With almost three decades of experience under his belt, Javier Carmona has now brought a fresh take on Indian food with his new venue, Royal G. Carmona served as executive chef of the Mouthful Group, which included Mexico, Orleans and Beirut, proving his expertise at world cuisine.
Royal G is one of seven new eateries opening at Auckland’s Eastridge Mall as part of its new dining precinct, Eateries at Eastridge. Carmona got involved while looking for a new site for a fine-dining venture, which was managed by the same landlord.
“My first reaction was no,” he admitted. “But then I thought about it, and I’ve had this idea for a couple of years, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to implement it.”
Now in its sixth week, Royal G and the Eastridge complex have both been successful.
“Nights are really good,” he said. “People have come on board and it’s always busy – we’re providing an alternative to Mission Bay, which has the perception of being a bit touristy. This set-up offers a flexible dining environment.”
Carmona designed the fit-out himself, which he admits is heavily influenced by the films of Wes Anderson.
“The menu board is inspired by The Grand Budapest Hotel, and even the uniforms we wear have a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe,” Carmona said. “I was trying to create something a little bit whimsical.”
As for the food, Carmona aimed to take the standard perception of Indian food and turn it on its head.
“That’s what we’re trying to get at with ‘not your mum’s Indian’ – we want to change the perception of Indian cuisine, move away from the same five or six curries that you find on every Indian takeaway menu in the country.”
The menu includes dishes like Yesterday’s Lamb Curry (fresh turmeric, spiced peanuts, burnt chard and cultured garlic, playing on the idea that curry tastes better the next day), Sourdough Samosa (fenugreek goat shoulder, bitter melon and Indian pale ale ketchup) and Parsi Eggplant (black dahl, smoked yoghurt, crisp chickpea, raw cauliflower and pomegranate seed). The food is prepared on a series of small grills over cast-iron gas burners – hardly a conventional kitchen.
While Royal G has enjoyed plenty of compliments for the food, the response from the Indian community has been particularly positive. The Chit Chaat In A Bag has been a hit with older eaters, something which surprised Carmona. The dish consists of potato strings, Maharajan beef, puffed rice, green chutney and peanut, served in a crisp packet – “I knew the way we served it would be popular with younger people, but I wasn’t expecting older people to take to it as well as they have.”
In keeping with Carmona’s plans to invert typical Indian food, he also sought to make changes to how the food itself was served.
“We thought we’d try for a fresh approach, and not necessarily hire someone with years of hospo experience under their belt,” he said. “We were trying to move away from the ‘right’ way of doing front of house, and bring in a casual, street food vibe. It didn’t really work out, but that was a learning experience for us.”
As for the name, Carmona admits that Royal G doesn’t really mean anything. The use of the word ‘Royal’ is widespread in Indian culture – from sports teams like Royal Challengers Bangalore to innumerable food and beverage products, while “ji” is an honorific suffix used in languages across the Indian subcontinent.
“We just put the two together.”