Home Business PROFILE:  Shrabaneswor Rai, Hot Stone London

PROFILE:  Shrabaneswor Rai, Hot Stone London

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CAPTION: Director of Hot Stone Shrabaneswor Rai with Co-Founder Muna Sambahanghe and the renowned chef- Padam Raj Rai

Hot Stone London is an outstanding Japanese culinary destination with food which is a complete gastronomic delight. Attentive service, relaxed setting, interesting presentation, attention to detail, great menu choice, delectable dishes are only some of the many reasons why someone looking for an interesting, interactive, traditional yet modern,  soul-satisfying Japanese meal should look no further- it’s got all the classics with many contemporary twists, you won’t be disappointed in the least! Food offerings cover a diverse selection of flavours, textures and dishes across regions in Japan, there is something to pander to everyone’s taste buds and cravings looking for sushi, steak and exciting seafood options that can be cooked on the table on a Hot Stone.

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CAPTION: Director of Hot Stone Shrabaneswor Rai with Co-Founder Muna Sambahanghe and the renowned chef- Padam Raj Rai

Though the food at Hot Stone is bound to take one on a delightful culinary voyage of flavours from Japan, the charming interiors create a relaxed ambience that many London diners are bound to enjoy as it definitely adds further dimensions to the Japanese eating scene in London Town. Soon this place can become a favourite easily – we are surely going back!

Asian Lite columnist Riccha Grrover meets Shrabaneswor Rai, Co-Founder | Director of Hot Stone London- Steak and Sushi Bar in Chapel Market London. Hot Stone is a sure-shot neighbourhood gem that specialises in DIY hot stone cooking option for diners wanting to experience an entire cooking style in Japan, developed over thousands of years, based on the hot stone – square, super-heated granite-like slabs used for cooking sizzling dishes.

ROCCHA GRROVER– What does the name of your restaurant ‘Hot Stone’ stand for or mean? When did your restaurant open? 

SHRABANESWOR RAI: The name of our restaurant Hot Stone is very literal. It is very simple and to the point which is to highlight our main concept cooking on the hot stone. This ancient method of cooking on a hot stone is called Ishiyaki in Japan which is very popular.

RG- What was your inspiration in starting this restaurant? Tell us the journey how this venture came about?

SR- I always wanted to run my own business and coming from Hospitality background it was natural for me to start with a restaurant. When me and my fiancé Muna Sambahanghe who is also the co-founder went to Cornwall in Summer 2015 for a mini holiday, we came across this restaurant on the beach where they had some hot stone options on the menu. We had never tried it before and when we did, we just loved it so much that it made a lasting impression. And late 2016 we were talking about business ideas and played with the hot stone concept. We really like the idea and I quit my job and started working on it. It was extremely challenging but very interesting and highly rewarding journey which included being scammed by building contractors that brought dreadful consequences, miserably failing to raise £20,000 on Kickstarter to name just a few experiences.

We did have some interested investors but finally I met up with my relative Padam Raj Rai who I hadn’t met for more than 17 years. I also call him brother (it is common in Nepalese culture to call seniors, ‘brother’ to show respect). He was the head sushi chef at Tsukiji in Mayfair. I went there, tried the food and really liked it. I shared with him the business concept and he really liked it too. After several meetings we came to an agreement and he was on board. Initially the concept was going to be steak and seafood but once Padam was on board, I changed the concept to Steak and sushi. Hot Stone opened on 21stFebruary 2018. It took almost 1 and half years to open Hot Stone.

RG- What aspects of Japanese cuisine does the menu feature? How is it distinct from other Japanese restaurants? What is the chef’s expertise in Japanese cooking and favourites from the menu? 

SR- The main two concept is steak and sushi and we try our best to do it really well. We focus on hot stone (Ishiyaki) style cooking and really high quality sushi and other Japanese dishes. We try to have a balance on having traditional and modern style dishes and to keep things interesting but always maintain high quality. We are also one of the very few restaurants to serve Kobe, A5 Japanese wagyu (which are considered one of the best meats in the world) and freshly grated Japanese wasabi. It is surprising a lot of people have never tried the real fresh Japanese wasabi. In fact, most of them are totally unaware of its existence. People think the wasabi they are eating with their sushi in most restaurants are the real stuff. It is actually a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food colouring.

