There are few independent fine-dining restaurants in the country that have been able to sustain quality while staying relevant the way The Table has. Since it opened in 2011, Mumbai’s much-loved casual fine-dining space has ensured that guests never tire of its ever-evolving menu of global dishes. Their ingredient-driven focus, use of seasonal produce and meats, farm to table philosophy, and the concept of small and large plates, have guaranteed its diners always leave the restaurant feeling they experienced something new. This was exactly what founders and husband-wife duo Jay Yousuf and Gauri Devidayal were hoping to achieve when they first conceived the idea of The Table.
Jay Yousuf, a telecommunications expert who had spent most of his professional life in the US, and Gauri Devidayal, a former tax consultant who had lived in London for a substantial time, were solely driven by the idea of creating the kind of restaurants they had eaten at and enjoyed during their time abroad. A unique experience, to say the least. Using that as the starting point, they built their concept ground up, a mammoth task given that they had had no experience in the F&B sector. Since opening The Table, they have employed the same philosophies to open Magazine St. Kitchen in 2016 (a hub for intimate dinners, cooking workshops, chef’s tables, and private dinners); Mag St Bread Co. (2016), their bakery; The Dining Table, a catering service; The Table Farm, a farm to table initiative; and their latest launch, Miss T (2018), a restaurant and cocktail lounge in Colaba. Each of these have come to define superlative quality and experience under the umbrella company, Food Matters.
Lifestyle Asia spoke to Jay Yousuf and Gauri Devidayal about their beliefs and pioneering work.
When you opened The Table in 2011, what was the fine-dining landscape like in the country?
Jay Yousuf: Most of the fine-dining was happening at five star hotels; Indigo was perhaps the first standalone fine-dining restaurant back then.
Gauri Devidayal: Yes, we used to love going out to eat, but as Jay said, the choices were limited. There were very few standalone restaurants that had a completely different character than the five-star experience. Frankly at that time, there was so little that you could do anything to add to the fine-dining scene.
So how did your vision for The Table develop?
JY: I wanted to get into F&B because it had always been a love, and the opportunity came along in 2010. I had been in the US for about 20-25 years, and when I decided to move back to India, the first thing I wanted to do was bring a little bit of San Francisco – where the focus was purity of ingredients, the drive for freshness, and simplicity – to Mumbai. This was not something that was in Mumbai at the time, and that gave us the opportunity to do something different.
GD: We were inspired by wanting to create the kind of place we wanted to go to, and serving food that we enjoyed and felt the city didn’t have. The starting point was obviously the food. San Francisco is a Mecca for food, and it was definitely the inspiration for the cuisine. And in terms of the space, it took a long time to find this location. It took us 14 months from finding the space to opening, which is just not commercially smart. But that’s what went into this restaurant. This was a labour of love.
Today, there are several brands under the Food Matters umbrella, and in each, you have interpreted luxury in one way or another. Can you shed more light on this?
GD: For me, luxury is defined by quality and uniqueness. Exclusivity, but not to the point of trying to exclude, just in that it is something new. It’s not necessarily about luxury ingredients or being expensive. It’s not just superlative quality but having an experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the city. Whether it’s at The Table or Magazine St. Kitchen, which is not typically luxurious but has experiences that are one off, or with Miss T, everything we have done, we have invested in making it the best in class. That’s where you see the refinement come in which is what I associate with luxury. Also, our biggest learnings has been to create a space that’s timeless. You don’t want to be following trends.
The fact that you didn’t have experience in F&B – how much of a deterrent was it?
GD: It took us a lot longer, we made a lot of mistakes, and we had to depend on a lot of consultants. But not having that formal training also brought a fresh perspective which wasn’t jaded. We were looking at things differently. Until we got what we wanted, we didn’t want to stop.
How do you stay relevant?
JY: There’s a trend right now – everyone is going for safe, all-day dining. We never wanted to do that. We both wanted to do something that wasn’t necessarily a safe bet. When we design our menu, when we sit with the chefs. It is not about the price points – it’s about the best ingredients in India that we can procure and create a dish out of.
GD: You have to be clear on what you are offering, and not just because it has worked for someone else. Our food is very different – you don’t get Vietnamese and Burmese food rampantly. We are trying to do something authentic. It is semi-educational but it is also bringing something new to the city. One of our pet peeves is when we go to a restaurant and we are told that something on the menu is not available. We reprint our dinner menus the minute something comes off it because it is a seasonal, ingredient-driven concept.
What is the luxury consumer looking for today?
GD: It depends on the establishment. If it’s a very high-end space, then luxury ingredients, a tasting menu, and techniques which they may not have experienced before. An experience so unique it not only stays with you but also blows you away. Other than food, there is obviously service – the beverages, the wine. Consumers now are willing to pay, but they want to get value for money.
What does luxury mean to you?
JY: I love travelling. Picking up a nice suit, a designer that you love – that’s luxury to me. And buying something without checking the price tag.
GD: I am not a spendthrift, but when I do see something I love, the ability to get it without thinking twice, is luxury. It’s basically indulging in things that aren’t a necessity, that you just do for the love of it – eating out, travelling. And of course things that will be with me forever, that I will pass on to our daughter.
Director & Producer: Nanki Jassal
Assistant to Director: Yohan Samuel Pissurlenker
Director of Photography: Omkar Potdar and Vaishnav Trivedi
Editor: Raoul Tandon
Hair & Makeup: Naina Tahilramani