Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Oberoi's Old Sushi Master Augusto Cabrera Back in the City as Town Hall's Managing Partner

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Augusto Cabrera, seen above in his days at The
Oberoi New Delhi, is back in the city as Executive
Chef and Managing Partner of the 160-seater
Town Hall  restaurant in Khan Market.
WHEN The Oberoi New Delhi's Master Sushi Chef Augusto Cabrera left the hotel where he had the national capital's elite eating out of his hands at threesixty°, he said he was returning to his home city in the Philippines to open a restaurant that would be owned by his family. But lo and behold, he's back in the city as Executive Chef and Managing Partner of the new restaurant that has got everyone talking -- Town Hall at Khan Market. And he has hired his former second-in-command, who had reportedly moved on to Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal Hotel, as the replacement for Vikramjit Roy.
For The Oberoi, it means competition that is too close for comfort, but having sampled the sushi rolls at threesixty° a couple of Sundays back, I couldn't discern any drop in quality. It was as if Augusto hadn't left. That is the strength of The Oberoi. It seems impervious to personnel changes. And I believe, a replacement for Augusto, who had joined The Oberoi from Dubai's Towers Rotana in 2004, will soon be seen in action at threesixty°. Then, it promises to be a battle of the sushi masters!
Enough of speculation. Now, let's return to the facts. Town Hall is a 160-seater international fine-dining restaurant with noticeably high ceilings, a sushi station and a terrace dining space with a wood-fired pizza oven. In scale, Town Hall is the most ambitious restaurant project after Set'Z, which is at DLF Emporio, and it is being promoted by Navneet Kalra of Dayal Opticals, who seems to own just about every square inch of Khan, including the ever-popular Khan Chacha, and the space now occupied by Harry's Bar and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Partnering with him is Randeep Bajaj, the 28-year-old owner of Amour restaurants, who has extended his wings from Hauz Khas Village and Malcha Marg Market.
Augusto joins them in his new role as chef-turned-entrepreneur (he describes the restaurant as the place where "East meets West"), bringing with him his wealth of professional experience and deep understanding of the Delhi market. It was he, after all, who rid Delhi's chattering classes of their fear of raw fish by introducing the culture of sushi rolls. The minuscule Japanese market, back then in 2004, was dominated by the classical approaches of Sakura and Tamura, the two haunts of the city's Japanese expat population.
I remember how Master Chef Nariyoshi Nakamura, who was then at Sakura (and is now being wasted at the Sheraton New Delhi, Saket), would sniff at the idea of sushi rolls. Sushi, in his dictionary, meant nigiri, nori seaweed-wrapped maki, temaki and the gunboat, gunkan maki. Augusto and threesixty° changed all that. Will he and his mates be able to breathe life into Khan Market, which looks like a ghost town after 8 p.m.? The city will soon be looking towards Town Hall for the answer.