The first word that comes to mind as I walk into the yet-to-launch restaurant is ‘busy’. There’s a photoshoot of the food going on in one corner; in another, the front of house staff are huddled for a team meeting. The sound of ice being shaken in a glass by the mixologist fuses with the repeated bangs of a hammer as last-minute adjustments are made to the interiors. If it isn’t for his all too familiar face, it’d be easy to miss the man of the hour sitting amidst it all, calmly attending to a phone call. On catching my eye, Chef Kunal Kapur waves and flashes his characteristic boyish grin. Later, as we sit chatting about his life, work and latest venture, while trying out a few dishes as part of this exclusive preview, what strikes me most is his humility and warmth—characteristics that he seems to effortlessly extend to his food as well.
Barely a month after his second restaurant opened in Delhi, Quarter Plate by Chef Kunal Kapur is now set to launch in Noida, making it his third F&B venture in the NCR and his fourth this year. It’s almost like he’s having a much-awaited comeback moment, a second innings of sorts. Kunal Kapur has been a household name for years now, famous for his TV food shows and cookbooks, for hosting MasterChef India and Junior MasterChef India, and for his popular social media channels where he dishes out not just easy to follow recipes but also quick tips and kitchen hacks. Yet, in all this time—23 years in the industry, as he points out—there has been no way for his fans to try his food in a restaurant setting. Until now.
A New Chapter
“There’s always a right time for everything,” Kapur replies, as I ask what took him so long to have his own restaurant ventures. “I’ve worked in several restaurants, both standalone and with leading hotel chains such as Taj and Leela. At some point, you also need to move beyond being just a head chef of a restaurant. But it isn’t easy to start or run a restaurant; you need like-minded people who believe in your vision to support you.” The moment came for him in the beginning of the year, when Pincode by Kunal Kapur opened in Dubai, followed by its first Indian outpost in North Delhi in April and another one in South Delhi last month. Now with Quarter Plate, Kapur is set to extend his culinary footprint even further.
As the name suggests, Quarter Plate will primarily serve small plates of Indian tapas-style dishes. “Small Plates as a concept has been picking up and doing wonders internationally. As a diner, it gives you the freedom to try more dishes from the menu as the portion sizes and prices drop. As a chef, it allows me the creative freedom to experiment with garnishes, plating and presentation. The idea here is to marry the vibrancy of Indian cuisine with the conviviality of small-plate dining,” Kapur says.
The vision of Quarter Plate comes to life as I’m served an assortment of beautifully plated dishes to try. There’s Masala Onion Rings with Kasundi Mayo and Kurkure Sausage Corn Dogs with a Mustard BBQ Sauce—spicy, tangy, crunchy Indianised versions of quintessential bar foods; a smashed kachori on a chutney mess quite aptly called ‘Oops I Dropped My Chaat’; and another quirkily named dish called ‘Me Ma Mu Mo’ or methi malai mushroom momos served with chilli oil. There’s no dearth of typical veg and non-veg kebabs and tikkas, with atypical treatments meted to all in terms of names, flavour combos and presentations. There are quite a few regional dishes as well, such as Chicken Kothu Parota, Champaran Meat and Kerala Mutton Cutlet, most of which are kept as they are.
A Study in Contrast
At Quarter Plate, large French windows allow natural light to flood the sleek space that can easily pass off for a European restaurant—the interiors feature a lot of metal and glass, an exposed ceiling, black and white chequered tiles, plush sofas and high tables. Here, peppy lounge music puts you into a groove. “It’s young, it’s vibrant, it could very well be somewhere in Spain, serving tapas albeit Indian ones,” Kapur says.
Past, Present, Future
For most 43-year-olds, staying relevant to the fast-evolving culinary landscape while appealing to the younger generations of more informed, well-travelled diners may seem like a daunting challenge. But for Kunal Kapur, it’s a challenge that he takes on with a lot of grace and optimism. “You need to develop a character, an individuality in your work. You can pick and choose what that will be, but once you find it, you stay true to it,” he says. That is the mantra that he feels will keep his food relevant now and in times to come. That and the fact that learning is a lifelong process, “The next generations of chefs will always be more vibrant, more creative, more experimental, and there’s so much to learn from them. I’m more than happy to learn from wherever I can. I don’t put my guards up, and I try and share as much of what I have learnt too.”
With 2.5 million followers on Instagram and almost 53 lakh subscribers on YouTube, his social media is proof of that openness and humility. His calm and easy demeanour shines through in his videos, which he tailors specifically for each platform. “I talk a lot while cooking and usually my videos spill over 15-20 minutes. But with the advent of Instagram specifically, I’ve understood that if you’re trying to showcase your food and culinary philosophy to the younger crowd, you’ve to crunch your approach and make your content relevant and relatable. That is what social media has taught me—to understand your audience and cater to them.”
An approach he extends to his restaurants with well researched menus that have already proved to be a hit at Pincode, and may just as well do the same for Quarter Plate, as it opens this week. After all, this is food that draws from his repertoire accumulated over years of travelling through India and learning firsthand the recipes and techniques involved. This is food that Kunal Kapur cooks with a whole lot of love and soul.