A chef at the centre of an Islamophobic scandal last June has announced that he will return to the London restaurant scene next month. Atul Kochhar, who was dismissed from the JW Marriott Marquis hotel in Dubai and departed his long-standing Mayfair restaurant Benares in August, will open a new restaurant with restaurateur Tina English called Kanishka on Mayfair’s Maddox Street in March. It replaces the wine bar 28-50.
Kochhar, a mainstay on British food television and famous for being the world’s first Indian chef to win Michelin star at Tamarind in 2001, made the headlines last year when he sent a series of (now deleted) Islamophobic tweets to the movie star Priyanka Chopra. Among the attacks, the chef alleged that Muslims “terrorised” Hindus for 2,000 years. He subsequently apologised but at the same time was sacked by his employers in Dubai. Although no immediate action was taken against the chef from the owners of his London restaurant, in August a Benares spokesperson confirmed to Eater that he had left. It was never stated explicitly that he was sacked.
Now, and with no acknowledgement of last year’s scandal, the chef returns to the wealthy central London neighbourhood where he made his name. Kanishka “aims to explore lesser known regions of Indian food, showcasing cuisine from the country’s more remote territories and borders,” the announcement, first reported by The Caterer, said today.
The 127-cover restaurant, split across two floors, is named after King Kanishka, an emperor of the Kushan dynasty in the second century. The restaurant is, according to the announcement inspired by:
[King Kanishka’s] use of Buddhist values, including kindness, fairness, honesty, humbleness and a sense of equality.
Following his time at Tamarind, Kocchar left to open Benares in 2002 — it was awarded its own Michelin star four years later. That restaurant though was eventually outshone by more modern, media-savvy operations from JKS Restaurants — namely Gymkhana — and later Jamavar, with Rohit Ghai in the kitchen. Both in Mayfair, both received their own Michelin stars and each garnered more attention from an industry which had begun to privilege press as much as it did great food.
This morning’s announcement says that Kochhar attributes his success to “his use of regional Indian flavours alongside the best British produce, a practice which he will develop further in his latest venture.”
Kanishka will “showcase the cuisine of territories previously unexplored by London’s restaurants, particularly the Seven Sister States in the most easternmost region of India,” it says. Flavours, ingredients and cooking methods of those states, plus influences from neighbouring countries like Nepal, China, and Bangladesh.
Those influences will be fashioned into dishes such as kachela maas, a Sikkim-inspired venison tartare with mustard oil mayonnaise, naan crouton, and onions; samundri khazana Alleppey, pan-seared seafood, Alleppey sauce and smoked cabbage poriyal — a dish which melds northern, but also southwestern Indian (Kerala) influences.
About the opening Kochhar himself said: “Kanishka is a very exciting project for us — it’s a great opportunity to continue to showcase Indian flavours alongside quality British produce, but also introduce London’s diners to the unique flavours of territories previously unexplored by Indian cuisine in the U.K.”