All of springtime in 1994 our Krishna was smiling behind a brass lamp. We followed a ritual of sharing ideas, fasting together with determination to face destiny with pleasure. One day we noticed a wonder—the left earring of this colourful statue started moving back and forth, and we knew things would change rapidly!
We believed the criteria for winning patrons in a new restaurant was quality of cooking and service. Initially we witnessed local people as they ambled in, knowing us, and it worked well to attain some level of buoyancy. Quiet evenings were lovely when we fostered an art of story telling and conveying our genuine love for people. For the first time we heard from regulars about significance of restaurant reviews and a brigade of impressive critics in town.
Most restaurants followed the practice of displaying paper cuttings on shop windows to entice folks to read reviews. You had to notify the media concerning your entry into the market, especially eminent newspapers and magazines. What we did was humble. Mailed handwritten letters to a few popular food journalists with the aim of emphasizing how distinctive we were from other curry houses.
It was waiting time for some weeks; we were not poised about any response to our press release, that also in a northeast corner. Mates in the same trade had implied a brilliant idea—amongst customers, watch for food critics from photos showed with their reviews in journals.
Enlarged images of these writers could be found in many restaurants behind bar counters since critics arrive anonymously! One day a table of four came in, as they settled in, we engaged in an untailored conversation, talked about Kerala’s food culture with one lady of the group who had connections with India. Amidst she was ordering food for everyone.
We had an extensive chat and finally the same lady asked for the bill and offered her credit card to pay. We were stunned as we saw the name—she was the person we were waiting for weeks and she looked different from the picture! We couldn’t imagine we were conversing with the seraph of taste and authority of the food industry in London and it was none other than Fay Maschler from Evening Standard.
For the next two weeks we lay awake at night and played and replayed our chat with her many times in the head to figure out whether we had said anything unwise or hasty—her reputation was of one who could easily judge merit. She had the gift of knowledge on every cuisine in the world besides writing experience for decades, yet fascinated with a new place and spoke graciously to our staff.
Three weeks after this dinner, the review appeared in the newspaper and the spell of miracles unveiled. Silent conversations with smiling Krishna had ended gradually; reviews appeared one after another and business picked up brilliantly. Meeting more individuals who guided this industry with their writing was most amazing, we had pleasure of interacting with them like routine clients for they had become close to us, recognizing our genuineness.
Today restaurant features have become so common in every channel of information; even regular diners transcribe their opinions through social media. Recently I met one of the eminent reporters from Times, he had lost weight. When I asked how, he said: “I stopped restaurant visits and changed my life. It’s an arduous job; you have to eat lot of rubbish to find some good ones, so hard to control drinks too. Am so happy now!”. Fay’s words were the ultimate on merits of restaurants and she venerated some chefs like Vineet Bhatia, Atul Kochar and Cyrus Todivalla to well-deserved positions, exposed countless big and small restaurants to big opportunities. She played a pivotal role in acceptance of Indian food in London.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants