After nine months getting the premises looking just right, Parmjit Sandhu is delighted to open the Virsa Indian Restaurant at The Grange retail centre on the southern outskirts of Warkworth.
Becoming a restaurant owner represents a new chapter for Sandhu, whose previous businesses have included running taxis and growing orchids for export to Japan.
Nevertheless, he’s always maintained a keen interest in food.
“I can’t cook, but I can taste and tell what is good,” he says.
The head chef at Virsa is Sohan Noutiyal.
Noutiyal comes from Gadwal in southern India, a city famous for its chefs, and began learning the trade from the age of 15.
Sandhu says the long apprenticeship, including experience in a five-star hotel, has given Noutiyal a deep appreciation for the finer points of cooking, what ingredients work well together and what not only tastes great but is also healthy to eat.
Sandhu comes from Punjab and says the Virsa menu will feature some Punjabi cuisine, with its distinctive Middle Eastern influences, along with traditional Indian favourites such as chicken tikka masala and butter chicken.
At the same time, Sandhu is not pedantic about sticking strictly to traditional Indian recipes, recognising that adjustments need to be made to accommodate New Zealand tastes.
Meanwhile, Sandhu wants Virsa to offer more than just good food.
He thinks Indian restaurants in New Zealand fall down a little when it comes to service, and he is determined to make this area one of Virsa’s strong points, with a big emphasis on being attentive to customers’ needs.
He says one of the most important things is forming a bond with people.
“We want a place where people can sit and talk and enjoy their food and relax,” he says.