Mumbai’s hungry high rollers; The fight to fill the stomachs of Mumbai’s rich

Mumbai’s hungry high rollers; The fight to fill the stomachs of Mumbai’s rich

Jul 6th 2013 | MUMBAI |From the print edition


IF YOUR thing is an infinite supply of langoustine and Veuve Clicquot served, to a piercing guitar solo, by a waiter who probably lives in a slum, then head to Mumbai. India’s financial capital has developed a mania for Sunday brunch. The magic formula is a gluttonous amount of food and drink for $40-80 a head, and a background of classic rock. Luxury hotels and restaurants each have their own style and their own clientele. In the Marriott Hotel in Juhu, a filmi suburb where actors live, bandannas and boob-jobs are on display. At the new Shangri-La, bankers boast about how much face-time they get with Mukesh Ambani, an upholstered tycoon, while loading up on tuna nigiri-zushi. The age of the brunch reflects rising numbers of wealthy folk. “People used to entertain at home, but things have become less conservative—money does wonders,” says a catering manager at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, standing by a cheese the size of a car wheel. It also reflects a dearth of things for the well-to-do to do. Mumbai has little green space, few shops and dire transport. The rich would not be seen dead on the foreshore promenades where anglers cast for mullet on the weekends when the council does not release sewage into the sea, or on the beaches where whizzing cricket balls, rubbish and tens of thousands of paddlers vie for space.Mumbai’s sports clubs, with British colonial roots, used to be the ticket. But they are now the preserve of the hereditary rich. The members’ noticeboard of the poshest of the lot, the Willingdon Club, reads like a Who’s Who of the city’s industrial dynasties. For newly minted entrepreneurs and professionals, that leaves hotels and restaurants. They are anyway better for showing off. Men flash Rolexes as they reach for the dim sum. Women assembling salads are got up in enough luxury labels to float the French economy.

The number of five-star hotels in Mumbai has risen even as the growth in foreign visitors has slowed with India’s economy. Occupancy rates have fallen to 50-60% across the city. This has led to a culinary arms race as hoteliers fight to attract locals. Sushi bars are standard—one hotel chain is said to have a daily supply flight from Tokyo. Dessert counters look like Willy Wonka fantasies, with chocolate fountains and giant revolving ice-cream vats. Playing on nostalgia, most buffet spreads feature posh versions of pani-puri, a street snack that slum-dwellers buy for a few rupees. Live music is essential. Wilburn D’costa, a long-established guitarist at Indigo, a restaurant, says “Hotel California” and “Viva Las Vegas” are the favourites.

It is unimaginable luxury for the millions of Mumbaikars below the poverty line. Yet most hotels admit they lose money on brunch, even with special deals from champagne-makers. For the rich, the problem is their waistlines. Ferried about by chauffeurs and absolved from household chores by servants, they have become a corpulent race apart from their skinny compatriots. Perhaps they need to invent a new institution: the Sunday afternoon walk.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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