KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 ― For fans of authentic North Indian biryani rice, the name “Fierce Curry House” is almost certainly a familiar one. With a newly-opened second outlet, cleverly called “Fiercer”, the marketing-savvy curry house is set to get bigger, better, and yes, fiercer.
Here’s a question that must surely be on many fans’ minds (it’s on mine, certainly): Why the name Fierce Curry House? Why “fierce”? Surely it’s not a nod to the admittedly heavy competition?
When I ask Herukh T. Jethwani, the man behind the brand, he laughs and says the name came from a family joke. “Whenever my father had some really spicy curry, he’d say ‘Wah! This is so fierce!’ In fact, everything that was really spectacular for my father’s generation was fierce, so I thought that was an apt name.”
Herukh is no stranger to really spicy curries. In the 1980s, his father used to run his law firm above Bangles, then considered the only Indian fine dining restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. His father bought over Bangles in 1986 and the restaurant continued to be in the family till it closed in 2010.
“Bangles was the oldest North Indian restaurant in town with over 50 years of history,” he says, “but eventually we decided it was time to give it a rest before reopening it at a later date with a fresher look. In the interim, we looked for other opportunities, which turned out to be Fierce Curry House.”
Before Herukh opened Fierce Curry House, he had already bought over a (mixed rice) shop in Bangsar and kept the cook on board to run the place while he tweaked the recipe for his now famous biryani.
“We worked at developing our biryani rice recipe, which is based on our aunt’s recipe from Hyderabad. It was my first time stepping into the kitchen to cook and experiment, despite growing up with Bangles as part of the family business. I had studied hotel and restaurant management both locally and in France, but it was more pastry art, and less curries!”
The resultant Hyderabadi dhum biryani is distinguished from the rest in the market by its use of 29 key ingredients. Extra-long grain pure Basmati rice is used, at the cost of 11 to 12 times the price of normal rice used for biryani.
“We use the best meats available too, be it high-quality mutton or boneless chicken thighs. The biryani is layered – rice, meat, garnish, then rice and garnish again – before being cooked for hours. In fact, the preparation starts the night before and the actual cooking starts at 7am in order to be ready to serve the lunch crowds at noon.”
Marketing and social media play a strong role in building the Fierce Curry House brand. Herukh acknowledges their aggressive campaign in going after customers and converting them.
“Many restaurants have static Facebook pages. For us, we see it as an active platform for us to engage our customers. Customers often tag their friends and themselves in photographs posted on our Facebook page, which is great for promotion.”
Offline, Herukh came up with ‘The Biryani + Banana Leaf Wall of Fame’ in the restaurant where pictures of customers enjoying their food are shared. “When these customers return, they and their friends can have fun trying to spot themselves!”
The hard work in connecting with their customers and fans certainly paid off when Fierce Curry House was voted the Best Indian Restaurant at this year’s Time Out KL Food Awards. Given this accomplishment, how is the new outlet “fiercer”?
“All the signature dishes from Fierce Curry House are here at Fiercer,” he says, “and there will be new items available only at Fiercer such as a special scallop shish kebab.”
There is also a bar serving beer and 10 signature cocktails, including one made from mango lassi. Herukh even hopes to introduce a champagne brunch by end of January.
“What we want to do here is create a neutral place for diners to come for a nice Indian meal, but without having to sit outside, exposed to the elements and heat.”
He adds, “I don’t like themed restaurants; I prefer something more neutral in terms of the décor and the music. You know you are here to have Indian food; you don’t need the place decked out like the Taj Mahal to enjoy yourself.”
Entry-level outlets will be modelled after Fierce Curry House while Fiercer will be the basis for more upmarket yet still casual restaurants. A third category will be fine dining which may see the return of the original Bangles brand.
“We definitely plan on opening more outlets but we don’t want to over-expand either. One of the reasons why Fierce Curry House has been successful is that the owner is always on the floor. If we open too many outlets too quickly, we may spread ourselves too thin.”
Right now, the sky seems to be the limit for Herukh and his “fierce” ambitions.
Fierce Curry House
16, Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar, KL
Open daily 10:30am – 10:30pm
D1-G3-5, Publika Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Solaris Dutamas, KL
Open Mon-Thu 11am-11pm; Fri & Sat 11am-1am
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 10, 2014