At Brigadiers in London, India’s Army Mess hangouts come alive

At Brigadiers in London, India’s Army Mess hangouts come alive

Based in London, Brigadiers is one of the 14 restaurants founded by the JKS Restaurants group, a family-run empire of the Sethi siblings – Sunaina, Karam and Jyotin.

Inspired by the Army mess bars of India, Brigadiers is conceptualised to offer a unique culinary experience, with a predominant focus on north-west and north Indian cuisines. Using only the finest and ethically-sources ingredients, the ethos is for each dish to be cooked to perfection within the wide range of Indian barbeque styles – utilising tandoors, charcoal grills, rotisseries, wood ovens and classic Indian smokers.

As part of this regular Big Bite Series, we caught up with Executive Chef Shanti Bhushan as he took us behind the scenes of his journey, from joining Brigadiers to keeping the restaurant afloat through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rich experience

With a career that spans across 22 years, Bhushan has led an adventurous life in the world of hospitality. From very early on, the India-born chef was heavily influenced by eastern Indian cuisine.

“My mother is from Kerala and father from Uttar Pradesh, so we had an influence of two different cuisines,” he explains.

Pursuing his passion for cooking, Bhushan joined a catering college in Kolkata (then Calcutta), followed by the unique opportunity to join the renowned Taj Hotels for his management training.

He recalls: “I was very lucky to join Taj Hotels, the level of rigorous training you get there is on a different level. After working in Delhi for two years, I was given the task of going into training Indian cooking per se to the other Taj Outlets. I went out to Chennai and Mangalore and did quite a few restaurant openings. It was a great experience.”

After five years at the Taj, Bhushan began his next adventure in London, working at Masala World.

“After spending a few years there, I thought what’s next and so dabbled in the world of French cuisine.”

As his culinary expertise grew, he was presented with an opportunity of what would become one of the biggest openings he was to be involved with – the opening of Brigadiers.

“I got in touch with Karam Sethi from JKS, and they were starting a concept of Indian barbeque dishes which hasn’t been tried before.”

Innovation is key

One of the innovative ways Brigadiers has sustained itself throughout the pandemic is by operating as a takeaway service, but with a unique twist involving restaurant kits.

The Brigadiers meal box provides each and every ingredient someone would require to make a delicious meal at home.

Bhushan explains: For example our mixed grill, we will marinate the meat, pack it and dispatch it in an ice container box with instructions provided. So, there is an element of it not being ready to eat, but there’s also that level of interaction you have.”

And as the hospitality industry contends with the latest set of lockdown restraints, Bhushan reflects: “The first few months of the pandemic was tough. We began operating as a takeaway service for the time, and the August Eat out to Help out Scheme helped us out tremendously.

“However, after we dipped into another lockdown, we realised we cannot just depend on the restaurant trade anymore, and a back-up was needed. That is when we saw restaurant kits going out and decided to make use.”

The road ahead

As all restaurants across the UK remained closed due to lockdown except for limited takeaway operations, Bhushan sees a long road ahead towards any sense of normality.

The Executive Chef notes: “Prior to the pandemic I had 32 chefs in my kitchen and now I have 16 odd left. There is also a cost factor to consider, which involves delivery charges for the takeaway, property cost and paying your staff.

“It has been the toughest year, but the best bet is we hope to open is by mid-March. Then that’s two-three months of getting back to some kind of normality and then you slowly feel safe to get everybody back in.”

On a personal note, he shares that spending quality family time is what has got him through this difficult period.

He adds: “The positives of it all is the quality family time. For the first two months when I was at home, I was able to spend quality time with my kids. I can’t remember the last time I did that, because being a chef involves long hours, especially as I live in Milton Keynes and work in London. So, there was only a routine of dropping my children off to school, going work and coming home late.

“I have also started jogging, which I never did before. Above all, it’s appreciating your friends and family, since being at home I have been speaking to my parents daily over Skype. So, it is these very small but important things – appreciating your family and the quality family time we have.”

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