By Sourish Bhattacharyya
|Dharmesh Karmokar is the co-promotor of Nom Nom along |
with Hitesh Keswani, who handles the financial side of the
business that started with Juhu's Silver Beach Cafe
DHARMESH KARMOKAR may not have acquired celebrity restaurateur status like AD Singh, Riyaz Amlani and Rahul Akerkar — three men with whom he has worked closely in his formative years — but he’s well on his way to stardom.
|Nom Nom at The Ashok--it's the first in Delhi after two |
successful openings in Mumbai--sprawls across the 11,000
square feet vacated by Nelson Wong's China Garden
Of mixed Bengali-Gujarati parentage, the Institute of Hotel Management (Dadar) 1992 graduate is the co-promoter (with Hitesh Keswani) of the Silver Beach Café, the stylish hangout of Bollywood’s glitterati at Juhu, recently rated by CNN as one of Mumbai’s ten best, and Nom Nom, the “fun Asian” restaurant whose first outlet in Delhi opens on September 12 at the 11,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Nelson Wong’s China Garden at The Ashok.
Having started life as a waiter at Ajay Piramal’s parties, earning Rs 500 a night, a princely sum in pre-liberalisation India, Kamokar today is partnering with Spice Global boss B.K. Modi, who’s famous in Mumbai as the man who wears pink pants and is driven around in a canary yellow Bentley. It was Modi who bid for and secured the 11,000-square-foot space that has made way for the 180-cover Nom Nom, which has tiered seating to appeal to Delhi’s hierarchical sense of honour, a live charcoal grill for the kebabs of the rebellious Xinjian Uyghur Autonomous Region and a hand-made noodles counter. Nom Nom’s two Mumbai outlets are in Juhu and on the Juhu-Versova Link Road. And after the Delhi project takes off, Karmokar will get busy with launching his company’s dessert brand, Park Bench.
Nom Nom has many winners on its menu, starting with the star anise-flavoured chilli sauce that arrives at your table even before you place your food order, dim sum sexed up with Japanese spices and even cheddar cheese, sinus-clearing Chinese mustard prawns (a fiery alternative to the standard-issue wasabi prawns), the banana leaf-wrapped steamed basa (Parsi patrani machchi meets Chinese spicing) served with prawn crackers tossed in sweet chilli sauce, and for dessert, Ciroc’s coconut-flavoured vodka jelly with caramelised rambutan and pina colada sauce. The restaurant’s circulating ‘tea book’ with 50 tea bag options is from Basilur, the purveyors of “pure Ceylon tea”.
“We have gone creative with our desserts. Darsan has been done to death,” says Karmokar. “Fun Asian”, he declares, is the way forward for a market saturated with Cantonese options. “Restaurants in China have taken fun to another level,” Karmokar says. “Shanghai consumes more Chivas than the whole of India. It’s time we too learnt to live the good life.” To drive home the idea of unalloyed fun, the music at Nom Nom will be pumped up after 10:30 p.m. and Friday nights will be designated ‘Chow Nights’ after the Hangover character Leslie Chow, played by Korean American comedian Ken Jeong. The prices, Karmokar assures us, will be reasonable. “We don’t want to price ourselves out of business,” he says, adding that he expects the average check per person to be Rs 1,200 with taxes and service charge, but minus alcohol. The soups, for instance, are priced at Rs 270.
It’s been an arduous yet rewarding journey for Karmokar. “What pulled me into the hospitality industry was the glamour,” says the 41-year-old whose father is in the jewellery business, and at 70, still insists on being driven in his Ambassador to the fish market at Vasai at 4:30 a.m. to be able to get the fresh catch. Karmokar remembers the time when he was a hotel management student doubling as a waiter at a party at The Taj Mahal Hotel. A friend of his father’s who was at the party looked very concerned on seeing Dharmesh. “Beta, ghar mein sab theek hai na?” he asked the young man. Those were the days when a career in the hospitality sector was frowned upon by the older generation.
Having been groomed at Dadar by the likes of Chef Vernon Coelho, Karmokar started his career at the Taj when three industry stalwarts of today held key positions in the iconic hotel — Subir Bhowmick (Area Director of the Taj Hotels in Hyderabad) was the general manager; Farhat Jamal (Area General Manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, Mumbai), the F&B manager; and Raman Mehra (CEO, Graviss Hospitality), the banquet manager.
Post-Taj, Karmokar joined Farrokh Khambata’s catering company Flavours (and that was when he came in touch with AD Singh and Rahul Akerkar), sold Apple Computers for six months, joined Riyaz Amlani’s fledgling company and took Mocha from one to 16 outlets, worked with serial restaurateur Sanjay Narang, whom he describes as the “smartest businessman in the hospitality industry”, launched the Gloria Jean coffee chain for Micky Jagtiani, who owns the Dubai-based Landmark retail stores group, and Kapil Wadhawan’s Dish Hospitality, which has had a good and bad run with brands of wavering fortunes such The Tasty Tangles and Cinnabon.
“When you’re doing business, you’ve got to be successful,” Karmokar says at one stage of our conversation. So far he hasn’t done anything to suggest otherwise.