Sanjay Anand, founder of the Madhu's restaurant and catering business, shares how he has grown a modest Southall Indian restaurant into a groundbreaking fine dining brand fit to be served to royalty. Caroline Baldwin reports.
You've opened two new restaurants during the pandemic, which most people would consider a bold move.
We've opened Madhu's at the Grove in Hertfordshire and at the Dilly on Piccadilly in Mayfair. Over the years we've had so many offers to open restaurants in prestigious hotels and never taken them seriously because we've been so busy with the catering business. So during lockdown, we took the opportunity on board. It had a big risk attached to it with the pandemic, but I had a gut feeling that we have a brand with a massive following, so if we opened in the right places, with the right profile, we would do well.
We opened in the spring, and it's not easy to get a booking at either of the restaurants. Both are doing extremely well and have exceeded our expectations.
Why did you choose Mayfair for one of your venues?
My son Arjun – Madhu's director – has always wanted to open a restaurant in Mayfair. We had three areas in mind: Knightsbridge, Mayfair or Park Lane, so when we got that opportunity, bang in the heart of London, and we saw the room and the grandeur of the whole place and the palatial feel it had – it made our decision very easy.
It's where Marco Pierre White got his three Michelin stars. We've taken over the bar and restaurant, which is a Grade II-listed room, and it really is magnificent to look at. We've left no stone unturned and sourced the best of everything: cutlery, crockery, glassware – no expense has been spared. A lot of restaurants tend to achieve a beautiful feel, but when it comes to smaller things like cutlery, they don't go that extra mile and tend to penny pinch. We've got the best furniture and tables and everything is bespoke – there's not another Indian restaurant that even comes close to the look of what we've created.
There's not another Indian restaurant that even comes close to the look of what we've created
Tell us about Madhu's as a catering company.
Madhu's started off as a restaurant in the 1980s. I saw a big gap in the market when I realised that there were not many Asian events happening in five-star hotels, despite Asians being quite affluent in the 1980s. Weddings used to happen in council halls – my own wedding was at Greenford Town Hall because that's all there was.
So I was one of the first guys who did a contract with what was known at the time as Heathrow Park hotel. I convinced the general manager that I could fill his venue at the weekends and it all kicked off in 1987, after a two-year trial prior to that. At the time, although Indian food was becoming very popular, it wasn't the kind of thing big hotels wanted on their premises. I used to hear comments like, "what will happen to the smell the following day?" – I don't hear that in 2021.
It was challenging to open the doors, but once we did it snowballed. We now have contracts with 18 hotels, which we've held on to over the past 18 months, as well as private events such as the British Asian Trust, which we have catered for the last 13 years – Prince Charles is the patron, so we've catered at Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Windsor Castle.
How did you cope during the pandemic and the necessary restructuring of the business?
Before the pandemic we had two restaurants – one in Southall and one in Heathrow – but the company's main revenue stream was catering. We were in survival mode for 18 months – you can imagine suddenly going from £12m turnover to half a million when we had to give thousands of pounds in deposits back.
It was the toughest time, in terms of trying to survive as a catering company, because we did not get the same support as restaurateurs – I'm both and I can speak as both. For caterers, VAT stayed at 20% and our production units and warehouses didn't receive rates relief because we weren't classified as hospitality.
But the one thing we had, which we'd never had before, was time. And opening any project – like the restaurant in Mayfair – if you don't have six months to devote to it, you're never going to do it. We wanted to make a statement and do something a little out of the ordinary and that needed time. I remember doing more than 750 interviews to get the staff for the two restaurants, I handpicked everyone, while my son got on with the building work, ordering and designing.
How do you see the future split of the business?
Both the catering and restaurant sides of the businesses help each other out. Our brand gets recognised when we're at events, and people remember it, because it's not your normal Indian food. We still use my grandad's recipes, and, rather than most Indian dishes which come from three base sauces, each dish is made specifically.
