The Kumar changing our Indian tastes
PUBLISHED: 10:47 14 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:47 14 April 2014
Anil is leading a high street revolution
Visit Flavours By Kumar, the new Indian restaurant in Ramsgate, and chances are, if you’re an east Kent curry aficionado, you’ll recognize the man running the show.
He is Anil Kumar, the 36-year-old culinary wizard who for four years was head chef at The Ambrette in Margate, the restaurant that purposely, and with no little fanfare, set out to change the face of Indian dining in Thanet.
The idea was to move away from the idea of ‘an Indian’ being no more than a curry wolfed down after six or seven pints on a Saturday night, and instead present something a little more refined.
This was Indian haute cuisine brought to Margate.
The concept took a while to catch on with the locals, but once it did, there was no stopping it.
The awards flowed – for example, it was named best Indian restaurant in Britain by Morrisons magazine – and, more importantly, word of mouth spread the news that here was something special.
And now the man whose flair was such an integral part of The Ambrette is going it alone.
“I never thought I would leave,” said Kumar.
So why did he?
“I was trying to invest in property, but it didn’t go through, so the agent started looking for something else.
“I have a wife and young son and wanted a restoration property, but the agent came back and said to me the Patogh [a Persian restaurant] was on the market, you’re a qualified chef and have worked in many places – why don’t you look at that?
“So I had a meeting and something came into my heart…”
With the heart convinced, it just needed the bank to buy into the dream and so with a remortgaging of his house and a personal loan Kumar was on his way – both out of The Ambrette and into a future in which he would be master of his own destiny.
“All my life I had been working hard. So I thought ‘Why not?’.”
And on December 6 last year, Flavours By Kumar opened its doors to a Thanet public increasingly well served by an impressive range of quality restaurants.
The name is not just some kind of self-homage. Rather, Kumar wanted to make clear to potential customers what he was trying to do.
“I wanted to give it an Indian name, but this wasn’t for people who just wanted to go to a curry house – many Indians are not genuine Indian restaurants,” he said. “And Kumar is a very, very Indian name.”
Those who are expecting a cloned menu from The Ambrette will be surprised.
In truth, some for the dishes are not very far removed from those you might be served in a more ‘traditional Indian’ restaurant.
For example, Kashmiri lamb rogan josh and chicken shahi korma both feature, although the chargrilled brochette of venison with pickling sauce on the specials board during my visit alluded to loftier aims.
“It’s not only modern cuisine like The Ambrette,” said Kumar. “Everybody has to survive in the market. I want to be in between The Ambrette and the more traditional.
“It’s a very small menu – just six mains plus the special – but they’re all different.
“Other restaurants might make thousands of dishes that all taste the same. I like to make the best dishes and best sauces I can.
“Every few months I can make different dishes. I don’t want to spread myself everywhere, but I listen to the customers and I will be introducing three extra dishes to increase choice.”
As Kumar alludes to, an Indian restaurant is not a high-street rarity, so how does he make his stand out from the rest of a bunch he clearly does not rate too highly?
“Everything with a sauce is now called a curry – we can’t run away from that,” he said.
“But we use things that are local. So there might be pheasant tikka or venison or lamb shank – we use local produce with exotic spices.
“Some dishes are very traditional and some very modern – all are things that show my skill.”
And Kumar’s skill has clearly been built in the most intense of environments.
After three years at catering college – he comes from Patna, the capital of Bihar state in eastern India – he started out as a
banqueting chef and at some events would be involved in providing food for up to 5,000 people.
While at the Taj Gateway in Bangalore, he would often tackle guest lists of 2,000 or so.
He has prepared a “very high-profile” south Indian breakfast for Tony Blair and associated delegates – “I worked the whole night and didn’t sleep before working the whole of the next day as well… this is the hotel industry”.
“If there are 1,000 people, I can see with one look of the eye how many chickens we need, how much rice we need, and so on,” he said.
There’s a pedigree to Kumar’s experience that should not go unnoticed by Thanet diners.
“I was looking at a magazine in London,” he said.
“There was an article on the top three Indian restaurants outside London. One was Nina in Dubai, where I have worked, and another was Cinnamon Club in London, where I have worked. There was also one in New York, where I haven’t worked. I joked that I would have to go there next.”
It was Cinnamon Club that showed him “what the fun of this work is”.
“I would start at 5.30 in the evening and look around at the end to see it was 11 o’clock – you wouldn’t know where the five or six hours had gone.
“And they would always use the very best of everything.”
Today, at Flavours By Kumar, with the 46-cover restaurant still in its early days and the main man involved in pretty much everything, the hours are longer than ever.
He often won’t get to bed before 3am, with the morning alarm set for 7.30am.
As he might say himself: this is the restaurant industry.
■ Flavours By Kumar
2 Effingham Street,
Ramsgate CT11 9AT
(phone 01843 852631)