Welcome back to Dubai. The food’s changed a lot since you first opened Indego in 2005, huh?
Absolutely. What we did [high-end Indian food] had not been done here. Our food is very refined and cleansed. Dubai was not used to it. They were more familiar with the type of Indian home cooking you get in Karama. But when you’re dealing with a hotel audience, you have to have food that is classy enough to meet their expectations.
Was the audience here very different to what you found in London when you started cooking?
When I came to London it was horrible. It took a long time for the market to understand what we were doing. London has changed a lot. Now the best Indian food is in London.
Huh? It’s not in India?
The raw materials in London are better compared to what’s in Indian. In India, they cook using older methods, whereas in London they adjust well, using the best technology.
Given the large Indian population in Dubai, was their some initial scepticism with your restaurant?
I imagine many weren’t used to, say, your trademark chocolate samosa. Indians are sceptical. They don’t want to change, but the younger Indians want to adapt to new things. The thing is, you don’t lose your core essence by evolving. So we don’t just put chilli on something to flavour food; we use a lot of different spices and avoid oils. You can taste the lobster or the chicken better without camouflaging it with chilli and pepper.
What’s your best food memory?
My mother used to deep fry bread with sugar syrup to have with tea. Also, she used to make this rich lamb dish, with potatoes. It was like a stew, with lots of onions and butter.
Did you always want to become a chef?
As a child, I wanted to become a pilot. I became a chef by mistake. When I couldn’t become an air pilot I went into hotel management. I wanted to be a bar man, but was sent to the kitchen and loved it.
How do you feel about some of the other high-end Indian restaurants that have since opened in Dubai?
I wish people luck who want to follow our innovative ways. Competition is good and healthy and the more restaurants in Dubai the better for everyone. We are fortunate, we are the pioneers. We were here in the boom and we are here in the recession.
Your restaurant is pricey. Does the credit crunch worry you?
I know what it’s like to be living hand to mouth. I remember that and I’m not afraid of it. I’ve never been motivated by money. I’ve been motivated by success. I was short in school and I used to get picked on a lot. My response was to keep pushing myself.
You have two children. Do they eat in your restaurants a lot?
On special occasions only. My restaurants are expensive and a lot of people have to save to eat at them. I don’t want my kids to lose sight of that, or to start treating it like it’s an everyday thing.
Indego, Grosvenor House (04 399 8888). Open Sun-Fri 7.30pm-12 midnight