C++’s loss was bartending’s gain. Vinod Subba, then a young lad from Darjeeling, gave up a career in information technology to join a restaurant in the pantry. From there, he moved to the front of the restaurant as a steward and then slowly taught himself to be the boss behind the bar. Six years down the line, with names such as Laidback Waters on his resume, he’s now a bartender at Smoke House Grill in Greater Kailash II.
I saw Subba in action at the New Delhi finals of Belvedere Vodka’s bartending competition, and after he won with his Belvedere Smoked Melon Martini, resolved to track him down to try it out in person as part of my pleasurable quest to advise you on where to find good bartenders in New Delhi.
I checked out the scene at Smoke House Grill and was pleasantly surprised to see a number of cocktails moving out to the floor. This is a tribute not just to the increased willingness of the “Delhizen” to experiment with cocktails but also to the growth in bartender quality. When we first began tulleeho.com, a drinks website many moons ago and had just begun bartender-training workshops, I remember approaching a prominent restaurateur in New Delhi and asking him who his bartenders were. He made a sweeping gesture towards his restaurant and claimed that all his staff were bartenders. Bar owners, and hotels, have realized since then that bartending is a specialized skill and should be recognized as such. Liquor brands such as Smirnoff, Bacardi, UB Group and Marie Brizard, too, have chipped in with numerous training programmes and bartending competitions, enabling bartenders to gain global exposure and recognition.
The Martini, when it arrived, was deliciously smooth and is also Subba’s ticket to Hong Kong, where he competes in the Asia-Pacific finals at the end of July.
From Smoke House Grill, on to Arshad at the Taj Palace’s Orient Express. Arshad won the New Delhi leg of the Marie Brizard cocktail competition and was rewarded with a trip to Bordeaux in December, where he stood second in the international bartender meet. The audience there was pleasantly surprised to find high quality bartenders from India.
He’s a New Delhi boy and post high school, joined the hotel industry as an apprentice at the Taj Palace’s banquet department. There, he realized that his true calling was to be behind a bar. He’s truly passionate about bartending and believes that India needs to have a bartender’s association to give bartenders their own voice. His dream is to open a lounge bar in Goa, where he will bartend while he dandles Arshaan, his two-year-old son, on his knee. Visit Orient Express and taste his delicious Ginger Pomegranate Martini while he’s still there.
If Subba fled the software industry, then Shaikh Javed escaped the kitchen. He specialized as a chef during his hotel management days, but was not able to find a good job in the kitchen when he came to New Delhi, so he moved to F&B service in his first job at the Pizza Pizza Express.
He grew so interested in the bar that after a few months of working, his manager told him to take over the bar on Valentine’s Day in 1999. Not a single drink was returned from the floor and there was no looking back for Javed as he then honed his craft relentlessly and joined a string of Delhi’s leading outlets, culminating now as beverage manager at New Delhi’s hip new lounge bar, Ivy, in New Friends Colony.
I asked Javed to make me a Manhattan and his movements were crisp and fluid as he made it. Javed’s dream is to start a bartending school and as he said: “If you can read the student’s mind, you can train him, you need to get down to his level and then raise him from there, rather than talking down to him.” With a philosophy like that, he sounds like a great teacher and we feel New Delhi’s up and coming bartenders are in safe hands with bartenders such as Subba, Arshad and Javed around.
Minakshi Singh contributed to this story
Vikram Achanta is co-founder and CEO of tulleeho.com, a drinks website and a consultancy firm for the liquor industry