From Bihar to Bridge Street, Namaste Delhi in Aberdeen is an Indian restaurant with personality.
Its owner, Rajesh Kumar, first came to the city 18 years ago.
He has ambitions of one day becoming a millionaire and his first solo business venture, Namaste Delhi, opened in 2018.
Indian cuisine served in tapas and à la carte styles is at the core of Namaste’s menu.
Live music and traditional decor heightens the experience at the city centre restaurant which takes diners on a cultural and culinary journey to India.
Rajesh often invites guests to the kitchen to see their food being prepared, priding upon treating each of his customers like a guest in his own home.
It’s this openness that Rajesh believes makes his connection with his guests so special.
We talked to Rajesh to find out more about Namaste Delhi.
Tell me about yourself.
I come from Bodh Gaya in Bihar in the north-east of India, which is where the Buddha was said to have gained enlightenment. It’s very popular there, there’s lots of tourists.
I studied for a degree in civil engineering in a university in Jaipur, which is the capital of Rajasthan and also very popular with British tourists.
I later came to Aberdeen with a Master’s Degree in computing in 2003.
It wasn’t until 2018 when I first thought of the concept for Namaste Delhi.
In India, I was always travelling to find authentic food to eat. In the restaurant, we eat the same food as what our customers receive – there’s no difference between the two.
I’m also married to an Italian woman called Stefania. I have two kids: one is nine-years-old and the other one is three-years-old. They’re very good with English and Italian but they suffer with my language!
Did you learn a lot about cooking from your family in India?
When I was in houses of residence for college, we had 4,000 people staying on the campus in total.
There was a canteen there and for one year I helped to source ingredients for a lot of the dishes.
This allowed me to watch how cooking worked on such a large scale and this was also the time when I started to learn about biryani and other Indian cooking elements.
It wasn’t until I was working in Delhi later on, when my mum wasn’t there to cook anymore, that I had to learn and experiment myself.
From then on, I started getting a lot of good feedback and comments from people for my cooking, which I really enjoyed hearing.
It’s a nice feeling when you see that people are enjoying your food. When I moved to the UK, it was also great to introduce people to Indian food who might not have known a lot about it before.
However, with Namaste Delhi, I’m not a commercial cook. I couldn’t perform the way experienced chefs perform – I think I’d end up having a panic attack!
Why did you want to open your own restaurant?
I wanted to invest. It’s been my ambition for a long time to become a millionaire, so I want to do big things.
Mainly though, I wanted people in the north-east to come and enjoy Indian cuisine. I also wanted to bring cultural elements into the restaurant experience as well like music, which is really important for me.
How did you cope during the pandemic?
With takeaway, it was a struggle to begin with but we had to switch to this new way of working.
There has been a lot of support from the government.
It really helped as I didn’t have to stress about the rent, the mortgage and my own job. It gave me security.
Now, we’re enjoying having people back in the restaurant again, but our customers were also very loyal during the pandemic.
A lot customers who would usually come in ordered online during the pandemic which was great to see. Some of them also phoned to say that they were happy to pay full prices and not the special offers we had on which was also really supportive.
What’s special about Namaste Delhi?
The food, the service and the way we look after our customers. We believe our style of cooking is different from other Indian restaurants in Aberdeen.
We prepare a lot of our spices and marinades before service so that they all have time to infuse into our meats so it brings out the taste so much more.
That’s why a lot of Indian food tends to be tastier the next day, because there’s been more time for all the spices to get into the meats.
I also think our connection with our customers is special. We bring them into the kitchen so that they can see the place for themselves instead of it being closed off.
They know what’s going into the food and how everything is being prepared, we like that openness.
What’s some of your most popular offerings?
The tapas concept is quite successful here. We do tapas style dishes with Indian cuisine as well as à la carte. I think people like the choice they can have with both, whether they want to share smaller dishes or have larger individual dishes.
What’s been some of the main highlights you’ve had so far?
We’ve had cooking classes in the restaurant which have gone down really well. We started off using vouchers on itison but now we’re able to tailor these offers to our own website.
We also hosted a large buffet for a group of people who came up from London for a trip which was great.
I’d say that 50% of the people that come to the restaurant are tourists from England which is good because it means that people are moving around and spending money across the country.
We’ve also brought in a piano to the restaurant to encourage more people to come out and enjoy the dining experience.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I think it would be talking to customers and seeing that they’re enjoying their evening. The way I see it is that everyone in the restaurant should be treated as if I’m inviting them to my own home.
Everything is nice, clean and tidy for people to enjoy their experience in a homely environment and they look forward to coming back again soon because they know they’ll be looked after in the restaurant. That’s the best feeling you can have. It’s also brilliant when people get to know you more and hear your stories.
Namaste Delhi is open for indoor dining and takeaways, for more information, visit their website.