Life is full of twists and turns and you never know what destiny has in store for you. After four decades with the Taj group of hotels, it would not have been easy for anyone to move on that easily. But God had something else in store for me, and this offer to revamp and manage Yantra in Singapore came my way. When I visited the restaurant and met the owner, I was very convinced about the potential of the restaurant, and thought to myself, 'Let's move on with life and see life beyond Taj.'
The first venture is always difficult as your name is attached to it and you have everything at stake. You will not like to see anything going wrong. You are even accustomed to the big company behind you and all the resources like projects team, engineering team and purchase team. In bigger companies, the budgets are big for renovations or refurbishments. But in standalone ventures, one has to be very calculative about all costs. Here, you have to depend on local resources.
Jagdev Singh Gill, a gentleman and soft-spoken businessman, was very supportive of the ideas for renovation and upgrade of the restaurant. He, too, has a good taste in décor. The entire planning was worked out for a few weeks and the place was shut down for four weeks to spruce it up. The entire team worked like a machine and all the deadlines were met. When you are in a different country, the problems are of a different kind—different labour laws, the international mix of staff, the ingredients, the suppliers and, of course, the clientele.
The first few weeks go in training the production staff, changing their mindset, practising with new recipes and plating of dishes. Sometimes, the staff is nice and understand your way, and sometimes they act differently as if they do not understand. Eventually, the success lies in a quality and consistent product and to attain that you need to send the message: my way or the highway.
My belief in the retention of Indian flavours and contemporary presentations will be the mantra for Yantra. Singapore is used to quick lunches because of short lunch breaks. So, there is a trendy buffet lunch, well-presented and a good variety (value for money, too). Dinner is a fine-dining experience with an excellent wine list.
What I did was to make the menu with a difference. Guests must come to Yantra by Hemant Oberoi to have innovative dishes like quinoa chaat, tandoori avocado, edamame tacos, ghee roast, brie and truffle naans. There is a duck served four ways; asparagus with methi chestnuts, which has never been served before. I have tried to revive the age-old Indian recipes with a contemporary twist. Yet, the regular fare of dal makhani and chicken makhani is available. While I was working on presentations, I wanted to make sure that most of the dishes are served in different containers and plates. With God's grace and blessings, Singapore will have something unique to savour.