Namita and Camellia Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani

21 September 2006
Namita and Camellia Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani

Overall ranking: 88 (89)

Restaurateurs ranking: 26 (29)

The Panjabis - Snapshot

Namita Panjabi, her husband Ranjit Mathrani and her sister Camellia are the masterminds behind the award-winning Masala World restaurant group that specialises in authentic, regional Indian cuisine prepared by specialist chefs. Mathrani serves as chief executive and the Panjabis as group directors.

The Panjabis - Career guide

The trio were born in India, where Camellia launched 40 restaurants over a 30-year period as marketing director of Taj Hotels, including the Bombay Brasserie and the Ile de Kashmir in Paris.

Namita, who started as a merchant banker, became fashion merchandising manager in Bombay for the Associated Merchandising Corporation. She moved to London in 1986 where she married merchant banker Mathrani and set up a business designing Indian jewellery for department stores, which she still runs.

The couple opened Chutney Mary in Chelsea in 1990. In 1997, they bought London's oldest Indian restaurant Veeraswamy, which dates back to 1927.

Camellia, who had been involved from the start, came on board full-time in 2001 when the group opened its first Masala Zone in Soho, followed by a second in Islington and a third, in Earls Court, in 2005.

Camellia spearheaded the group's third upmarket restaurant, Amaya, which opened in Belgravia in October 2004 and won a Michelin star in 2006.

The Panjabis - What we think

Namita and Camellia are regarded as leading authorities on authentic Indian cuisine which they have researched extensively in people's homes, Maharaja's palaces and wayside stalls rather than conventional restaurants.

They are responsible for devising for the restaurant and food concepts. Camellia refines the food offer and handles marketing and PR, while Namita fine-tunes the food presentation, décor (which features stylish Indian folk art) and kitchen management.

Mathrani handles the financial, commercial, human resources, front-of-house and site-finding aspects. He arranged the funding for Chutney Mary under a Business Expansion Scheme with input from Neville Abraham and Laurence Isaacson, the founders of Groupe Chez Gérard (now Paramount Restaurants).

The restaurants all offer a different slant. The multi-award winning Chutney Mary serves cuisine from diverse regions while Veeraswamy focuses on food from the north and west of India. Amaya is based around ancient grill techniques that are new to the UK while Masala Zones are hip cafés offering street food and thalis for less than £14 a head.

The 2005 Tatler Restaurant Awards recognised the trio's ground-breaking work by selecting it for the Restaurateur of the Year award - the first time it has gone to purveyors of non-European cuisine.

After restoring the 80-year-old Veeraswamy to its glamorous 1920s glory in 2005, the group is now ready to focus on rolling out the Masala Zone brand. In September 2006 the group secured two of three planned new sites, in Camden Town and Covent Garden.

Once there are 10 Masala Zones in London, the group plans to expand outside the capital, starting in the South-east. Mathrani is also examining ways to develop the brand through other outlets such as pubs and takeaways and is piloting a home delivery service at the Earl's Court branch.

Masala World served more than 500,000 customers in 2005, and Mathrani expects this to rise more than one million in a couple of years with the expansion of Masala Zone.

The Panjabis - Further information

Masala World official website

Chutney Mary official website

Veeraswamy official website

Read more about the CatererSearch 100, the list of the most influential people here

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