Asian Lite’s FnB columnist Riccha Grrover in conversation with chef Vishnu Natarajan. “Inspired by heritage and with a passion for Indian culture and cuisine, the food I cook at Papa-dum is characterised by its colours and use of aromatic herbs and spices to give a rich, heavenly flavour”
RICCHA GRROVER- Tell us about your cuisine and concept at Upper Street Kitchen by Papa-dum? Where does it take its inspiration from?
VISHNU NATARAJAN– The street kitchen by Papa-dum in Islington was born out of Covid. The core brand is focused on the grab and go market and is heavily reliant on office and commuter traffic. The street kitchen celebrates the Home Style street food of Indian Families. Nothing fussy, nothing complicated just tasty food. We had a vision of childhood memories of leaning over the fryer as kids and eating the fried delights from our mums. We are not claiming we are healthy, internally we say unapologetic street foods. The street kitchen is short dwell and all of our food is perfectly paired with our exciting Indian cocktail menu.
RG- What have been the challenges to the FnB industry in Covid times and what difficulties have you overcome as a chef in these times.
VN– FnB sector has been brought to its knees during these Covid times. Many businesses have closed for good. Just some employers were able to support their chefs both financially and emotionally. Even facilitating government support not every employer was willing to do it. So many chefs went to seek job opportunities in other industries to bring daily bread to their family. As a result, now we see shortage of hospitality staff. Staying resilient in these times has been a sure victory.
RG- How is a meal from your restaurant kitchen different from other Indian restaurants serving street in London? What makes it unique. What are the top 5 dishes you recommend a first time diner to try from your menu.
VN- I honestly would say the biggest difference is that all of the dishes are family recipes of the owners that have been kept in the family for decades. We have created dishes that they and many of us growing up would eat with our families and friends at home. Due to this there is distinctive flavour and home style that comes to our dishes which you won’t find anywhere else in London.
Top 5 from the menu would be :
1. House Masala Chai
2. Paani Puri
3. Pau Bhaji
4. South Indian Prawns
5. Indian Fried Chicken (IFC)
RG-What does your menu take its inspiration from? Do you have seasonal specials too? Tell us about your lunch menu in the week and weekend menus. Do you cater to varying dietary requirements too?
VN– Our Lunch menu is taken from our core concept and we serve curry boxes. All of our curries are regionally inspired and are served with rice and mini Papa-dums. In addition, we serve a Dal of the Day, Wraps and Indian inspired salads.
As we move through the seasons, we will ensure that our menu will rotate. We have an exciting Autumn and Christmas Menu too. In our kitchens we are 70% Vegetarian or Vegan, always Nut Free and Halal. We have a good balance of Gluten and dairy free options too.
RG- Did you always wish to be a professional chef or did you dabble into it as an extension to a hobby? What words of advice would you give to budding chefs?
VN– Yes, I decided during my GCSC equivalent days to become a Chef. Just a few words for budding chefs, learn thoroughly with hearts content. Ask questions on products, procedures and practice the recipes. Gain in depth knowledge of cuisines and when you can translate that for discerning diners then the world awaits your skill.
RG- What kind of experience can diners expect when coming for a meal at Upper Street Kitchen by Papa-dum?
VN– It’s a very laid back environment, informal eating in a relaxed setting. Diners can expect fresh, fast Indian food full of authentic flavours. Inspired by family home recipes and Indian street food. The food will not only satisfy the craving for something delicious, but will leave you with the feeling that only a heart-warming, home-cooked Indian meal can.
Papa-dum is a modern style eatery which takes the spirit and essence of authentic Indian cuisine. They bring a variety of food creations from India for the very first time to London with a twist. From flavoursome, delicately spiced curry to freshly prepared Indian wraps and snacks, every dish has deep, complex flavours and mouth-watering spices.