Sunday, January 29, 2006

The rise and fall of Khyber

Before Indigo, before Olive, before eateries started by models who rarely eat, there was just one tony restaurant in town. Khyber.

Khyber was not located in a 5 star hotel, yet commanded 5 star prices. The world behind its ornate doors held a certain undefinable mystique. It was a restaurant for 'rich and famous' people. Not for you and me.

Those, of course were the days when 'let's eat out today' did not roll of the tongues of middle class moms and dads. In our family, going out for dinner was a ritual observed strictly as an annual ritual - on my parents' anniversary.

For years we went to the same restaurant (Delhi Durbar in Colaba), ordered the same items (nan, paneer, black dal) and came home satisfied. Of course, times changed. We changed. The restaurants changed. Blowing up good money on a nice meal ceased to be an issue.

But somehow I never went to Khyber. Until last night.

The Experience
Did it feel special to dine at a restaurant which proclaims to be "known for its food and for its ambience, one that is known across India and is on the "must visit" list of foreign visitors".

Um, not really. Because this was not THE Khyber but its country cousin - Khyber at Khar.

Like many south Bombay restaurants, Khyber has realised that it can't afford to ignore the New Money in the suburbs. And so it has set up a 'branch'.

So far, so good. But this Khyber and that Khyber seem to share only the recipes. Khyber, Khar is about as classy as Mallika Sherawat's wardrobe at Cannes.

The tables are too close together, the noise level high. It could be Samrat in South Bombay except the Gujju families are replaced by middle-aged Punjabi and Sindhi businessmen. And there are chintzy red curtains.

OK, I exaggerate a bit. It's not ALL that bad. But certainly not a 'branch' of the original Khyber. This is a popular version of the premium brand. The important thing ie the food is excellent. But the overall experience is nothing to write home about.

Aisa kyun
I guess this was bound to happen because a large part of the mystique of the orginal Khyber lay in the people it attracted. Kings and consuls, CEOs and expats. You can't expect that kind of crowd here.

But I do think some of the basic principles should not have been abandoned. Where is the art and culture, the stamp of Parmeshwar Godrej and Hafeez Contractor that make the brand what it is? Nowhere, in the Khar outlet.

'Hero' by Enrique Iglesias played in an endless loop the entire time we were in the restaurant. While leaving I mentioned it to the manager who cheerfully replies, "Madam you should have told me earlier."

Like Enrique has a place in an upscale 'Indian' restaurant in the first place!

The Khyber website proudly proclaims: In 1988, when people walked through the doors again (the restaurant was rebuilt from scratch after it burnt down in 1985), it was an upscale establishment with menu and decor working with a synergy that was unparalleled in the city.

Even though the restaurant had expanded to an area of 6000 square feet, a conscious decision was taken to reduce the capacity of the restaurant to 175 people, so that the patrons could enjoy a sense of privacy and the attention of helpful staff.

Considering the suburban establishment is spread over 5 whole floors (two for the restaurant, one for a banquet hall and two for a night club - Squeeze), you would think 'space' would not be a problem.

But greed is.

I, for one, would not go back here again. But I do plan to check out the original Khyber once. And sincerely hope that there, I would not be disappointed!

12 comments:

  1. i thos this post's gonna be some tourist review of the khyber pass near nepal.but it turned out to be a food review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. nothing beats the original khyber,
    the crowd there is good but importantly the food is gr8, lot of young execs from nariman point. you see more famous faces in the olives and the likes.

    i can safely say thats the best indian restaurant in town.

    A foodie

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well... The name KHYBER somehow reminds me of a BANGLA term ... KHAIBAR... that means eatables...

    Will think of checking it out the next time I go there

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah, something I just had an hour long lecture on:
    'Dilution of Service Characteristics' :D
    Can't blame them for wanting to earn a little extra. Must be making up for the time they lost when the restaurant was gutted down.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I first thought its something abt Khaibar pass or Geopolitics,
    but it turned out to be a food review.

    Anywas its a good post to read
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    Visit my blog..
    http://theignorant.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. well i think all establishments eventually end up falling, which is why 5 stars have it good, they can just change. anyway, once you go to the suburbs you know its the down ward spiral.

    It is still a good white people restaurant as i like to call it. The food isnt too bad and you can take your overseas guests for a kinda authentic taste. Like Gaylord.

    you want downfall, try Chetna.

    ReplyDelete
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