After nine years in the corporate corridors of London’s private banking, Siddharth ‘Sid’ Mathur returned to India to follow his first love – food. As food and beverage director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, Mathur has a pan-India role overseeing the group’s thirty-odd restaurants, but he says it is still that shared dream project, Smoke House Room, that has been his learning ground. Being involved from its inception, Mathur has “tried to master everything it takes to open a restaurant – from plumbing to design, licenses to sound and kitchen equipment, and of course menu tastings and the final menu creation.” He gets talking about his new baby.
The food at Smoke House is highly innovative and experimental. How did the cuisine concept come about?
This has been the dream of our executive chef, Gresham Fernandes, for a few years now, and a fateful trip to Spain with my partner and CEO of the group, Riyaaz Amlani, finally sealed the deal. With three of the world’s top ten best restaurants being in Spain, it was the last piece of inspiration that was needed. Riyaaz asked me to be a part of the menu creation, as I had considerable exposure to progressive and molecular cuisine.
Is there a certain kind of guest you have kept in mind while designing this menu?
We want the menu to appeal to many kinds of diners, at different levels. Although our cooking techniques are very innovative, at the end of the day, even if our diner is not familiar with progressive cuisine, it’s the flavour on the plate that shines through.
What inspired the unusual, futuristic décor?
We wanted to create an experimental space that would contradict stereotypes and expectations of what our guests thought they would get on their plates.
Tell us about your new sommelier; he’s quite the entertainer, isn’t he?
Davide Zubani is an Italian with a very unconventional, yet fascinating perspective to wine. Having your tasting menu paired with wines by Davide is an experience in itself.
How popular are your preset menus (‘Hunter’ and ‘Gatherer’)?
We encourage first-time diners to order the tasting menus. Both Hunter and Gatherer allow guests to try a variety of smaller portioned dishes, while being thoroughly pampered. Dinner meets theatre, and diners enjoy a multi-sensory journey, filled with surprises. The response has been fantastic, with many of our regular clients choosing them on successive visits, as well as new clients who have heard about them.
Are Delhi-ites experimental with their food?
The average number of people who are willing to try new things is growing rapidly. There is considerably more exposure now, whether it’s through travelling internationally, or even through TV shows like Masterchef Australia and Top Chef.
From banking to the food business, what led you down this path?
Throughout my nine years in banking, I had always been obsessed with food, restaurants and cooking. In 2008, private banking hit a low, and clients were afraid of investing, or taking any risk. I saw that as an opportunity to follow my dream of opening a restaurant. When I resigned, the first thing my country head said was, “You better be leaving to open a restaurant”! Even in my days at Citibank, I would be roped in to creating menus for events or choosing restaurants. I also hosted a Jamie Oliver dinner for our clients in London, where I made ravioli with him!
After living in London, how has the change of location been for you?
Having lived in Delhi at various stages, the change wasn’t that unsettling. But coming back, and being in the food business, as opposed to the corporate world, definitely needed getting used to. What I miss most is the variety of food, the ease of traveling within Europe, and my frequent weekend trips to New York.
What’s your favourite item on the Smoke House Room menu? Favourite wine?
I would have to say the Black Cod Coconut Miso on the restaurant menu, and the Tenderloin and Foie Burgers on the cocktail bar menu. My all-time favourite wine is Sassicaia.
Does your wife share your food tastes?
Absolutely! In fact, our love for food is how we became so close, and luckily for me, she’s a fantastic cook! Our first date was over a twelve-course tasting menu, and I was amazed to find someone equally passionate about food. We cook together very often, and the only fights we ever have are over how much salt to add!
First published in Atelier magazine