Ever since opening its doors five years ago, South Woodford’s Grand Trunk Road has been wowing foodies near and far with its award-winning Indian cuisine. And now it’s raising the bar even higher with a new head chef with Michelin-star experience.We speak to owner Rajesh Suri to find out more

Even if you’ve never set foot inside Grand Trunk Road (and trust us, you really, really should) you may well recognise Rajesh Suri, its charming and debonair owner. For many years he had a place at the Chef’s Table on MasterChef: The Professionals, being a leading authority on Indian fine dining having worked and managed some of the country’s most prestigious establishments.

When Rajesh finally decided to go it alone back in 2016, industry insiders predicted that whatever form his new venture took, it was sure to make people sit up and take notice. Having settled on an unprepossessing site on the High Road in South Woodford, Rajesh quickly worked his magic, transforming the small space into a chic and upscale eatery, with both the food and decor drawing inspiration from the ancient trade route after which the restaurant is named Grand Trunk Road immediately won itself rave reviews and a soaring reputation among locals and out of towners alike. Soon the awards and accolades were rolling in, and at this juncture it would be tempting to say that the rest is history. Except history was in the making with the arrival of the coronavirus, and quickly Rajesh’s well-oiled machine came to a grinding halt, along with the rest of the hospitality industry. ‘Of course, nobody was expecting a full-on lockdown experience,’ offers a pensive.

Food & Drink

Rajesh, recalling the gathering storm of the pandemic early last year. ‘It was very tough initially, but with the support of my fantastic team and family we managed to sustain our business.’

Within weeks of the first lockdown GTR, as it’s affectionately known, was offering a comprehensive takeaway service, which proved extremely popular. ‘It allowed people to enjoy our food, despite being shut indoors,’ explains Rajesh. ‘I think everyone desperately needed something to lift the spirits, and a delivery of our dishes helped do that.’

Having been in the hospitality industry for so many years, Rajesh thought he was a seasoned pro when it came to handing tough situations, but admits Covid knocked him for six. ‘It was the most difficult set of circumstances I’ve ever encountered and I, along with most of the population I would imagine, found it an incredibly stressful time,’ he says. ‘Specifically, from a restaurateur’s perspective, it was the constant changing and updating of restrictions that ratcheted things up to the next level. We had to work twice as hard just to keep up.’

But keep up Rajesh and the team did, something he partly attributes
to maintaining a positive mindset, which has grown even greater in positivity of late thanks to the easing of restrictions. ‘We’ve been very fortunate as we’ve been very busy,’ Rajesh attests. ‘First with the takeaways and more latterly with new customers who’ve discovered us on social media and want to see for themselves what all the fuss is about. We’ve even been receiving larger group bookings which is a great sign for the future and returning to a more ‘normal’ way of doing things.’

Another exciting development for GTR is that it very recently got itself a new head chef in the form of Chef Arup Dasgupta. ‘We are so proud and excited to welcome him into the fold,’ enthuses Rajesh. His varied and extensive experience includes heading up Michelin starred eateries on the French Riveria to the very best London hotels such as The Lalit’s pan Indian restaurant Baluchi – he’s a very welcome addition to the team.’

‘Delicious things come to those who wait’

Evidently, six amazing chefs were in the running for the top job at GTR, but what gave Chef Arup the advantage was the fact that he is highly proficient in French cooking as well as classical Indian cuisine. ‘This gives his work a delicious new dimension – an imaginative, contemporary twist’ Rajesh reveals. ‘His style is consistently impressive, concise and always rich with fresh ingredients and local produce wherever possible. And not only is he passionate about delivering wonderful food, he also understands customer needs, making him the perfect fit for us.’

Not that Rajesh is ready to reveal Chef Arup’s exact plans for the GTR menu. ‘Delicious things come to those who wait,’ he says with a mischievous grin. What he will tell us, however, is a brand new 6-8 course tasting menu will soon be in the offering, as well as daily specials and new chutneys, all of which poor Rajesh has to taste test. ‘Yes, it’s true, I am the guinea pig of the Grand Trunk Road kitchen, and am usually the first to try,’ he says with mock weariness, before quickly adding: ‘It’s definitely one of the benefits of being the owner and a full-on foodie. Also, having been on MasterChef:

The Professionals for six years giving my comments during the Chef’s Table episodes, I’m not shy about letting people know what I think.’

When it comes to what finally goes on the menu, Rajesh admits it’s a team decision. ‘Whether it’s new dishes, wines or cocktails, an item is only added once it’s been sampled by all our senior players and even some of our regular diners. The decision is made only once every point of view has been heard.’

It’s this attention to detail that recently bagged GTR yet another gong (Rajesh’s sideboard must be heaving), the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice award to be precise, which Rajesh views as: ‘A wonderful sign of things to come.’ For there can be little doubt that GTR is back with a resounding bang, with a new head chef, new tasting menu and lots of new dishes to enjoy.

But one thing stays the same, and that’s the calm, assured presence of Rajesh, whose knowledge of what makes a first class restaurant and the finest Indian cuisine remains unparalleled.

Grand Trunk Road is located in South Woodford

For reservations call 020 8505 1965, 07483446818 or visit https://www.gtrrestaurant.co.uk/