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September 3, 2012
Das gets to grips with the seafood at Guchhi

The latest instalment of the 5pm blog’s Chewin’ the Fat series features Vishant Das who, along with fellow chef Sachin Danola, cooks at Guchhi Indian seafood restaurant in Leith.

As well as classic biryanis; chicken kormas and lamb rogan josh dishes, Guchhi serves seafood specialities such as scallops baked in the shell with Bombay duck sauce; tandoori lobster and a seafood platter with Indian condiments.

The cocktail list also strays rewardingly from the well beaten path. Fancy a Hindi punch? That’s Havana 7, Martell VS, lime and bitters lengthened with tonic.

If the thought of shellfish stew or cumin-spiced haddock bhajis appeals then you may want to book in for the Guchhi’s 5pm tapas offer. Running this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it costs £15.95 per person for all you can eat tapas.

If four or more people book, then the restaurant will throw in a complimentary bottle of house wine. To book in and see the deal, use the check availability function at the top left hand of Guchhi’s 5pm page.

How did you get started as a chef?

Das: I’ve liked cooking since I was a child. I’d help my Mum out, even though I’m not sure she wanted any help. That led to me being keen to follow a career as a chef. I did a hotel management course near Delhi and specialised in cooking. All the time, I was cooking at home and for friends. My professional career as a chef started with the Grand Hyatt in New Delhi.

You also worked in Goa?

Das: Yes, I did a stint at the Hyatt in Goa. There is lots of street food there and I became really interested in that. The street food guys there do a lot of seafood dishes. In the UK, it sometimes seems as though every second restaurant is a pub. In Goa, it was as though every second place was a street seafood business.

That planted a seed in my mind. I thought that if I ever got the chance then I would open a restaurant that combined seafood with Indian styles of cooking.

When did you start cooking in the UK?

Das: Loch Fyne restaurants were interviewing in India for chefs to come and work in their 52 restaurants in the UK. I applied, was accepted and started working in the Winchester branch. That was about nine years ago. I was with the company for nearly seven and a half years. Within a year, I was head chef at the branch in Seven Oaks and then worked at the Loch Fyne restaurants in Milton Keynes, Leeds, York and finally Edinburgh.

Was it a culinary culture shock cooking here?

Das: Not really. In India, I’d been working for big, international hotel chains which had international menus. Moving here to cook seafood wasn’t a big upheaval.

I’m pretty sure that you are the only Indian seafood restaurant in Edinburgh (if not the whole of Scotland?). What made you think it would work?

Das: When I was at Loch Fyne, I would do a seafood curry day every Thursday. I could see that people, liked that and it made me a lot more comfortable about opening my own place.

Did your customers need much encouragement?

Das: Perhaps to begin with people were perhaps a little unsure about Indian seafood. Where the restaurant is, in Leith, there are lots of seafood restaurants so people who like seafood tend to come down here anyway. There are six or seven other seafood restaurants here and we offer something a bit different.

At weekends, we’ve done free samples to passers-by to introduce the idea of Indian seafood. That has worked for us. We also do tapas portions so people can try one of the seafood dishes without worrying about spending much. Once they have tried the dishes, the usually come back.

Which are the most popular dishes?

Das: We sell a lot of mussels. That might be Kerala-style mussels with an aromatic ginger and coconut sauce or perhaps cooked with a light, saffron, cream and spice stock. We also serve a tandoori crab which is very popular. The tandoori smoked mackerel is also a hit. We get the fresh mackerel in and then smoke them ourselves using our own combination of herbs. We get through some 15-20 mackerel every couple of days.

It’s your night off. What’s cooking?

Das: Dhall. My wife makes very good home-made dhall using lots of different lentils. Generally, I’ll have some chapattis and dhall. That’s my favourite.