Even in Japan, the demand for real wasabi is so high that you’ll often find the horseradish mixture instead, with little, if any, real wasabi mixed in. The real freshly grated Japanese wasabi is not harsh. It tastes fresh and enhances the delicate taste of fish instead of overpowering it.

Padam Raj Rai has over 17 years of experience in Japanese cuisine. Early in his career he has been to Japan and trained there. He has worked in many known Japanese restaurants in London such as Nobu, Zuma and as Sake no Hana to name a few. He loves all the food on the menu as he has put all his heart on it. Almost all the sauces are made on site with his own recipes and that really makes a big difference even on an ordinary dish like tofu or spicy salmon maki roll that you could find in any other restaurant.

RG- What are your top 3 favourite dishes on the menu which are a must try for first time visiting diners? Is it always a fixed menu or do you add seasonal specials too? Do you cater for varied dietary needs in your menu? 

SR- This is probably the most difficult question you have asked. It is extremely difficult to list the top 3 but if I really have to then I would go with Seared butterfish sashimi with homemade truffle ponzu salsa, Grilled aubergine with homemade saikyo miso sauce and Octopus carpaccio with homemade truffle mustard sauce. We have something new on the menu every month and we introduce specials regularly as well. Yes we do cater for varied dietary needs.

RG- Did you always want have a restaurant or did you dabble into the profession? What piece of advice and encouragement would you give budding restauranteurs?

SR- Not specifically a restaurant but it just happened I studied Hospitality course in college and got into that profession and I love it so it was quite natural for me to choose a restaurant concept as my first venture. The advice we can give is already a very known advice and it doesn’t just apply to restauranteurs – Truly believe on your vision and keep working on it to do it the best possible way and Never give up!

RG- What can diners expect in terms of the whole experience from Hot Stone when they visit?

SR- Our guests can expect great food that’s made using the best and freshest ingredient which not only looks beautiful but tastes amazing too. They can feel the warm and friendly service as soon as they walk in the door not just by the floor team but from the open kitchen team too. From many face to face and online feedbacks we get on a daily basis, we can safely say that our guests can expect top quality food, interesting dining experience with the hot stone, memorable service that doesn’t feel tight and robotic and a great ambience!

RG- Tell us about the decor, music and welcoming style of the restaurant, what is the ambience you wished to create when deciding on the interiors? 

SR- I always wanted the food, service and ambience to be unique but exceptional. When the guest dines with us, I wanted them to see that we are not just any other Japanese restaurant but a restaurant with a punch of personality. We did not hire an interior designer, so everything was visualized and created by us. For example the origami cherry blossoms we have on the wall are hand made too and Muna with a bit of help from family and some friends had to make more than 5000 pieces. Each piece of those origami cherry blossom flowers can take up to 4 minutes and that is only after you have already gained some experience. That is more than 333 hours.

RG- What keeps you inspired or motivated in your profession on a daily basis? 

SR- My mother sister and Muna who probably made this whole thing possible because if I have to be honest, I cannot confidently say I could have lasted this long without her support and trust. And myself – I want to keep improving and do better and make people who have supported and trusted me proud. And finally the world as I find it extremely grateful to be living on this planet and there are so many things that can be and needs to be done and that really keeps me going.

RG- Is this your first venture together with your brother who’s the chef as a dynamic duo team or are there any future joint projects in the pipeline that we can know at this stage yet? Do you have more outlets or any other restaurants in your portfolio?

SR-Yes, it is my first venture with my brother Padam however I did a mobile catering business with my father in 2011. I wanted to do a restaurant but failed to convince my father. We closed the business after a year as things did not work out.

But there is definitely a lot of ideas between 3 of us for the future and we are planning to open another concept this year and 2nd Hot Stone branch next year. It’s really exciting!

RG- Are you able to host events and curated dinner parties in your restaurant? Do you do any cooking demonstrations? Do you provide off site catering or delivery services too? 

SR-Yes we are able to host events and dinner parties. We don’t do any cooking demonstrations. We don’t provide any offsite catering or delivery services too but we are open to the idea. All enquiries can be sent to info@hotstonelondon.com