MUMBAI Dec 12 Chef Matteo Boglione, at the
newly opened Le Cirque Signature in Mumbai, says that when he
was getting started at the offshoot of one of New York's elite
restaurants he was told repeatedly: "We want more vegetables".
So, alongside the pricey $130 Florentine-style T-bone steak
(for two) the menu features dishes such as a cauliflower flan
with porcini and avocado panzanella, buffalo mozzarella fondue,
and black truffle shavings, at a more affordable 1,250 rupees
The branch of New York's venerable Le Cirque, at the Leela
Mumbai hotel, is the latest in a wave of overseas-based high-end
eateries to enter a country that has been slow to embrace the
global-restaurant trend that has taken hold in cities like Dubai
and Hong Kong.
Top-end restaurants are targeting India's growing affluent
classes. Indian household wealth nearly doubled to $2 trillion
in five years through 2012, according to Boston Consulting
Group, which expects that to grow to $4.5 trillion in 2017.
Millionaire households totalled 164,000 last year.
Other global chains in India include London-based
Chinese-themed Hakkasan, which opened in 2011, and its
less-expensive sister Yauatcha, a hit in Mumbai that will soon
open its fourth Indian location. Last year, Spain's Arola opened
at the JW Marriott in suburban Mumbai.
Top flight international chains in India face the challenge
of matching the standards of the original while adapting to
preferences in a country where many people are vegetarians and
most don't eat beef for religious reasons. Most ingredients are
imported, which pushes up costs and prices.
Indian consumers, meanwhile, have proven reluctant to splash
out on branded luxuries, such as designer labels, said Vir
Sanghvi, a journalist and food writer. "So far, India has been
immune to the culture of the global restaurant, because India is
a price-sensitive market," he said.
NASCENT FOODIE CULTURE
While foodie culture of the sort that is rampant in many
places is in its infancy in India, operators of fancy
restaurants hope to build their niche as incomes grow and more
Indians who travel develop a taste for high-end dining. About
6-8 percent of guests at Le Cirque in New York are from India.
"It feels a little pioneering to us," Mario Maccioni, whose
father Sirio opened the original Le Cirque in 1974, said over a
pre-opening dinner at the Mumbai restaurant.
High-end chains in India and other emerging markets tend to
be in hotels, which operate them as franchises and bear much of
the cost but have an in-built customer base and use the brands
as a draw for other hotel business.
Given a poor track record for French restaurants in India,
often perceived to be meat-heavy and for special occasions, the
local Le Cirque menus play up the Italian side of the chain's
"French restaurants have struggled. We didn't want to be put
in that category," said Rajiv Kaul, president of The Leela
Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, part of Hotel Leelaventure Ltd
, which in February will open a Le Cirque Signature in
At the Le Cirque in New Delhi's Leela Palace Hotel, which
opened in 2011, the average check is 5,000 to 6,000 rupees per
person, putting it among India's most expensive restaurants. It
generates nearly 10 million rupees a month, Kaul said.
Another import at the New Delhi hotel, New York-based
Japanese chain Megu, does nearly as much business but at lower
margins because almost every ingredient is imported, he said.
Kaul expects spending per person at Le Cirque Signature in
Mumbai, which is smaller and less formal than the New Delhi
restaurant, to be about 20 percent lower than in New Delhi,
where customers tend to buy more expensive wine.
For Boglione, a 38-year-old native of Florence, Italy,
adapting to India means cooking more vegetarian items than he
was accustomed to and planning further ahead to source
hard-to-find ingredients. He recently found purveyors of porcini
mushrooms and yellow beetroot.
"With vegetables, you can do nice stuff," he says.
($1 = 61.2800 Indian rupees)
(Editing by Michael Perry)