A deluge of gastropubs seem to be flooding the city in recent times. The Salt House Kolkata is NOT one more of them. Chef Auroni Mookerji, in a chat with MoneyFoodTravel shares his thoughts on food, formats and more. This is what he had to say.
Gastropubs. How did they come about? The genesis of gastropubs started in UK where the quality of liquor was already very good, you had great craft beers, whiskeys and scotch and single malts and mixology. The local pub realised that they could make more money if they just upped their quality of food. That is how the phenomenon of gastropubs began. Paris already had the concept in a brasserie or a bistro, but the offering changed. There was great wine but it wasn’t as trendy as craft beer or speakeasy style cocktails, single malts and things like that. Diners suddenly wanted to eat better but without the stuffiness of pre-plated food, the hassle of making a reservation and without the inconvenience of pre-gaming. I would go drinking at a different place and then have dinner at a different place or I would have dinner at a different place and then go drinking elsewhere. The opportunity cost thus split up for businesses. Many people identified that gap and gastropubs happened. Then some people took the next step. You then had an Asian gastropub and molecular gastropubs and so on.
What is in a concept? Concepts can become a bit overwhelming at times. This desire to drink casually, eat casually and yet not compromise on quality will always be there. When it comes to a concept, in the long run, you are kind of always sticking to your concept only, and every concept has a shelf life. But good food will never have a shelf life, and that is where our conscious choice was to steer away from a gastropub came about. A concept will always have to be replicated, it will always have to be scaled up, and a lot of hiccups come about in that. For example it is much easier to scale up a European restaurant as opposed to a Tapas bar as it required far more specialisation and far more specification. A place like ours can promote concepts when it thinks it is necessary and when we feel like it, for example we can have a Tapas menu during the pujo season. We understand that you may not want a ramen or a sushi thrice a week. You can be interesting, you can be exciting, you can be gamechanging by being a concept, but can you be iconic ? We want to be iconic, so there was a clear reason for us to take up something that is timeless. We did not want to bracket ourselves.
All day dining: What is great with all day as a concept as opposed to a gastropub, is that a gastropub will have limited operating hours, only lunch and after-hours because alcohol is a key part of what you are doing. All day is far more fluid you can come to me for a beer as well as for an Americano, you can come to be for a pasta salad or for a heavy steak meal, you can have beer battered shrimp with chilled beer but you can also have a very well made ravioli agnolotti. Keeping all that in mind is that as a business model we have far more flexibility. We would call ourselves a contemporary European restaurant in our techniques and the way we approach the dining experience. One thing we have picked up from the gastropub culture is that my waiters don’t wear butler gloves and we do not use silverware. You can still do casual dining but without bracketing yourself.
Gastropubs ultimately cater to a much younger audience. We wanted to be a more balanced property, which is why we segregated our dining room from our bar. We wanted to allow ourselves the freedom to serve all kind of customers and yet make it a crafted experience. We are not shying away from the craft aspect of it; we just do not want to be put into a box.