He may have a lifetime's experience, restaurants in several countries, and one of the first Michelin stars awarded to an Indian chef-restaurateur in the UK, but Vineet Bhatia has no intention of resting on his laurels.
For 20 years, he has been showcasing Indian cuisine and challenging perceptions of Indian food as being simply curry, rice and beer. But with the lease up on Rasoi, a high-end Indian restaurant located in a Chelsea townhouse that he had been operating for 12 years, and the landlord asking too much for the renewal of the premises, Bhatia announced its closure.
When the landlord came back with a better deal, Bhatia decided to relaunch instead.
What was Rasoi is now Vineet Bhatia London, or VBL for short. It represents a new catering direction for a clientele more open-minded and well-travelled than ever.
"We had still not done what we wanted to do," Bhatia says. "We wanted to push the boundaries even more."
VBL offers one tasting menu and just one 32-cover sitting per night. Not only that, but Bhatia plans to change the menu every six to eight weeks to reflect the seasons and allow him full creative control.
The team had seven weeks to overhaul the restaurant, with Bhatia's wife Rashima overseeing the new design. It was no mean feat for any restaurant, let alone with the attention to detail Bhatia demands. For example, the crockery, designed by Maham Anjum, who has also collaborated with Cinnamon Club's Vivek Singh, will also change with the menu.
The VBL experience is all about balance. The 14-course menu is largely sparing with the carbohydrates to ensure guests aren't full by course 10, and Bhatia takes great pains not to over-complicate the dishes with too many gimmicks. He also restricts himself to no more than five spices a dish. "When you have too much happening on your plate, the flavours are lost," he says.
But none of the dishes could in any way be described as simple; each is technically challenging in its own way. He also recognises the need to keep guests visually stimulated. For example, diners use a small pipette to squirt yoghurt into a chaat (a small, traditional Indian street food snack), salmon is served smoking under a cloche, and caramel kulfi comes atop a block of Himalayan pink salt. It all adds to the flavour and presentation of the dishes - the kulfi is lightly salted by your spoon scooping the dessert from the block, while holding back on the yoghurt until the last minute ensures the chaat stays crispy.
The kapi lamb chop, made with coffee, is a particular favourite of Bhatia's. He was inspired by the simple cooking around south India's coffee plantations, which uses the ingredient so readily available, spending two years tweaking his dish before he was satisfied.
The lamb is marinated in garlic, chilli, lemon and salt for 20 minutes, then marinated again for at least eight hours in a blend of jaggery, muscovado sugar, coffee, tomato paste, ginger, garlic and coriander root. Cooking the lamb in a tandoor sears the outside, and it is reglazed and finished under the grill with the addition of a jus containing a very small amount of coffee to enhance the flavour.
And it's not just new dishes. The smoked salmon course is from Bhatia's time as executive chef at Star of India in London in the 1990s; the recipe hasn't changed but the presentation has. "Sometimes you don't change the dish, but you change the dish around it," he says.
He says he would like to take VBL to Paris, Tokyo and New York, but he wants to perfect it here first. "It is too early now," he says. "That's five to seven years from now. These things take time." It was incredibly important for Bhatia to start in London. "The audience you get here in London is amazing," he says. "If we can showcase VBL in the right manner it filters off from here. There is always a buzz in London; there's always something happening. There's always movement, and movement is life."
From the tasting menu
•Pao bhaji with bhaji butter
•Ghee scallops with edamame and pearl couscous
•Kapi lamb chop
Price: £105, or £175 with wine flight
Vineet Bhatia London
10 Lincoln Street, London SW3 2TS