Is Casual Chic The New Fine Dine?

Top restaurants are swapping posh settings, branded cutlery and kingly service for edgy and entertaining food. And Indians are loving it!

Annabelle D’Costa

Food today is scripting a whole new story. Walk into any urban, upmarket, premium dining restaurant and you’ll find the menu is edgy, the décor quirky and the platter, a delicious mix of homey recipes and global flavours. A cultural potpourri served with impeccable style and attention to detail. Across urban India, top chefs are taking a leaf out of grandmom’s cookbooks and travelling to the hinterlands in search of local ingredients that were otherwise branded too desi for a premium-dining setting. If Spaghetti tossed in mustard oil was considered culinary sacrilege until a few years ago, today, it is experimentation. And it’s winning hearts.  

Beer Battered Flatbread at London Taxi Gastropub, Mumbai

As a rising wave of urban millennial foodies redefine our dining culture, chefs and restaurant owners are embracing new ideas and freely experimenting with food. They’re shedding uppity labels, pushing the frontiers of taste and technique, taking inspiration from different cultures and culinary traditions and creating a comfortable, non-formal aura around an elevated dining experience. Back in the day, fine-dining purists may have balked at the mention of a blue cheese naan, but this creation by chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, one of the pioneers of the trend, is also one of the most widely loved (and copied) dish. From masala chai popsicles and jalebi caviar to dal chawal arancini—served in quirky pottery or marble platters, made with fresh and local ingredients—diners are choosing a casually luxurious approach to food over courtly service and posh ambience, the hallmark of fine dining. It is the era of the premium casual.  

Today, upscale Indian restaurants have invaded lavish spaces by impersonating influences from fine dining restaurants and serving it with a comfortable sophistication. Agreed, there’s something special about a luxurious dinner or lazy lunch at a fine dining restaurant. But when you have a premium space with a youthful energy that serves great food in a setting that matches your mood and a global trend, who's complaining!  

What makes premium dining a more exciting space today? Anoothi Vishal, author of Mrs LC's Table and on the jury of the Living Foodz Epicurean Guild Award says that people now look forward to an element of familiarity offered by casual dining, yet an upscale approach which fine dining spaces have to offer. And that’s where premium dining fits in. “Millennials prefer premium casual over fine dining, which seems to be on its way out,” she adds. Hemamalini Maiya, co-director of Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, believes that premium spaces offer value for money. “Premium dining spaces usually appeal to consumers who want to engage in a unique dining experience which feels worthy of the cost.” 

Clearly, the boundaries between casual and fine dining are blurring. Restaurant owners are consciously branding themselves as premium casual to avoid the impression of being fine, steep and stiff. Premium dining offers a rapid fine dining experience to customers who are open to being wowed by the latest global trends and techniques, but don’t have a whole afternoon or evening to spend at a restaurant. 

Magandeep Singh, a wine sommelier and author of The Indian Spirit says, “These restaurants generally tend to offer food priced anyway between INR 1,200/- to INR 2,000/- for one (without alcohol), mid-way between the prices of casual and fine-dining restaurants. “The idea here, is to attract customers with prices at par with casual dining and services close to that of fine dine restaurants, thereby offering a premium yet affordable dining experience,” he adds. 

Asian quiche at Hong Kong Club, Delhi 

So, who’s making the cut? Restaurants with an evolved design sensibility, enriched service styles and menus offering exotic foods made with authentic ingredients are clear winners. “Spaces that are open to adapt and reinvent, will stay ahead of the curve,” says Singh. Vishal adds that location plays a key role. It’s also important that owners engage with customers and understand their patrons—of all ages. 

More Indians are eating out today than ever before. From family dining options to fast food, we’re everywhere. But the trendiest space is powered by the young Turks—the globe-trotting, life-loving, irreverent young Indian who doesn’t care much for labels. It’s experiences one seeks—of local cultures, regional and global foods, of new tastes and stories. Served with style. 


Editor’s Pick

Recipes of the Day

Related Stories

To feed your hunger for more