The spice of life: a talk with Sanjay Anand MBE
The renowned royal caterer and restaurateur talks being inspired by his roots and launching two fine-dining venues during lockdown
From catering for the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace to launching two new fine-dining restaurants in May and June this year – as well as the prospect of his first international venture on the cards for early 2022 – it is no wonder Sanjay Anand MBE is in a celebratory mood.
The renowned caterer and restaurateur started his career more than 40 years ago by founding a modest restaurant in the West London suburb of Southall, inspired by his father and grandfather’s culinary success in Nairobi, where he was born. That restaurant is still a local favourite, supported by a counter at Harrods in 2005 and sister- restaurant in Heathrow’s Sheraton Skyline Hotel established in 2014.
Meanwhile, Anand has racked up awards for his exquisite outdoor events catering – famous clients include 10 Downing Street and Prince Charles, for whom Anand and his family- run business have become regular provisioners. Now, he has launched his most high-end restaurants yet – Madhu’s Mayfair at the prestigious Dilly Hotel (a space once overseen by chef Marco Pierre White), and Madhu’s at The Grove, Hertfordshire.
Anand’s menus are as exceptional as they are romantic. His Punjabi-style Indian cuisine has a Kenyan twist that remains true to his grandfather’s original recipes. A true family affair, Madhu’s of Mayfair’s creative chef is Anand’s sister Poonam Ball, while the venue’s mastermind business director is his son, Arjun.
Here, Anand shares the family history that inspires his pioneering approach to Punjabi cuisine, and how his new ventures are inspiring the next generation of his brand.
Sanjay, tell us about opening Madhu’s of Mayfair.
We had always wanted to open a restaurant in central London. When the world came to a standstill, we had the time to really plan and simply could not refuse these two opportunities – The Dilly and The Grove.
The Dilly is a stunning location, it has an incredible, palatial feel that knocked my socks off. We invested a lot to transform the dining room into something that really made a statement – even the playlist is bespoke, by the DJ of Buddha Bar Marrakech.
My sister, Poonam created the menu, which enhances our signature dishes to a level comparable to any Michelin Star restaurant. Finally, I hand picked our entire team, because for any restaurant to make a statement, it’s all about the people looking after our guests.
How does The Grove compare?
The clientele at The Grove is amazing. There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t have a footballer or celebrity dining there. Two weeks ago, [actor] Michael Douglas dined there. It appeals to people who want to get away from central London but still experience a high level of fine dining – the expectation of our clients is enormous and we are determined to exceed them.
How do your menus set you apart from others?
We are unique because of our family’s roots. In the 1930s, my granddad moved from Kashmir, India to Nairobi, Kenya, to start his business, and developed something of an empire.
In Nairobi, the quality of meat and fresh produce was far better than the produce of India – barring the spices, of course, which are always best from India! With this Kenyan influence, my granddad’s traditional Kashmiri recipes became renowned. In fact, we still use his secret garam masala recipe today.
Do you have a favourite signature dish?
One of my favourite meals is Nyamah Choma, because it reflects my roots. My father and I were both born in Nairobi, and I was only 10 when we came to the UK. The name Nyamah Choma is Swahili for ‘barbecued meat’. This dish is made of lamb strips cooked on a Japanese charcoal grill, which sounds simple, but it’s an experience you can’t describe until you’ve tasted it.
How does family inspire you?
I inherited my entrepreneurial genes from my grandfather. He was nicknamed Madhu, and was a very famous chef in Nairobi. I was inspired by him to start my company, Madhu’s Brilliant, in 1980 aged 17 – I approached 21 different banks before the State Bank of India finally agreed to give me a loan.
I was willing to work all hours of the day, and I had my mum in the kitchen (although my dad was a master chef, my mum’s cooking was truly amazing) and my grandfather’s original recipes, so I was confident and determined to succeed.
You now work side by side with your son, Arjun.
Arjun is the fourth generation and has that same determination to work hard. He practically runs the business, and his energy and passion are incredible – it inspires everyone. Without that kind of commitment, no business can ever compete at the top end.
How does it feel to be the Prince of Wales’ caterer of choice?
It is an amazing feeling. On three occasions – twice at Buckingham Palace and once at Windsor Castle – I was lucky enough to not only be the caterer, but also be a guest. Prince Charles was no more than 18ft away from me, giving his speech in the palace state rooms, and then we sat down to eat – it gives you goosebumps.
You think, ‘is this really happening?’ To have started out 40 years ago with a big loan hanging over my head to be sitting in Buckingham Palace enjoying my grandfather’s recipes. It’s an incredible journey. I feel blessed to be able to tell this story. I’m a very happy man indeed.
What’s next for you?
Madhu’s is opening our first international restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey. Our plan is to open a 250-seater restaurant at Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul and, touch wood, we will be opening in early March 2022.