When Chef Sujan S partnered with the well known restaurateur AD Singh, he came up with Ek Bar in September 2015 – an Indian cocktail bar concept with a twist. The concept is rooted in storytelling and takes inspiration from Indian myths and legends. Chef Sujan talks about the concept of this bar in detail, and how Ek Bar would continue to evolve in 2016
Tell us how did you and AD Singh come together for this bar venture and what is it that you have set out to achieve?
Both of us always wanted to do an Indian bar concept. Ek Bar is the new Indian cocktail bar, which is developed around our own stories. When people are in a bar environment they tend to experiment more with their food choices as well. Looking at that, we are focussed on the bar experience while offering quality food.
What is the thinking that has gone into the creation of Ek Bar?
All over the world, bars are now coming out really big. It is no longer just about restaurants anymore. For example, the bars in Singapore and London are already raising bar standards, and Ek Bar is our contribution to the world. We eventually ended up with an Indian story; Indian cocktails and Indian design elements all coming together.
Ek Bar pays homage to the art of storytelling. It promises many possibilities along the lines of‘once upon a time’ – a phrase (translated literally from Hindi ‘ek bar’) that signals the beginning of a journey into our imagination and guided by the words of the teller.
Here, as Olive Group’s partner in this venture, I bring forth a menu with small plates for those looking to sit back and relax on tables with friends and family.
When thinking of food, where would you place Ek Bar in terms of its F&B offerings? What are the unique characteristics of the food vis-à-vis any other bar?
It took me a few months to create the dishes and cocktails that are on the menu. Each and every item on the menu is Indian and it has a story to tell. Each cocktail comes up with non-traditional ingredients such as fermented kahwa, star fruit juice, honey water, mango, ginger, katori-shaped ice making star appearances and such others.
The food menu, too, comes laden with dishes such as mango and melon-infused goat cheese; chicken tikka or prawn sausages; Kashmiri cheese (kalari) pakoda; crab and fresh Bombay Duck fritters; Scotch eggs with Goanchorizo sausages; the masala taftan served with a jar of chicken liver and bheja pate. The food here is created with modern techniques but with known Indian flavours that amalgamate.
How have you captured the essence of bar experience through your food and beverage offerings?
Ek Bar serves a modern menu, inspired by regional Indian cuisine. Reimagining the Indian
story telling tradition and taking cue from ancient Indian mood points, we cut to the present. Indians love chicken tikkas, bhajia/pakodas, papads, chutneys and rotis, but don’t necessarily partake them in the same avatar any more. And that is where Ek Bar food makes a mark.
Here, memories are revisited and the whiff of Indian kitchen takes the shape of modern thalis – think veg platters and non-veg platters in unique avatars. Rotis turn into chips, and dips are served with them.
Ek Bar is planned to be light, non-traditional, surrounded with facets communicated in illustrative and imaginative ways. What makes you think that this concept will stick with the audience?
Ek Bar is a beautiful modern Indian cocktail bar which carries a sense of storytelling gleaned from Indian myths and legends. The nostalgia begins as soon as you walk into Ek Bar with modern traditional elements in design such as old theatre backdrops adorning the ceiling; the elephant in the room welcomes you in the India style, albeit sporting a pair of blue aviators. There is a signature selection of 12 cocktails presented on playing cards deck — Ekka, Badshah, Begum, Ghulam, which are all hand crafted. Homemade bitters, fresh juices and the homemade shrubs bring out the best in Ek Bar cocktails. No pre-packed ingredients are used. Fresh and seasonal ingredients are the core of the cocktails at Ek Bar.
The food menu brings forth bar recommendations and a small plate food menu for those looking to sit back and relax on tables with friends and family.
How do you differentiate the offerings and turn them into a niche proposition for customers?
The food, drinks and ambiance, altogether, celebrate the story in each one of us, experienced once upon a time. Ek Bar is an organic concept Indian bar which is unique and not copied from the West.
The audience is fairly mature, who understand cocktails and are aware of the new drinking concepts. Ek Bar is an Indian cocktail bar, and has various stories to share behind every cocktail. Here every cocktail has a story. All our cocktails are inspired from within the city, and our target audience is the one who wants to try out new things and formats.
Ek Bar concept has been approached in a fresh way. What is so intrinsic to that freshness?
We, at Ek Bar, use fresh and seasonal ingredients in our cocktails and food. Almost everything is prepared in-house. We will bring more stories through our food and drinks in 2016 where customers will enjoy quality offerings made with fresh and unique Indian ingredients.
