By Sourish Bhattacharyya
THE PROBLEM with being a spy is that you don’t always get every piece of the jigsaw puzzle right. My post on Aldo Zilli’s Indian foray has evoked a tremendous response and fortunately, it also helped me re-establish contact, thank to my good friend Pareina Thapar, with Manish Baheyti, a dapper hotelier and a product of the Oberoi Group whom I have known off and on since his days as Director of Marketing at the Hyatt Regency.
In 2008, Manish and his wife Sonali established Haute Services Pvt. Ltd., which is a boutique consultancy with hospitality and art advisory as its main verticals. Their hospitality clients have included Usha Lexus Hotels, Seasons Group and Sinclairs. And it was Manish who set in motion the process that is bring Aldo Zilli to India.
Let’s hear it in his words and these are from an email he sent me late at night (my comments are in parentheses):
I have known Kashif (Farooq) and Prashant (Ojha) socially for many years and we got the opportunity to work with them from January this year as the lead consultants to a restaurant they wanted to open in place of what used to be Masharabiya (the open-air restaurant that used to be famous for its Lebanese food and belly dancing till it shut down) at The Ashok. Except for architectural services, interiors and kitchen design, we advise them on all other aspects of putting together this brand.
The need to provide a sound positioning to this restaurant in terms of its food offering, coupled with the fact that Delhi has a discerning palate, encouraged us to look overseas to engage a known name. Atul Kochhar (the Michelin-starred chef-owner of London’s Benaras restaurant) and I have been close friends for over 23 years, both having started our careers at the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, and I reached out to him for suggestions, which led to identifying Aldo Zilli.
The restaurant, Zerruco by Zilli (so he’s not bringing Cicchetti, as I had speculated), is co-branded with Aldo and our understanding is to grow the brand to be present in at least two more locations over a period of three years. There is no investment from Aldo Zilli. Besides Kashif Farooq and Prashant Ojha, who are the main promoters of this venture, they have three investing partners, namely Prashant Aggarwal, Bikram Oberoi and Munish Lal, for whom this will be the first hospitality venture.
The menu for the restaurant is completely designed by Aldo and he brings to the table his recipes from some of his most famous restaurants such as Zilli Fish, Zilli Green and the over 12 books he has authored, some of them big bestsellers. This gourmet dining restaurant will have a separate section in the menu for vegetarians as he found that majority of his patrons for Zilli Green in London were well-heeled Indians with a penchant for Italian vegetarian food.
I spent a week with Aldo recently in London and I can say that he is thoroughly excited about making his first-ever foray into the Asian market with a restaurant in the Capital of India.