The flavourful success of two Indian restaurants in Saint Lucia is a case of sibling rivalry.

Adil Sherwani is a man whose style, passion and focus smack you between the eyes from the moment you meet him. A funky faux-hawk is his signature style; Indian cuisine is his passion and running two of the top five restaurants in Saint Lucia is his focus for what must feel like 25 hours a day, every day.

 

When Chef Adil and his wife, Nady, opened the doors of Spice of India in December 2010, success seemed instantaneous, at least to the casual observer.

The tiny Indian restaurant on the corner of Baywalk Mall in Rodney Bay was beautifully designed, and Sherwani’s food quickly became legend on the local scene for its regional flavours and unusual twists on regular curry house fare. four months into launching their own business for the first time, Adil and Nady found themselves at the top of Tripadvisor’s list of Saint Lucia restaurants, which is where they stayed almost permanently for the next four years. In October 2014, Spice of India became the first Indian restaurant to make the Caribbean top 10 list, and it seemed like nothing could touch their winning formula.

Roll on to 2015, and the opening of the Sherwanis’ second restaurant, Masala Bay, perched on the corner balcony at Capella Marigot Bay’s Marina village. At the outset, Chef Adil might have known that his only competition was himself, but when Masala Bay quickly knocked her older sister off the top spot on the world’s biggest review website, it became obvious that their new restaurant was going to be another culinary tour de force.

Only a year later, Masala Bay and Spice of India have consistently dominated the top three spots, with the new kid on the block receiving glowing reports of its picturesque waterfront location, exquisite service and top notch food.

By no means is Masala Bay a replica of the original, starting with the funky-chic decor, Indian-Asian aesthetic and colourful, recycled pallet-wood feature wall. For a start, the view from the first floor balcony was rather better than that of the Rodney Bay restaurant, overlooking the serene jade water and steep, forested hills of the bay James Michener called “the most beautiful in the Caribbean.”

Then came the culinary twist, because Chef Adil was not planning to simply duplicate Spice Of India’s menu. Inspired by his sub-continental roots, he introduced the Indo-Chinese cuisine called “Hakka” to Saint Lucia for the first time, telling the story of migrant workers who brought their spices and flavours to the north-east Indian region. Chinese people, principally ethnic Hakka from the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Fujian, have lived in West Bengal for almost 250 years, dating back to the time when the city of Kolkata was the capital of the British Empire in India. Their soy sauce, lemon grass and five spice flavours merged with the indigenous cuisine in what sounds like a marriage made in foodie heaven when Chef Adil tells the story, especially when you consider the Caribbean’s proclivity for our own Indo-Chinese culinary heritage. Bringing Hakka to Marigot was an excellent choice, and since opening, Masala Bay has converted legions of local and visiting fans to its sweet, sour, salty, spicy flavours.

So when Spice Of India was finally knocked off its perch as the top restaurant in Saint Lucia, at least according to the oracle of TripAdvisor, it should not have been a surprise that Masala Bay was the competition that gave them the fatal nudge, but Chef Adil was a little shocked. He still seems surprised that Masala has held on to the top spot since then, and gives immediate credit to the team which has worked diligently before and since the opening, learning the ropes and the Sherwanis’ high standards for everything from flowers on the tables to customising dishes for all tastes and heat tolerances.

Chef Govind was Adil’s right hand man at Spice, and he now heads the Marigot team with the same passion for perfection and excellence that his boss exemplifies at every opportunity. There is a palpable sense of pride peppering the conversation: Adil is proud of his team, Govind is proud of their achievements, and every proud smile from every server tells you this is a serious business in an industry that has a reputation for mediocrity, even at the highest levels in Saint Lucia.

The result is a duo of “must-do” restaurants that have attracted loyal fans from around the globe, with guests regularly blown away by the level of service and simply delicious food. Although delighted to share some of the famous names when appropriate, Adil is the soul of discretion when pushed for tidbits of celebrity gossip, but well known regulars include visiting Jamaican music stars like Tanya Stevens and Jah Cure, experienced curry-eating Brits like former PM Sir John Major, and most recently, India’s superstar cricket captain Virat Kohli and his even-more-famous girlfriend and Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, whose dual presence caused quite a stir during the 2016 Caribbean T20 in July. In fact, the Indian team were fed by Chef Adil and the Masala Bay team, who closed the Marigot Bay restaurant to set up camp at the national stadium for the duration of the tournament.

According to his wife and partner, Nady Sherwani, the human resource and business brain of the operation, success is all about being on the same page and looking at everything from the perspective of the customer.

“Is the doormat swept? Are the windows clean? What is the first impression we give our guests? This what we expect [our team to keep in mind] every day. We also make sure to get input and feedback from all our staff, because the decisions we make affect everyone.”

Nady was M.I.A in Miami at the time of my interview with Chef Adil, awaiting the arrival of the couple’s first baby, while the soon-to-be first time father was wistfully fretting about them back on the rock. Little Zack was born in on June 5, to the elation of his parents, and within days was sporting his own tiny faux-hawk on Facebook posts by his proud dad.

“Life has changed a lot since the arrival of my son. None of the sleepless nights and other horror stories I got from other parents. He is the best thing ever happened to me since meeting his mum. His name is Zackariya Hafeez Sherwani and we all call him Zack, an amazing little fella who has put constant smiles on our faces. Even the guests in the restaurant keep asking what’s up with non-stop my grin. He is the constant thought in my head and I always look forward to finishing what I am doing and running home to see him. We try to spend afternoons together as much as possible, just the two boys hanging out. It’s lots of fun bathing, changing or even feeding him, and seeing him grow every day.”

So with two successful restaurants, a new baby and not enough hours in the day, Chef Adil (you might be tempted to assume) would be planning to stay in a holding pattern for now, but in fact that’s far from the case.

“Running the restaurants with their amazing teams is a high energy job I love, and the fact that both are highly rated in the country demands even more from us. But Zack has made me manage time even wisely, so that I can spend time with him as well. His mum does an amazing job of caring for him and having him has brought even more zeal and ambition to our lives.”

A self-confessed nomad, Sherwani has set his long term sights on Central America, and his short term focus on a brand new Saint Lucian project that was still under tight wraps at press time. Whatever the details, it’s likely to be another success, if this quality-obsessed couple have their way. And while TripAdvisor may change their rating algorithms this year, there’s no doubt that Spice of India and Masala Bay will continue to capture the hearts and tastebuds of the many that enjoy the passionate cooking of Chef Adil Sherwani and his team.

Quotes

The tiny Indian restaurant on the corner of Baywalk Mall in Rodney Bay was beautifully designed, and Sherwani’s food quickly became legend on the local scene for its regional flavours and unusual twists on regular curry house fare

By no means is Masala Bay a replica of the original, starting with the funky-chic decor, Indian-Asian aesthetic and colourful, recycled pallet-wood feature wall. For a start, the view from the first floor balcony was rather better than that of the Rodney Bay restaurant

Well-known regulars include visiting Jamaican music stars Tanya Stevens and Jah Cure, experienced curry-eating Brits like former PM Sir John Major, and most recently, India’s superstar cricket captain Virat Kohli and his even-more-famous girlfriend and Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma.

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