With Indian Casual Dining on the rise, we caught up with Shrimoyee Chakraboty (Shrim), CEO and founder of Calcutta Street, to find out why Indian Casual Dining is the next big thing.
Shrim, the owner of the trendy Calcutta Street brand, already has two restaurants under her belt along with food stalls on London’s Southbank. Calcutta Street currently holds 35 covers in its Fitzrovia site and 45 in Brixton. With the Brixton site soon moving to Soho, it’s a very exciting time for Calcutta Street.
So what are Shrim’s thoughts on why the casual Indian trend is growing?
“Casual Indian Dining is an obvious trend to grow. With Indian food being the most popular in London, it seemed strange for this cuisine to only be represented by old school curry houses. Over the years a lot of people have travelled to India and now understand that the food ‘old school curry houses’ sell is not actually authentic Indian cuisine. There was a gap in the market for cool, young, trendy Indian places where people want to hang out and eat.”
So who is this new trend appealing to?
Shrim initially thought Calcutta Street would be full of Millennials but she was surprised to find her core audience to be 30 – 45 year olds. Shrim explained her view that young professionals appreciate authentic cooking more due to factoring include travel and are thus more open to explore new cuisines. Also, with greater disposable incomes they can generally afford to dine out on a more regular basis.
“Most of our diners have travelled, if not to India, then to other exotic destinations around the world, so they know what they get in a curry house is not what you get in India. It’s not authentic. They also come for the ambience, drinks, cocktails, craft beers and also to try something different. We only focus on the one region, Calcutta, and some diners come with a Calcutta connection. A lot of our diners know about Calcutta, as it was the first British capital.”
People also come from far and wide just to dine at Calcutta Street.
“Our Fitzrovia site does not get a lot of random footfall and definitely no tourists. So when people come to us they have travelled to us with intent. We had a guy from Germany travelling to the US and he took his route via Heathrow just so he could come to Calcutta Street. We get this a lot as there is no Calcutta food in the Western market except for us.”
Shrim came to the UK in 2010 and could not find the food she loved; this gave her the inspiration to launch the Calcutta Street brand.
“I saw the gap in the market. A lot of Indians live in the UK and they cannot find the food they want. I couldn’t find the food of my city here and I thought that was bizarre. Why are Indian restaurants clubbing all the states into one group? There is nothing generic about Indian food; it’s like clubbing together European food. Indian food is not all the same, it’s a massive country and to try and serve the food of an entire country on one menu is impossible. So I started cooking at home and blogging, and the blog became a supper club, and the supper club became a pop-up, and pop-ups evolved into the restaurants.”
Calcutta Street now regularly feeds a footfall of over 100 in their restaurants, plus the street food sites, with their busiest times being Thursday to Saturday. Though walk-ins tend to be less common, Calcutta Street thrives from regular, confirmed bookings from those who have tried and appreciated the experience.
With its modern, laid back casual dining scene Calcutta Street is trailblazing casual Indiana key element of their service proposition. For Shrim, presentation is extremely important, not just for the food itself, but also for the restaurants’ décor where she has embraced a shabby-chic vibe to the look and feel.
“I’m a home cook at heart, my restaurant is no-fuss, no-frills, casual home dining. I don’t want smears and dots, that’s not my style. My food is about taste and comfort. Our presentation is intentionally shabby chic, presented in a home style.”
All Shrim’s tableware choices are inspired by Calcutta itself and hand chosen by herself, as she feels it’s vitally important for these to match the style of the restaurant,
“Calcutta Street is a reflection of my parent’s living room. I grew up in the early 90s and that’s when the global extradition happened, so my parents’ house was not very traditional Indian. My parents travelled abroad and brought items back, so it was a mixture of cultures. Here at Calcutta Street we intentionally mix Indian styles with others, like rustic Terracotta with crystal glassware. As the home is never perfect I try to create this synergy with different coloured plates, etc.”
And has the rise of Instagram had an effect on the presentation of Calcutta Street’s food? Shrim is a fervent believer that it has. Calcutta Street’s kitchen has a visual representation of how every dish should look. Shrim understands the importance of presentation and is aware that her diners are snapping pictures of their food all the time. Shrim has a rule that if a tableware item is not available then the alternative is signed-off by the manager before it goes to service.
So how does Calcutta Street create that Indian shabby-chic, home-made feel with their tableware?
Calcutta Street use a variety of Genware table presentation and stoneware items, with cast iron being one of Shrims most favourite pieces.
“I love the cast iron stuff. The biggest problem with crockery is it will get scratched. But with cast iron, even after a year and a half there are no scratches. Plus it looks so stylish and fits in with our shabby chic appearance.
“Genware is absolutely on trend. I choose the crockery myself as I want it to look a certain way, I want a modern, refreshing look and that’s what I can achieve with Genware.”
So with presentation being a big focus for Calcutta Street, it was surprising to discover that they offer a wide delivery service. Calcutta Street is available on all major online delivery platforms and also offers a grab-and-go service. Shrim explains how they honed their take away menu to include only those dishes that travel well as Shrim understands that once that order has left Calcutta Street, it’s presentation is no longer under her control.
“There is only so much you can ensure about the presentation of the food when ordered for delivery. With grab-and-go you can ensure how it looks to a degree but with delivery it is out of your control. You can present it in a certain way and send it but that’s as much as you can guarantee. That’s why certain dishes that don’t travel well are not offered as takeaway.”
So where does Shrim see Calcutta Street’s future?
“With how the current casual dining sector is operating and with big chains shutting down I am honing my strategy and avoiding big budget investments. I’m aiming to open market stalls and festival pop-ups and to keep the brand going and to be able to interact with customers directly.”
It’s an exciting time for Calcutta Street and we predict you’ll soon be seeing stalls popping up across London. The Indian casual dining scene is an interesting concept and one we feel has legs to run will as savvy diners look for authentic Indian cuisine.
Discover more of Calcutta Street for yourself by visiting them online or at their Fitzrovia restaurant.
29 Tottenham St