Avinash Shashidhara

Avinash Shashidhara

After spending a month sleeping on people’s sofas, Avi got a job at The Old Bridge Hotel in Huntingdon working alongside master of wine John Hoskins, where he spent two years before making a career-defining move to The River Cafe. ‘I was just doing a stage there initially,’ explains Avi. ‘But at the end of my first day Rose Gray (co-founder of The River Café) sat me down and offered me a job – she’d been to India before and loved the food. To be honest, she is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. I waited another year before leaving The Bridge and then I got a call saying The River Cafe had burnt down and I didn’t have a job!’ The team looked after Avi, however, sending him temporarily to work with chefs including Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries, before rejoining them to reopen the Michelin-starred restaurant.

Not many chefs can say they’ve worked at one of London’s most famous restaurants for over a decade but Avi spent almost eleven years at The River Cafe. During this time he worked tirelessly on developing his skills and learning about the industry, which would prove important down the line when running his own kitchen for the first time. ‘It was probably the best culinary experience I could have ever had,’ he says. ‘You’d move sections every day and be taught how to do things from scratch properly. They’d even take us to Tuscany every year to do tastings, which made me realise how similar Indian and Italian cultures are in terms of seasonality and eating from the land.’

In 2018, after ten years spent cooking in the same kitchen Avi decided it was time for a change. ‘When I left The River Cafe, I was so sad,’ he explains. ‘It felt like leaving India for the first time all over again. But it was time to move on and I knew I wanted to do something with Indian food. I’d always cooked it at home for my friends and family but I wanted to change that perception of Indian curry houses being about cheap cuts, greasy food and extreme spice.’ Having done various pop-ups across Europe as well as in Delhi, he decided to start asking his family members in India to share their recipes, which would be at the core of his own menu.

Joining forces with a friend who he worked with while doing his pop-ups, in 2020 Avi launched Pahli Hill Bandra Bhai in London’s Fitzrovia, where as head chef he cooks seasonal, produce-led dishes which blend ultra-traditional family recipes with high quality British ingredients. ‘I want this to be somewhere where people can come and enjoy some real Indian food,’ he explains. ‘We’re trying to bring it back to what it should be. There are of course some popular dishes at Pahli Hill Bandra Bhai like chicken tikka and a fish curry but equally there are some interesting homestyle dishes made using local ingredients.’

Over the course of his ten years at The River Cafe, Avi learnt that regardless of the cuisine you’re cooking, quality of produce and taste are two of the most important things when running a successful restaurant. This absolutely shines through in the menu at Pahli Hill Bandra Bhai.