgets. The lighting can be varied from table to table in the restaurant according the customer's requirements. "All the lights are from Delhi and this is the first restaurant to showcase these lights. There are 156 colours," adds Nagarjuna. The restaurant area has small alcoves for privacy. It is a no-smoking section. The bar-lounge too has niche sections where one can sit in groups.

Touch is supposed to do with the senses. At the resto-bar too it is to do with the senses — sight, (flowers and floating candles which heighten the ambience) hearing good music (chosen by the trio) and eating tasty food with the aroma of incense from Auroville spreading around.

Food occupies top priority. "At Tendulkar's, the menu includes certain favourite items of Sachin. I really enjoy the mocktails they have," says Bhogle.

"Crepe Station started off with crepes (the classic French dish served in different ways - savoury, fruit and flambe) but now we have waffles (the only place serving this in Mumbai besides the five-star hotels), burgers, pastas, juices and barbeque. The café is conceptualised by my brother Nicollo (we run it together) who is trained abroad. He has trained the Indian chefs to make the international dishes," says Morea.

The cuisine at Touch is modern European with a sprinkling of the Oriental. "Preetam has a passion for food and we put the menu together along with the chef," says Nagarjuna. So you have soups, starters, quiches, pastas and risottos, ratatouille, bruschetta to warm apple pie to Tiramisu at Touch. The food at Mischief too is a fusion of different cuisines.

Touch will also have a banquet convention hall, which can be booked for functions such as product launches, birthday parties and meetings. A portion of the bar area of Touch is slightly elevated and this can be used for "ramp shows and star DJs. We are planning to have live bands once in a while and classical Western and Indian chamber music too in future. There is a cover charge of Rs. 1000 only on Saturday," says Nagarjuna.

"We had planned an area above Mischief for private events but it has not been given to me yet. People keep asking about it and I have no answer," rues Suniel Shetty.

Nagarjuna hints at future expansion. "We want to start a chain in other cities as well but slowly." "We have got offers to open Crepe Station in Bangalore, Chennai and Pune but we are keen to open a fine dining restaurant before we venture into opening branches. We have to maintain quality," says Morea.

In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world".

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