Mid-day, Mumbai, Updated: December 11, 2012 11:28 IST
It doesn't boast fancy interiors, serves simple food on a banana leaf and is nestled in a by lane at Fort. But hungry Malayalis who want to relish homemade food have been queuing up outside Hotel Deluxe for the past 19 years to get a taste of authentic Kerala cuisine. Owners K Naseer and Ashraf Kallatra share their recipe for success with Rinky Kumar.
I'm slated to meet K Naseer, one of the owners of popular Malayali restaurant Hotel Deluxe at Fort on a hot Monday afternoon. It takes me some time to find the restaurant, which is nestled in a crowded bylane littered with banks, stationery shops and other hotels. At the restaurant, upon asking for Naseer, a waiter shows up to escort me to a mysterious staircase at the back, shrouded in darkness.
Thankfully, beyond lies light, and Naseer and his entourage of staff members. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and black trousers, he is deep in conversation with two architects as they discuss the possible renovation of the first floor. His partner, Ashraf Kallatra, introduces himself in English, and soon, Naseer follows suit.
The two are as different as chalk and cheese -- Kallatra is tall and burly, prefers casual clothes and talks in fluent English with a heavy Malayali accent, while the latter is stocky and affable, and speaks mostly in Malayalam. But despite these superfluous differences, the duo has managed to keep customers coming back to the eatery for 19 years.
As we settle down for a chat in the dimly-lit 'family room' of the restaurant, Kallatra tells me that common friends, and a love for food, brought them together. "Both of us hail from Kerala and felt that there wasn't a single restaurant in this area (Fort) that served authentic Malayali cuisine. That's when we thought of opening a restaurant."
At the time, Kallatra had completed his graduation and Naseer had a successful luxury bus business. But the duo was ready to take a risk. They started off by doing the rounds of nearby offices to find out if there was a demand for Malayali food. "There are many individuals who come from small towns in Kerala and miss homemade food. We wanted to cater to them," says Kallatra.
Soon, they assembled an entire staff back home comprising cooks and waiters and brought them to Mumbai. The restaurant opened in 1993 with a minimal seating arrangement on the ground floor and served limited dishes like Fish curry rice, Putti and Appam. Gradually word spread in the locality and hungry bankers and office boys started coming by to chomp down dishes that reminded them of home.
Naseer interrupts to tell Kallatra something in chaste Malayalam, who then translates it, "Eight years ago, people started asking us for vegetarian thali served on a plantain (banana) leaf, just the way it is served back home. That's when, we introduced evening snacks like Banana Fry, Rice Ada and Neyyappam."