Founded in 2016, Grand Trunk Road in South Woodford, London, prides itself as a rare culinary gem inspired by the authenticity and rich heritage of cuisines from Asia’s longest and ancient trade route – The Grand Trunk Road.
The duo behind this award-winning is Head Chef Dayashankar Sharma and Director and owner Rajesh Suri. With their combined skillset and experience they’ve gone on to achieve many accolades, which include the Best Indian Restaurant in London by Asian Curry Awards 2018, and most recently the Best Fine Dining Restaurant, Asian Curry Awards 2020.
‘iGlobal’ caught up with Suri as he took us behind the scenes of his journey and the inspiration behind Grand Trunk Road.
Born and raised in , Suri has had an enriching and colourful international career path. His hospitality career spans more than 30 years and has seen him play a vital role in the rise of many a Michelin-starred Indian establishments.
His career began with hotels, gaining management experience at the Oberoi Group in India, to Bahrain where he launched a range of five-star restaurants. Followed by his move in 1987 to the UK, where he worked as a food and beverage manager, to opening up Washington in Mayfair, the last of his career in the industry as he set his foot into the world of restaurants.
“I held my first restaurant job as a general manager at Veeraswamy, one of the oldest Indian restaurants in the UK. But for me the biggest platform came in 1998, when I became a general manager at Tamarind – they had everything, but nobody knew about it,” reflects Suri.
He admits it was here that he got his foot into the business of and studied Indian food in depth as his passion for India and its cuisines grew rapidly.
“For me it became an important issue as to why Indian food restaurants were known as curry houses and not for their individual entities. In a way it was quite disappointing to hear.”
And, after 15 years at Tamarind, it was only natural for the born entrepreneur to set off on his own adventures.
Genuineness and creativity go hand in hand for anything Suri sets his heart to. And for his next adventure, a 2,500km journey with Sharma across India’s most ancient and largest trade route was the focal point.
The dynamic duo set off to India in 2016 for six weeks travelling across various regions on the epic highway, experiencing and educated themselves on the cooking methods, diversity and ingredients of a range of flavours.
The result was London’s very own , offering a distinctive culinary experience where each and every cuisine is infused with exotic and distinctive flavours that pay respect to the rich culture and history of the famous trade route.
The only missing link was Kabul, Peshawar and Lahore, and for this Suri shares: “We had to explore through books. For those recipes we had to implement those cooking skill sets, using original recipes to get close to the original taste.
“We also had to look at the sustainability, the ingredients and quality of food that one will have in London to create those dishes and bring history back to life.”
The diverse menu itself boasts a wide selection of dishes – from Lucknow Ki Nihari (slow cooked lamb shank), Indian street food from the northern part of India, Peshwari lamp chops, Rawalpindi Chapli Kebab and Grilled scallops inspired by Calcutta.
The hospitality sector has been devastatingly hit by the , including rising unemployment for the sector.
To stay afloat, the restaurant opted for a takeaway service option, a first for the fine diner.
Suri explains: “We never do takeaways because the idea is about delivering and not money. A lot of the dishes like grilled scallops or lobster cannot be served as a takeaway. Therefore, we modified the menu, based on tried and tested menus which can travel. There was a lot of thought process into it, and some people asked why certain dishes were not on the menu and its simply because it wouldn’t have been good enough.”
On the occasions the restaurant operated as a dine-in service when government guidelines allowed, he says that they went to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of staff and guests.
“A day before opening in July, staff were called in and we re-constructed the whole restaurant and canteen. We created see-through screens within the tables and placed hand sanitisers at every table. Guests could not enter until seated and instructed to wear facemasks when not at the table.”
The cycles of lockdown in the UK have meant a new way for restaurants to operate, with technology playing an instrumental role.
Suri notes: “Humans have utilised all the tech available to great lengths and made it simpler. Tech requires big investment, but factually in the future we will utilise it in our growth for the industry when the time is right and bounce back in a much bigger way.
“One has to think about how to sustain the business. Human nature is to entertain and enjoy, once the vaccine has been circulated, the public confidence will improve.
“Right now, is the time for us to remain focused, and make sure quality and efficiency is of the highest level. If you are providing the best product, you will always bounce back”.