The House of India has much to celebrate — not only was it recently able to renovate and expand, it is also looking forward to marking 17 years of thriving business. In this period of growth and success, owners Geri Rodrigues and Ashok Uppal take a trip down memory lane in this special celebratory supplement.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28: The owners of Bermuda’s premier Indian restaurant are used to catering to a full house.
It was with much delight, both for them and Bermuda’s many curry fanatics, that the House of India has been able to renovate and expand.
What began as a small takeaway restaurant in 1995, selling Indian movies and groceries on the side, is today a fully-fledged eat-in restaurant and takeaway, spread across three shop units on Park View Plaza.
Its dedicated owners, husband and wife Geri Rodrigues and Ashok Uppal, put much of the success of this thriving business down to the friendly, professional staff and a multitude of authentic recipes from regions all over India.
The House of India blends the rich, aromatic ingredients of the north, where Garam Masala reigns, and the fresh and vibrant vegetarian dishes of Chennai in the south.
Ashok never cuts corners when it comes to the quality of food in his restaurant.
“I have visited many Indian restaurants in New York and London and elsewhere and they don’t use all the right ingredients,” he told us.
“With the basic sauces, they don’t put in the hidden ingredients, such as rose petals as part of the garam masala, which we roast and grind into the sauce.
“Our garam masala has about 20-25 ingredients but if you buy it ready made in a jar there are only three ingredients — turmeric, cumin and coriander.
“No cinnamon stick, black cardamom, green cardamom, bay leaves, rose petals and the rest of the ingredients we include.
“The Garam Masala makes a huge difference to the taste of some of our dishes.
“The base sauces can take up to eight hours to make and the meats are marinated for up to three days so there is a lot of prep work. That’s what makes the taste of our food stand out.
“We have customers who come back from vacation and come straight to House of India from the airport.”
It helps that the food is cooked by Indians.
Bermudians are hired to help with catering events, bar work and dishwashing but each member of the chef’s brigade has been handpicked from India by Ashok. “I only bring the best kitchen staff to work here — we are a family and work as a team.
“That’s how I find them, in India — and something clicks. I have a really great staff and they have great ideas; they are all professionals.”
When it opened its doors on July 28, 1995, the House of India hit the ground running and soon established itself as one of the island’s best-loved eateries.
Punjab-born Ashok had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant and after completing his hotel management course in Delhi, started work in the city.
His career in cuisine has taken him to many far-flung parts of the world including Baghdad (during the first Iraq War), oil rigs in Abu Dhabi, and spells on the Carnival Cruise and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
He moved to Bermuda in 1992 and worked in a couple of bakeries before meeting his wife and business partner-to-be.
British-born Geri Rodrigues was the owner of House of Flowers and had worked in floristry for 35 years.
She admits that she had never even tasted Indian food before she met Ashok. That was soon to change.
Not a woman to get involved in a project she did not understand, Geri immersed herself in Indian cookbooks and surprised her husband one evening by making him a 10-course Indian meal.
The household tradition stuck.
“When we first met, I started cooking Indian food for him at home,” she recalls.
“I don’t like hot food but once you get into the cuisine you realize it’s not all spicy hot — there is more intricate flavouring with the different spices.
“We had these parties at home, first it was just family get-togethers, then friends started coming along, then friends of friends and it just kind of grew from there.
“When we were going to someone’s house they would ask us to bring Indian food. We both wanted a change and so on the July 18, 1995, we decided to open the restaurant.
“We just did a takeout to start because there was another Indian restaurant here, the Bombay Bicycle Club, and we didn’t know if there would be enough business.”
One of Geri’s drivers from the flower business, James Douglas, informed her about a new building at Plaza Pace on North Street owned by Hedley Stephenson and it was perfect for what they needed.
This has been their home ever since.
Any concerns about attracting business were soon quelled as word got around about the new place on the block.
“People kept asking us to have tables and to make it bigger,” explains Geri.
“We got off to a great start and we never looked back, but it was new territory.
“When you open a new business in Bermuda, after a while people can dissipate and go elsewhere.
“We took the groceries out and got four tables and they were always full.
“The menu has only been extended a little bit over time — there has always been a great selection.”
In 1998, the space next to the takeaway became available and so Geri and Ashok decided it was time to grow.
The entire kitchen and takeaway area was moved over to the far side and the middle section was renovated to house a full, eat-in restaurant.
It could hold up to 50 people and a lunchtime buffet became available.
As the years went by, the restaurant continued to attract more than enough diners.
Even though business slowed a little during the initial credit crunch, Geri and Ashok were aware that there was room for even further expansion.
That opportunity finally came late last year when they decided to use a third space on Park View Plaza to create a second dining area to cater for the overflow from their existing restaurant.
They were then able to encompass a full bar, with their own specialty cocktails.
The new room has made it more convenient to hold private parties and the House of India can now seat up to 80 diners on any given night.
“Since we opened in January last year we have had many parties here,” Ashok says.
“Because we have closed in the patio, people can have their own private buffets there also.”
One thing that both owners are incredibly proud of is that their restaurant attracts people from all corners of Bermuda.
“It’s like a meeting place of different people,” smiles Ashok.
“Sir John Swan comes here all the time; the former Deputy Governor (Tim Gurney) came regularly.
“All sorts of people come.”
Geri adds: “People come from all walks of life — the food transcends the island’s differences.”