This story was originally published in TravelDine India by Vernika Awal.
For long, Michelin-rated restaurants were reserved as a city-specific exclusive experience. With food businesses pivoting to the changing tastes of a consumer, they too are transforming their approach.
The pop-up, in the culinary world, is a term that strikes the impression of exclusivity. It is not regular, which lays the groundwork for enchanting an incoming diner with an aura of expectation — a bit of surprise in what could possibly have been an otherwise-regular dining experience. Yet, just as you step into an anticipated fine dining experience, you’re welcomed by a menu of a famous restaurant from a different country. The experience remains the same, but becomes exponentially more niche — a new niche in the realm of food entertainment.
For instance, The Bombay Canteen brought its ‘Perry Road Peru’ gin experience with Stranger & Sons to The Lodhi in New Delhi, in March last year. One of the absolute favourites of the Kamala Mills high-street dining district in South Mumbai, The Bombay Canteen’s pop-up experience brought to Delhi a very Bombay experience — catering to an increasingly cosmopolitan crowd in both the cities.
“In today’s day and age, people just don’t go out to eat, but also to be entertained,” says Sameer Seth, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hunger Inc, the holding company behind The Bombay Canteen.
“Pop-ups play a major role in opening up a new market to a completely new audience, and work as a great marketing tool to create awareness about your restaurant and the cuisine you showcase. It allows people to look at food and cuisine differently, as what the pop-up offers is something that is completely different from what they are used to having in their own city or country,” he tells me.
The Bombay Canteen’s ‘Perry Road Peru’ is a pink guava-based, ready-to-drink bottled cocktail with the upmarket gin brand, Stranger & Sons, and has so far been available only in Mumbai and Bengaluru. With Delhi-NCR being one of the biggest markets for alco-bevs, the pop-up by Hunger Inc at The Lodhi was the perfect amalgamation — that of catering to a premium audience, and tapping a new audience with the alcohol of the season for 2022.
Alongside tapping a new consumer demographic, other stakeholders say a pop-up’s additional economic rationale is to accentuate trials, by exposing their offering to a new market. This, in turn, could be particularly pivotal to the highest echelons of modern-day dining, with Michelin-rated restaurants.
“Pop-ups give extended visibility to a chef and their team behind any Michelin-rated restaurant in different destinations,” says Anupam Dasgupta, General Manager at The Leela Palace, New Delhi.
“It also allows them to gain exposure to a different market, and understand varied consumer tastes and sentiments as pop-ups are a great way to drive trials,” he tells me.
Dasgupta’s assessment is on-point. In November, Chef Deepanker Khosla brought to India his pioneering Bangkok venture, Haoma. The latter takes cues from India, but presents the food in a globalised, modern layout. What it thus brought to India, with its pop-up at The Leela Palace in New Delhi, was an experience that remains amiss from the rather-impressive fine dining market of the national capital. For Khosla and his team, too, Delhi represents a market that welcomes a lesser influx of travellers — but bears no lesser potential as one of the world’s top food destinations.
Even for the well-known fine dining destinations in India, a niche pop-up bears an elite value to their marketing, exposures and patronage. Chef Arun Sundararaj, Director of Culinary Operations at The Taj Mahal, New Delhi, details how the hotel has hosted pop-up experiences such as a tryst with Chef Gaggan Anand of Bangkok by two of the Taj group’s top chefs — Sriram Aylur (of IHCL Quilon, Taj London) and Srijith Gopinathan (of Taj Campton Place, San Francisco).
Other experiences hosted by The Taj Mahal, New Delhi — one of Delhi’s top fine dining destinations — include The Suhring Brothers (Michelin-rated progressive German chefs) and Chef Naren Thimmaiah (of Karavalli, Bengaluru).
For a hotel with such deep-rooted history, the true value of hosting such pop-ups is to continue offering new, unique presentations of modern-day dining experiences to Taj’s patrons — much similar to what The Leela Palace has offered as well. “Such culinary associations enhance the F&B offerings to our loyal patrons. Visiting chefs get an opportunity to have cultural and culinary exchanges, understand international trends, increase their network and invite guests to their restaurants back home,” Taj’s Sundararaj added.
For each of these stakeholders, the true value of these pop-ups therefore lie in creating a niche experience within the niche overtures of fine dining experience. Given the nature of the patrons that these offerings already command, one would expect them to remain available only to a limited audience. But, with an increasing volume of audience, rising spending powers and increasing outreach among the Indian audience, pop-ups today offer undeniable economic sense — that of creating an experience that you may not have expected at the venue you frequent near your home.
Hunger Inc.’s Seth ends our chat with an epiphany: “Food truly is the new music.” The thought holds true, much like the Richard Ashcroft cameo in Coldplay’s rendition of Bittersweet Symphony.