Restauranteur Zorawar Kalra meets Asian Lite’s FnB columnist Riccha Grrover to share his thoughts about good food and the concept behind his talk-of-the-town restaurant venture SWAN that has taken Delhi eating-out scene by a storm
Perfecting the science of molecular gastronomy with India’s spice and flavour, Mr Zorawar Kalra is a name that commands respect in the Indian hospitality industry. The face of Massive Restaurants, Mr. Kalra proudly tells the tale of a brand that majestically owns and operates trendsetting and critically acclaimed brands.
Counted amongst one of the youngest, most successful restaurateurs of India, he reinvents Indian cuisine with his strong business acumen and a rich heritage spanning over four decades. Considered as the ‘Man with a Vision on a Mission’ & ‘The Prince of Indian Cuisine’, he has been recognised amongst the 50 Most Influential Young Indians by GQ India (thrice); GQ Men of the Year – Restauranteur of 2017; Economic Times 40 Under 40; Forbes Tycoons of Tomorrow; Restaurateur of the Year Award, 2014 & 2017, Times of India & Vir Sanghvi Awards; a Finalist in E&Y Entrepreneur of the year 2017; HT Crystals, 2014 and Entrepreneur of the Year in Service Business – F & B Services, Entrepreneur India Awards, 2014. Reviving Indian cuisine and now putting it on the global food map, he holds the recipe for success, delectable food and humility.
In conversation with Mr Zorawar Kalra on Swan, Massive Restaurants’ newest gourmet offering.
RICCHA GRROVER– What does your new restaurant venture SWAN as a concept stand for? What would make it unique and different from other Italian and Japanese restaurants in Delhi?
ZORAWAR KALRA– The name ‘Swan’ signifies beauty, elegance, and simplicity. Swan is one of a kind of restaurant and bar with an incredible outdoor space and a breath-taking terrace overlooking the beautiful monument of Qutub Minar in Delhi. It is the only restaurant in the city that offers both Japanese and Italian cuisines in their truest forms. It is one of the very rare terraces with a tree rooted in the ground floor making its way to the terrace. Swan, Delhi brings diners a concise food menu offering only signature dishes. Each dish has detailed elements and the ingredients are the heroes of every dish.
From handmade artisanal pastas to fresh wood-fired pizzas, the Italian menu focuses on seasonal produce with ingredients that are freshly sourced. Our Chefs are trained at globally acclaimed restaurant brands Zuma and Nobu. Our Italian food is hearty and traditional with unique nuances like parmesan pinwheels that will transport our guests to the Italian countryside.
RG- What does the cuisine of your restaurant take inspiration from? What kind of a meal experience can diners expect from Swan?
ZK– Japanese and Italian cuisines are poles apart: one is fresh and light and other is creamy and full of carbs and fat! We wanted to come up with a restaurant that focused on simplicity and ingredients. Japanese food is all about simplicity and technically, so is Italian. We’ve got out of the way to let the ingredients do all the talking to the discerning diners. We’ve focused a lot on sourcing, and at 1500 sq ft, the restaurant’s kitchen is the largest in our system. It’s a restaurant where we are very serious about the authenticity of taste with a menu that’s passionate and precise so it gives that authentic experience to those dining with us.
RG– What are the top 5 signature dishes that you would recommend a first time customer to try from your menus?
ZK– Avocado crostini, Sliced yellow tail, Grilled New Zealand lamb chops, Miso Chilean sea bass, French toast.
RG– Tell us about the interiors, music selection and overall vibe that you have created at Swan. What is your mantra of creating and recreating successful FnB brands like swan that become a rage soon as they are launched?
ZK– The decor at Swan is more than just eclectic. The interiors of the restaurant are chic and will in seconds make you fall in love with the place. You could either dine indoors or occupy space on the terrace under the green canopy of the beautiful Neem tree. A massive metal tree installation at the bar dominates the interiors; while the natural setting, a beautiful Neem tree and the view of the Qutub Minar makes the terrace sitting space perfect for a night under the stars. The music helps put the place together; it acts as a stimulant, and at Swan, the vibe is purely chill and LoFi Hip Hop.
I have always aimed at creating the best restaurant company in the world. But we don’t open restaurants just to meet deadlines. We open only once they are perfect, and perfection takes time. We want to grow, but with a lot of integrity. Our journey is like a game of golf, where we want to do better than ourselves every day and beat the course, instead of the opponent.
RG– Do you Cater to dietary requirements? Is your menu at swan a fixed one or do you have seasonal specials too?
ZK– Many people choose to follow a specific diet for health reasons, a personal belief system, or simply because they don’t enjoy certain foods. We try our best to accommodate requests that we get from our guests. We cater to gluten free and vegan requirements or if any special request comes up for dietary restrictions, we try to do the best possible. We don’t serve any seasonal specials though.
RG– What would be the challenges for FnB business brands in a post covid world in your view? What challenges faced you personally as a Restauranteur especially launching this restaurant in a post pandemic environment and how did you overcome them?
ZK- A restaurant is never a last-minute call. These were ventures planned before Covid. We opened a few locations in December 2020 and in January 2021 such as +94 in Mumbai, Swan and Bo Tai Switch in Delhi. When the lockdown was first announced in March, most of the spaces were in various stages of construction. The only challenge was to bring back the workers once the government allowed work to commence. For every other department, people were itching to get back to work which actually smoothened the process.
Today, people prefer going to a place they trust. We are following all safety norms with the food covered and the menu smaller as we have reduced kitchen staff. The smaller menus have not only helped us reduce our food cost by 6 percent, but it even helped us cull fancy dishes that were not hot-sellers.
RG– Did you always want to be a Restauranteur or dabble into the profession? What words of inspiration would you give to aspiring foodpreneurs?
ZK– I grew up in a house where food has always been the focus. I grew up on fantastic dinners and fascinating dinner table conversations which were on food. Further, food became my passion and soon after my MBA I decided to set up a business, capitalized on my father’s long standing expertise in the food biz field and my passion.
Literally, being in the food industry is not really like doing a job it is more of a lifestyle choice. It is not a 9 to 5 thing, it is about devoting your entire being to it. It is important to think of your restaurant business as a lifestyle choice for your guests and offer great experiences so that they continue to choose you over other choices.
To all those who are passionate about food or anything else in life, I would like to say – Always dream big. When you dream big and shoot for the moon, you are forcing yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Never quit. Perseverance makes all the difference. You are never too late or old to dream big! And there are no shortcuts in life, hard work is very important to achieve your goals.
The strategically located dining space with its sprawling terraces offers a breath taking view of the Qutub Minar and authentic Japanese and Italian fare are beautifully complemented by a picturesque al-fresco experience. Exuding a warm and elegant aesthetic, Swan’s design incorporates the spirit of the immediate lush landscape. Mood lighting and music help the romantic, warm dining space by day easily transition into a high-energy bar by night.
Spearheading Massive Restaurants that includes Farzi Café, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Made In Punjab, Pa Pa Ya , Younion, Bo Tai, Botai Switch, +94 Bombay and Swan under its wing, it has been an adrenaline-charged journey for him as he watches it grow exponentially. Owing to its success stories, the brand has raised INR 160 crores from Gaja Capital for the purpose of expansion. With strong foresight, he is a visionary who aims to launch properties in 10 new cities within this year.