Riding the lockdown tide with authentic flavours of Kashmir in London

Riding the lockdown tide with authentic flavours of Kashmir in London

Kashmir in Putney, south London, prides itself as a rare culinary gem of the UK capital. Under the watchful and discerning eye of Chef Rohit and wife Shweta Razdan, the restaurant is one of the only eateries to guarantee a truly authentic taste of the Kashmir Valley.

As part of the regular Big Bite Series, ‘iGlobal’ went behind the scenes with the team behind Kashmir to explore its ethos and how it is adjusting to the current lockdown rules.

Husband-wife team

Hailing from Kashmir, Chef Rohit Razdan has more than 25 years experience in the culinary world. The husband and wife duo established themselves as a successful hospitality business in India, where they opened their first Kashmiri restaurant in New Delhi in 1997. Since then, the pair set off on a journey to Singapore to introduce the exotic recipes of the Kashmir Valley to Asia before embarking upon their new adventure in London.

“Our journey has been exhilarating and exciting right from Razdan's Saffron Catering in New Delhi to Kashmir Restaurant in Singapore and now in London since June 2016. We both love to promote our Kashmiri cuisine, about which we are both passionate about, and love to interact with our guests. This restaurant is like our baby and we love to serve our guests and believe in the adage – Atithi Devo Bhava (guest is God),” says Shweta Razdan.

The food at Kashmir in London is cooked inhouse, using the most authentic spices delivered straight from India. The concept is for diners to be able to indulge in the luscious taste of the region nestled in the very north of India, with a selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes to chose from. The signature dish is Kabargah – ribs of lamb, boiled in milk with Kashmiri spices and then deep fried in ghee.

Lockdown effect

Like many restaurants across the UK, Kashmir also explored new ways to operate in a lockdown-hit scenario.

“Since March, we decided to close and did not run a takeaway or delivery service as we were concerned about our staff health, many of whom travel by train. We simply did not want to take the risk,” explains Shweta.

Since re-opening in July, alongside the dine-in service, the restaurant also operated a takeaway and delivery service, with an option for customers to order directly from the restaurant rather than through food delivery apps.

She notes: “It was a unique experience for us. Although it wasn’t easy, but as a couple we really complement one another. My husband deals with the kitchen operations, whilst I take care of other aspects of the business.

“We have since been adapting to the pandemic, following the guidelines, changing our restaurant timings several times. For now, we are open from 4pm-10pm every day except Tuesdays. We have placed screens in between tables and have also deployed a dehumidifier and sanitising routines, with the staff required to wear face masks.”

With London now under Tier 2 high risk coronavirus alert level, the restaurant plans continue its takeaway and delivery service for the foreseeable future.

New normal

On restaurants being required to close at 10pm, Shweta feels it is a tough order but welcomes the efforts made by the government to support the hospitality industry through this crisis.

“The government have helped us a lot with the Eat out To Help Out scheme and furlough. However closing at 10 pm is difficult for us to deal with. It takes about two hours to get the food ready and we cannot turn tables around quickly. But I think the government are trying to do as much as they can. It is just about sustaining and carry on thriving.”

On the festive season of Diwali and Christmas ahead, the restaurateur feels that while many Indian restaurants may not celebrate all the festivals, for Kashmir it plays a big part.

“We are very familiar with the customers here and have created a community feeling. For Diwali, we will be decorating the restaurant with lights and we are currently in the process of putting together a Christmas hamper, which will include homemade chutneys and a bottle of wine alongside other items,” says Shweta.

The road ahead

As the rules around socialising continue to remain constrained, for the hospitality industry it is perhaps one of the most challenging and uncertain phases through which to sustain a dining-out business.

For the Razdan team, it means keeping Kashmir steady through these uncertain times and emerge stronger on the other side.

Shweta reflects: “The fact that we are in such uncertainty is the most frustrating fact for any business, especially in the hospitality industry where things are a lot about customer interaction. It is a one-to-one kind of business. The dine-in experience and taking a package home are two different things altogether.

“I cannot explain how frustrating and stressful it is at times, especially as there are no concessions on rent from the landlord. It is not about making a profit at this point of time, it is just about riding the tide as well as we can during these unprecedented times.”

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