Good old Nirula’s keeps up with changing palate (Eating out with Inditop)

New Delhi, Aug 29 ( Spicy mutton vindaloo, chicken xacutti, Goan vegetable curry, Portuguese soup…all this at a place famous for its ice creams, burgers and sundaes! Fast food joint Nirula’s has kept its promise of offering regional Indian fare, this time with a Goan food fest.

Most Delhiites have lingering memories of visiting Nirula’s, but the restaurant chain is keeping up with changing preferences and its Potpourri outlet in central Delhi shows how.

“Our aim is to constantly innovate to give our customers a compelling reason to come back to our restaurant. It prompted a revamp of the business strategy,” Vinayak Shourie, marketing vice-president of Nirula’s, told Inditop in an interview.

“Changing lifestyles, coupled with the growing upper middle class population, has radically impacted the eating habits of Indians. Delhiites are always keen to experiment with new flavours and cuisines.”

Potpourri, Nirula’s multi-cuisine speciality restaurant and salad bar at Connaught Place, housed in a British era building, is hosting the festival of affordable Goan food for the capital’s “middle class which loves to eat out”. It began in August and will go on till Sep 30.

The spread on offer is a medley of Portuguese and Goan dishes beginning with a selection of soups – caldo verde (soup of potato and spinach) and chicken coconut soup.

The spicy starters, tangy potato chops and fish rechado, explains chef Praveen Kumar, are a prelude to the main course flavoured with freshly ground coastal spices and red chillies marinated in vinegar.

“Vinegar and red chillies are a staple in Goan food because the Portuguese marinated and preserved their meat with vinegar and chillies during their long voyages to India,” the chef says.

The entrees or the main course – served with steamed Goan red rice – are vettana (dry peas) curry, xacutti, vindaloo, prawn balchao and Goan fish curry.

The prices have been designed to cater the young crowd, says Tejender Singh, floor manager Nirula’s Potpourri.

“At the lowest end, the soups cost Rs.70 and the prawns are the most expensive at Rs.385. And food is authentic. It’s for Delhi’s middle class which loves to experiment with food,” he says.

Regional food festivals with the slogan “World of Choices” is the hotel chain’s culinary USP, says its management.

Nirula’s has sure come a long way. Credited with introducing Espresso coffee in India in the 1950s and popularising ice-creams and sundaes among young school and college-going crowd in the capital, it is dabbling in the ethnic and heritage flavours of India.

One of the oldest hotels in the capital, Nirula’s forayed into hospitality in 1934 as “Hotel India” in Connaught Place with 12 rooms, a bar and a restaurant.

After introducing Indians to Espresso coffee, it set up two speciality restaurants- La Boheme serving Hungarian food; and Gufa, an Indian restaurant.

During the 1970s, the company ventured into the fast food business with a pastry shop, snack bar, hot shoppe and ice cream parlours. The Potpourri restaurant with the first country’s first salad bar was also opened around this period.

Nirula’s was the first restaurant in the country to have been awarded a food preservation licence in 1947, documents in the hotel archives show. It is now a national chain, with more than 65 locations in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

“Ice creams, however, still remain our core business,” says Shourie.

The change in branding, says Shourie, came around the time when the company was acquired by Samir Kuckreja , CEO and managing director of Nirula’s and Navis Capital Partners.

“Post-merger, the brand has undergone a refurbishing and is on an expansion spree. We revamped both our quick service model and fine dining restaurant and opened the flagship Nirula’s Potpourri in Delhi in 2007,” says Shourie.

“Along with revamping, we also diversified into other food retail formats like Express outlets, ice cream kiosks, fuel station eateries to make it more accessible to customers. The restaurant had to keep itself afloat.”

In 2007, Nirula inaugurated the country’s first ice cream museum at its Noida ice cream plant.