When bpb reviewed Lama Kitchen in Hauz Khas Village last June, we were struck by its (mostly) good food and pleasant décor. There was also the puzzling fact that it was near-identical to its predecessor, Yeti. In its turn, late in 2015, Yeti had moved house from this sweet lakeside corner of Hauz Khas Village to become a gleaming multi-storey occupant of M-block Market, GK-II.
In HKV rumours, this separation was sometimes the result of partners splitting up, sometimes of cousins deciding to run identical shops in different parts of the city. But in October 2016, a Facebook user named Sheetal Gurung asked on a Lama Kitchen Facebook post, “Is this the erstwhile Yeti / Himalayan kitchen?” she asked. “Hi,” the Lama Kitchen representative responded. “Were located right there...but the company and brand and completely different. :)” (sic)
Then, last month, Yeti opened a new branch -- plumb in Hauz Khas Village, a few doors down from its former home. The décor is familiar. The food menus feature many key dishes in common. So the village effectively has two Yetis under two different names, run by two different companies -- and very few people can tell them apart. What gives?
“The owner of Lama Kitchen is a former landlord and a close friend of ours,” says Prashant Singh of Eminent Entertainment, which runs Yeti with the Himalayan restaurant’s founding partners Ardahun Passah and Tenzing Sonam. “But no, the two restaurants have nothing to do with each other. We had a Kashmiri restaurant in this space" -- the building that houses Raasta -- "and when it ran its course, we knew we had to do something with Yeti.” Is there plagiarism involved in this business, we ask? “We don’t have any problems with Lama Kitchen at all,” Prashant says carefully.
The décor is familiar. The food menus feature many key dishes in common. So the village effectively has two Yetis under two different names, run by two different companies -- and very few people can tell them apart.
Two years ago, for reasons undisclosed by any of the people we spoke to, the second-floor lease on 50-A HKV, home of Yeti, was never renewed. That summer, the owners of 50-A started work on Lama Kitchen, “a Himalayan cookhouse.” When it opened, Lama Kitchen appeared to replicate almost every notable feature of the old establishment, from the spare teak-polished furniture to the brass thalis and the Himalayan wood carving of Ganesha on the wall.
Momo Sapiens Sapiens
HKV is full of identical kebabs-and-pizzas restaurants that few can tell apart. This became a special case because Yeti was a standout from practically the day it opened six years ago. A Vice reviewer recently waxed eloquent about its “dewy” momos, that were “beautifully folded and juices oozed out of them pornographically,” accompanied by “fresh and radiant sauces [...] served in rough, golden chalices.”
We tracked down owner Satinder Sarna, who runs Lama Kitchen in partnership with his son Gagandeep. Lama, we learn, is actually their second restaurant; the first, Kaffeine, occupies the floor below. “Food is my passion,” Satinder Sarna tells us. “We really wanted to do something that leaves a mark, a stamp of our own, in the village. My son and I travelled to Sikkim to study the food and culture there -- the picture on our Facebook page is from Gurudongmar, the highest lake in Sikkim. That’s where we drew our inspiration from.” What about the confusion over the similarities in food and décor, we ask? “Our menu offers different things,” Mr Sarna says emphatically.
That hasn’t stopped many diners from mistaking Lama for a Yeti product. “But we have never lied to our guests, from day one,” Gagandeep says.
Indeed, diners who’ve been to both places have now developed deeply personal individual preferences for one or the other. Our reviewer thought the Lama Kitchen pork momos were superior, and a Hauz Khas Village resident says that while she’s missed Yeti, she finds the food at Lama “actually a bit lighter.” But two other diners who frequent both places said they thought Lama’s food was greasier, and wouldn’t give up Yeti for the world. One even disdained Lama’s addition of a North Indian thali to the menu, “which makes me like them a little less.”
(Tshabalay and buff fry devotees at Yeti will no doubt be amused to learn that Lama offered Navratri specials last year. Us, we’ve eaten too many ema datshi and aloo momos to complain about vegetarian north-eastern food.)
A person associated with Yeti management who asked not be named says that they are unworried about both restaurants now standing within stone-throwing distance of each other. The Sarnas are similarly breezy, bursting with confidence about their fare, and full of plans for their upcoming project, Recycle, a restaurant that they hope will recreate “the lost culture of Hauz Khas Village, back when it was full of art and artists, not just 1+1 ladies’ nights.”
But clearly not every one-plus-one is bad.
Getting there: Lama Kitchen, 50-A, second floor, Hauz Khas Village. Yeti, 30, first floor, Hauz Khas Village.
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