What is your target for this F&B outlet for 2016? How do you wish to achieve them? In your scope of work, which are the different areas you have focussed on while planning for the entire 2016?
I wanted to create an Indian cocktail bar of an international standard. The first ingredient to achieve this is my team. I want to focus on building a team of passionate and talented bartenders and chefs who will raise the bar of Ek Bar. To achieve that we have to maintain consistency, train people and build a good team. We also aim not only to be the best bar in India, but eventually be the best bar in Asia.
In 2016, what are going to be the distinguishing factors for the success of this outlet?
We don’t copy. We create and that is the distinguishing factor of Ek Bar and we will continue to carry out the innovative approach in the coming days. To add on, there is a lot of concentration on more R&D, new ingredients which we can be infused into cocktails, changing the drinking culture as we are offering concept cocktails and having professionals behind our bar who can challenge any world class bar with all of the above stated facts.
How do you view the changing trends in F&B and which would rule the bars in India?
I believe, ‘gastro bars’ and ‘fun and molecular bars’ (where more emphasis is on fun elements and gimmick) would become popular in the coming times in India. Like I mentioned earlier, Ek Bar is the only Indian cocktail bar, where we serve concept cocktails and not just classic cocktails. There are Indian ingredients which people know of, which would not be known to many, and we infuse all those different flavours in our cocktails.
The good news is people are slowly accepting a unique change such as this, which have been discussed above.
What defines an Indian bar? How did you establish those characteristics in Ek Bar?
The cocktail craft is slowly taking form with an increased number of bars around the country focusing on high quality cocktails made with passion. All that you want from a cocktail is a harmonious balance of ingredients and integrity of the right flavours.
At Ek Bar, we are taking this sentiment forward with concept cocktails, which reflect a seasonal Indian flavour, stylised and crafted by our mixologist Nitin Tewari, who is the storyteller behind our cocktails. At Ek Bar, a tale is told with every cocktail. Each set of Ekka, Badshah, Begum and Ghulam feature three delicious cocktails with many flavours, colours and textures of India that come alive as the story unfolds, as you discover the unusual ingredients of fermented kahwa, star anise, spice mix, kokum, amruk and more.
How do you assess the market mood and consumer sentiment for any new products to be introduced?
Your restaurant may serve the most delicious food or provide the best table service in your area but if you do not know the strengths/ weaknesses of your business and industry, you might suffer.
This could be like looking for opportunities, which help your restaurant to increase the profits, such as expanding and providing different types of food and beverages. Taking advantage of the trends related to eating healthier may mean featuring more organic dishes or salads on your menu. It is important to find the ways to generate more traffic during slow times, such as in the afternoon. Selling some of your restaurant products, such as salad dressings or baked goods, for people to buy and take home represents an opportunity. Offering delivery services and take-out or setting up a drive-through to meet the needs of people on the go represents another potential opportunity.
Tell us about the varieties of cocktail drinks offered in the bar?
I would give the answer with three examples.
‘Ekka’ card, for example, serves up Ek Bar’s take on classic cocktails with Old Delhi flavours. In ‘Murabba Mule’, the key condiment trail leads to its genesis from the bartender’s moms’ recipe for Murabba, spiked up with robust homemade ginger beer and vodka.
The ‘Badshah’ selection brings forth delights such as ‘The Royal Indian Punch’, a heady concoction of fermented and chilled kahwa, whiskey, grapefruit and star anise, served in a tea pot and poured into vintage tea cups — a stellar illustration of the imagination of Ek Bar and its vision for a new Indian bar. It captures the community drinking culture of India. The story behind the punch goes thus: Punch comes from the Sanskrit word (pronounced as is), which means five and was first made in India in the 16th century using five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. When the British came to India, they enjoyed the drink and took it to their homeland where it became popular and then, globally.
Begum drinks are all dedicated to women of the world, especially the Milk Maid which is Ek Bar’s take on the Milk Punch. The first thing a baby tastes in the world is milk. The drink features Badam milk combined with dark rum and cacao nibs. It is also a salute to the mother who is like a queen.
In the last two years, what has been the most interesting development you have observed in F&B in India? At present, which factors are driving the demand of the F&B industry?
The rise of quality standalone restaurants and bars is definitely a noticeable change in the F&B space. Lots of Indian F&B professionals are coming back to the soil after gaining international exposure and experience, and are opening new ventures. Also, people are ready to experiment and are identifying the use of more and more local, seasonal and fresh ingredients, which is definitely a gain for the food service industry.