Vineet Bhatia

Vineet Bhatia

Vineet Bhatia

Vineet Bhatia has built an extraordinary reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting, creative and accomplished Indian chefs. His stunning plates showcase both the traditional and modern, featuring delicate spicing, innovative flavour combinations and more than a touch of panache.

Born in Mumbai, India in 1967, Vineet Bhatia got early culinary inspiration from his mother, whom he describes as ‘an excellent cook with a fantastic imagination’. He says of his home city: ‘The wonderful thing about growing up in Bombay [Mumbai] was the eclectic influences all around you. It is a melting pot of culinary delights from all over the many different regions of India.’

As a teenager he was fascinated by flying and in hopes of joining the Air Force, worked hard to pass the national defence exam. Failing the physical assessment was substantial blow, and in an attempt to recover he decided to throw himself into a completely different pursuit – cooking.

Catering college followed, though on the advice of his parents (both of whom were professionals) he also gained an economics degree. This educational security was not needed, however, as in 1988 he was recruited by the prestigious Oberoi hotel group as a trainee chef. Working for the next three years in their hotels in Khajuraho and New Delhi, he covered all aspects of Indian cuisine, eschewing the French culinary heritage his peers were focused on assimilating. He says of this time: ‘As a rule the cream of the class were absorbed into the French kitchens, but I stuck to Indian kitchens, much to the dismay of my seniors who almost threatened me to go French.’

After completing his training, he stayed with the hotel group and was appointed as executive chef of the Mewar and Kandahar restaurants at their hotel in Mumbai. But he found these resolutely traditional kitchens too rigid, allowing him no freedom to experiment and develop his own Indian cuisine, so after a couple of years he decided to leave for the UK, arriving in 1993.

His first position was at the Star of India in South Kensington, London. By the end of his first year he had completely overhauled the menu, changing the style of food from the Anglicised ‘curries’ of his predecessor to more authentic, epicurean delights. Quickly attracting attention for his cooking, Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard wrote at the time of his ‘excellent food’, prepared with ‘imagination and care’. Particular highlights from these menus included Sevian talee jinghe (prawns deep-fried in a spicy vermicelli batter) and Multani bateyr (quail stuffed with chicken and dried fruits in a creamy gravy).

In 1999, Vineet Bhatia and his business partners opened Zaika, initially located in Chelsea, but soon moved to Kensington High Street. Cooking dishes such as Dhunga machli tikka (tandoori-smoked salmon with spices, mustard and dill) and Veinchinna mamsun (spicy lamb masala, dry-cooked with bay leaf, peppercorn and cinnamon), again he attracted plaudits, with praise for his revolutionary Indian cuisine coming from many quarters. The Guardian described his food as ‘one of the very best meals I have ever eaten in London’ and in 2001 he was awarded a Michelin star – becoming the first Indian chef-proprietor to receive such an accolade.

In 2004 Vineet Bhatia realised his ultimate dream – a restaurant that he and his wife could call their own. He says: ‘This has been the best decision in my life. It has not only given me a chance to be my own boss, but also work in close association with my wife and life partner to realise our dream together.’

Cooking modern, progressive Indian cuisine, he says of his food: ‘The menu is very seasonal. We try and play by the seasons. My cooking is from my heart and from my mind. You can’t pigeonhole and say that it’s from south India or north India, it’s a blend of cuisine from within India, but we use local British products and we give them a new dimension.’

Taking ingredients, techniques and ideas from wherever he finds them – but still retaining an immense respect for regional Indian cuisines – Vineet Bhatia’s menus offer dishes such as Spice seared foie gras with wild mushroom naan and fennel-mango chutney salad(described as ‘a revelation’ in the Good Food Guide), and Grilled sea bass with crisp okra fingers, coconut rice and dhal sauce. Stilton cheese even makes it into one dish, Home-smoked lamb rack with lamb jus, apricot-walnut couscous and blue cheese-lamb tikki – evidence of his extraordinary ability to balance atypical flavours.

Subtle, delicate spicing is one of the characteristics of Vineet Bhatia’s dishes, eschewing the multiple strong flavours common in Anglicised Indian food. Modernist techniques also make an appearance, though used with a light hand, such as this Rosemary chicken tikka, chilli pipette and black olive khichdi.

Desserts, traditionally sidelined by British diners in Indian restaurants, are rendered magnificent in the hands of Vineet Bhatia. His Whisky truffle, dark chocolate-chikki delice, orange mousse and cranberry kulfi is a decadent end to a remarkable meal, or for something a little lighter, Grilled peaches, white chocolate rabdi and cardamom panna cotta.

Egon Ronay, the legendary food critic and long-time champion of foreign cuisine in Britain included Rasoi in his top 25 restaurants in the UK. Michael Winner, writing in the Sunday Times said: ‘Everything was so sensational, I just kept eating – This meal was, without doubt, one of the great food experiences, even though I was so stuffed I could hardly walk.’

Vineet Bhatia has now expanded his empire with executive consultancies and further branches in Moscow, Mauritius, Dubai and Geneva. In 2009, Rasoi by Vineet at the Mandarin Oriental, the Geneva outpost, was bestowed its own Michelin star. With this award, he became only the second British chef (after Gordon Ramsay) to hold Michelin stars in more than one country.

In 2010, he returned to the location of his first executive chef position, the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, which he had left in the early nineties to make his name in Britain. Reopening the restaurant he once worked in, this time with his reputation as a world-class chef very much established, here he produces exquisite, modern Indian food which explores the subcontinent’s outstanding regional cuisines.

Matthew Fort, writing in The Guardian, encapsulates well the stature of this ground-breaking chef: ‘It is better to judge Bhatia’s cooking against that of Gordon Ramsay, Tom Aikens and Richard Corrigan than against that of conventional Indian restaurants, and by the standards of those masters, Vineet Bhatia must be seen to be at least their equal.’

In 2016, Vineet closed his restaurant Rasoi for refurbishment, unveiling the new incarnation as Vineet Bhatia London (VBL). The menu was an expression of the chef's culinary career, showcasing some of his most famous Indian-inspired dishes fused with other international flavours. In 2017, it was awarded a Michelin star, but closed just one week later to relocate. It has yet to reopen.