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MTR opens in London tomorrow

The 98-year-old Bengaluru restaurant is the first to take Karnataka cuisine to those parts
Last Updated : 18 January 2022, 17:35 IST
Last Updated : 18 January 2022, 17:35 IST
Last Updated : 18 January 2022, 17:35 IST
Last Updated : 18 January 2022, 17:35 IST

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The iconic Bengaluru restaurant MTR is opening a branch in London on Thursday.

Located in the neighbourhood of Harrow, it is set for a soft launch. “Our restaurants abroad are all run by friends who showed interest in our concept,” says Hemamalini Maiya, managing partner of MTR Restaurants.

Harrow has many Indian restaurants, including some south Indian ones like Saravana Bhavan.

“However, we will stand out as we offer typical Karnataka food and there is no place there which does that,” she says.

All MTR restaurants share the same ambience.

“Even franchises have to have the MTR storyboard and history boards, a red wall, and the MTR 1924 signage,” she says.

As much as possible, even the furniture is standardised. “Granite tables were a challenge to procure in London, so we are getting a similar look and feel,” says Hemamalini.

Chefs trained here

Mavalli Tiffin Rooms opened in Bengaluru, a stone’s throw from the Lalbagh main gate, 98 years ago. It got its name from the area where it is located — Mavalli. In recent years, it has added the year of founding to its name, becoming MTR 1924.

Chefs are trained in the Bengaluru kitchen. For London, the franchisee identified two cooks and sent them to Bengaluru for four months. “They had to unlearn and learn so many things,” Hemamalini says.

Service and front office staff will be locally hired. “They will mostly be Indians, but there are no restrictions. As long as they are able to explain our menu to Londoners visiting — like for example, what a ‘bisi bele bath’ is — we are okay,” she says.

Challenges aplenty

A lot of homework needs to be done before starting a franchise abroad, says the third-generation owner. “Sourcing the right lentils, ghee and red rice is challenging,” she told Metrolife.

For regular supplies, the franchise will bank on the many Indian stores in London. “All our basic masalas are shipped from Bengaluru so that the authenticity is maintained,” says Hemamalini.

‘WE WON’T MAKE OUR MENU BLAND TO SUIT WESTERN TASTES’

Hemamalini Maiya, managing director of MTR Restaurants, says the flavours will not be tweaked for Londoners’ tastes. “We are not a spicy food restaurant, so it wouldn’t be too hard for them to adjust to our menu. Making the flavours mild will only kill the experience; it wouldn’t be the Bengaluru MTR then,” she says.

Pricing

The prices will depend on the franchisee, says Hemamalini. “The ingredients will be expensive in London, so the items will be accordingly priced. We will be comparable to other south Indian brands there. There is homework to do in this regard,” she says.

Limited menu

The London outlet will have all popular MTR dishes. It is launching with a basic menu — dosas, idli with sambar and chutney, rava idli with saagu and chutney, khara bath, veg pulao,” she says. Sweets and specials like Chandrahara (dessert) will come
later.

Warm room for batter

A major challenge is the fermentation. Singapore and Dubai are warmer countries, and MTR has faced no problems making its idli and dosa batter there. “But London is rarely warm. Most of our food items require fermentation, so we have a warm room in the restaurant to create the ideal temperature for the batter,” says partner Hemamalini Maiya.

Three more abroad

MTR has eight restaurants in Bengaluru, and one in Mysuru and Udupi each. The ones in Singapore and Dubai opened in 2015, and the one in Malaysia came two years later.

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Published 18 January 2022, 17:27 IST

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