Adi Modi: Obituary


July 10, 2011

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Adi Modi, who died on June 27 aged 60, was general manager for more than 25 years of the Bombay Brasserie in London, Britain’s first upmarket Indian restaurant.

Published in the Telegraph UK

A soft-spoken, genial man, Modi’s aim was to lift curry from the all-too-familiar British “Vindaloo” and “Madras” to the ranks of haute cuisine, and succeeded in attracting a clientele that included Indians and Hollywood celebrities as well as British diners.

In the early 1990s Tom Cruise used the Bombay Brasserie as a “takeaway”, buying dinner to carry aboard his private jet before flying back to the United States; his favoured dishes were Prawn Tandoori and Chicken Masala. Goldie Hawn and her partner, Kurt Russell, also patronised the restaurant, favouring Chicken Tikka, Sev Puri and Goan Prawn Curry; while Woody Allen dropped by when in London for Chicken Tandoori and Paratha.

Modi kept a meticulous record of all these visits. When Michael Winner came in May 2007 Modi showed him the red reservations book, which had “VVIP” next to the food critic’s name, and recorded that Winner had “first dined [here] on Sunday March 27, 1983, at 7.45pm”.

Today, Britain has a multi-billion-pound Indian food industry with many exclusive restaurants, but Modi’s Bombay Brasserie is recognised as being the first of its kind.

Adi Modi arrived in London in March 1982 after being abruptly shifted from his post running the five-star Taj Sheba in North Yemen by his employer, Ajit Kerkar, chairman of the Taj Hotel group in India. Modi’s mission was to open a top Indian restaurant in part of the premises of the newly acquired Baileys Hotel, near Gloucester Road underground station.

On December 10 1982 — an auspicious date recommended by an astrologer — he opened the Bombay Brasserie, with decor that was reminiscent of the days of the Raj.

Disregarding the then fashionable nouvelle cuisine and fusion food, Modi deployed a succession of talented chefs to focus on “authentic regional dishes”. With the help of “Aunty Mascarhenas”, an expert in Goan cuisine, he introduced Goan Fish Curry, Crab Goa Style, Chicken Xacuti, Lobster Peri Peri and Chicken Cafreal.

His early starters included Clam Masala, Sev Batata Puri and Bombay Tiffin (Dhokla, Patra and Khandvi); main courses included Tandoori from the North-West Frontier, Parsee food such as whole Pomfret in Patra Ni Machi (steamed in banana leaf), and Salli Boti (lamb in apricots with straw potatoes). He also had Chicken Liver Paté with Spices and Quail, a royal shikar (hunting) dish. Later, Kerala, Rajasthani, Chettinad and Malabari recipes appeared on the menu. Experts supervised the wine list.

Among those who also adopted the Bombay Brasserie were the chef Loyd Grossman; the comedian Kenny Everett; and Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, who had been born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar and, like Modi, was a Parsee who had grown up in Bombay.

The author VS Naipaul became a regular and hosted his wedding luncheon at the restaurant when he married Nadira Alvi in 1996.

Adi Kekobad Modi was born in Bombay on September 13 1950 into a prosperous Parsee family. While still at a local catering college, he was taken on as a trainee by the Bombay Taj, where one of his earliest tasks was to assist in the preparation of a banquet for the Shah of Iran.

His first major charge was running The Rendezvous, the Taj’s fashionable rooftop French restaurant in Bombay.

In 1999 Modi started another Taj restaurant, Quilon, in Buckingham Gate, specialising in south Indian food. He became a director of Taj International Hotels’ restaurant division, and retired in 2008.

Modi himself adored food. Occasionally he would attempt to eat frugally, but would then confide to Udit Sarkhel — his executive chef at the Bombay Brasserie from 1988 to 1997 — that “this is torture”, and persuade Sarkhel to cook him “some proper rich food”.

Adi Modi met his wife, Neeta Popat, a Gujarati Hindu, when she was working in reception at Baileys Hotel, and they married in 1983. She survives him.