We're seeing a lot of new clientele at the two new restaurants, thanks to social media, and 20% of our diners have eaten in all four of our restaurants. Now we have catering back up and running, we can be even more exclusive than we used to be – we would like to do fewer weddings, but more exclusive weddings – now that we've got revenue coming in from the restaurants as well.
I think it's a nicer balance because if one area is suffering we won't be on the floor because of it. As much as the pandemic hurt us, it made us look at the overall business through a microscope and analyse the best way to move forward with everything more profitable and an even stronger company than ever before.
What do you have planned next?
We have another very exciting project in the new year: in early March we're launching our first international venture, our first Madhu's in Istanbul. The Dilly project came through a recommendation from people who have worked with me for many years, again with the Grove, and the same thing happened for this upcoming project – a previous head chef of mine is now the chief executive of the Swissôtel in Istanbul, and they always remained in touch and brought up this opportunity.
Madhu's through the years
- 1935 Sanjay Anand's grandfather, Bishan Das Anand, starts a catering business in Nairobi, Kenya
- 1957 Bishan Das Anand opens the Brilliant hotel in Nairobi
- 1980 Sanjay Anand launches Madhu's Brilliant, later rebranded as Madhu's Limited in 2004, at the age of 17 alongside his brother Sanjeev, aged 16, in London's Southall
- 1992 Madhu's is the first Asian caterer to sign an exclusive contract with a hotel (the Heathrow Park Hotel)
- 2005 Madhu's takes over the Indian food counter at Harrods
- 2006 Madhu's becomes the first specialist Indian food supplier to the House of Commons
- 2006 Madhu's at Harvey Nichols launches
- 2007 Anand is awarded an MBE
- 2010 Anand is unveiled as a brand ambassador for Jaguar
- 2010 Madhu's caters for a private event hosted by Prince Charles
- 2011 Madhu's become the first Asian caterer to service 10 Downing Street
- 2012 Madhu's become the first Asian caterer to service Windsor Castle
- 2013 Madhu's caters for Prince Charles once more and Windsor Castle for a second time
- 2014 Madhu's become the first outside specialist food supplier to the Savoy following 147 years of in-house catering
- 2014 Madhu's Heathrow within the Sheraton Skyline hotel opens
- 2017 Madhu's goes global with an event in Brazil
- 2018 Madhu's becomes the first Asian caterer to service Buckingham Palace
- 2020 Madhu's caters for Prince Charles for a third time, at Banqueting House
- 2021 Madhu's open two restaurants: Madhu's at the Dilly hotel in Mayfair and Madhu's at the Grove in Hertfordshire
Poonam Ball's hero dishes
Anand's sister Poonam Ball – the creative chef and marketing director at Madhu's – originally learned how to cook through family recipes handed down to her from a young age.
After studying law she returned to the kitchen and has since led many marketing campaigns for Madhu's, as well as designing menus and cooking at esteemed venues for celebrities, heads of state and royalty.
During the pandemic she delved further into fine dining, developing recipes for the two new restaurants at the Grove and the Dilly, where she works closely with group executive head chef Amardeep Singh Anand. These are some of the most popular dishes from across the business.
Madhu's of Mayfair The Machuzi shank (£25) is a spring lamb shank cooked using the same spice blend and recipe that Poonam's grandfather handed to her father and then to Poonam and her brothers.
Madhu's at the Grove Chilli garlic prawns (£13), is fast becoming the most popular dish for repeat clientele. It has also been added it to the Laurent Perrier Tasting menu to form part of the seafood and fish course.
Madhu's catering The dish that features on most catering menus is the signature makhani dal, mainly because Northern Indian (Punjabi) culture requires a wedding banquet menu to include dal made from black or urid lentils. Madhu's makhani dal is slow-cooked for six hours and flavoured with fenugreek and tempered spices.
Food photography: Kelly Baylis
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