The term ‘lady of the house’ conjures up a vision of an elegant, confident, and intelligent woman. The Urdu word for such a lady is Bibi, which has also become a term of endearment and is commonly used when referring to grandmothers. It is this image that has inspired chef Chet Sharma’s new modern Indian restaurant in Mayfair.
BiBi’s menu showcases the traditional Indian dishes Sharma grew up eating, merged with the modern techniques he learned as development chef at top British establishments such as Moor Hall, L’Enclume, and San Sebastian’s Mugaritz.
“Working in a kitchen like Mugaritz taught me just how far you can go with sourcing produce,” explained Sharma. “This is something I’ve paid particular attention to at BiBi, and I’m constantly looking to discover the best British and Indian ingredients. I’ve been lucky to meet and work with some incredible people along the way. Also, Mugaritz, even 10 years ago, was at the forefront of staff welfare and training, which we’re trying to champion at BiBi too.”
With Sharma as chef patron and with backers like JKS Restaurants (Gymkhana, Trishna, Hoppers), there’s no question that guests are in for a flavourful experience. BiBi’s menu is divided into five sections: bar snacks, chaat, sigree (grilled, skewered dishes), sides, and desserts. A new menu is written every single day, to ensure only the market’s freshest produce make it onto guests’ plates.
LLM-Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food writer Ina Yulo Stuve speaks to Sharma about his new restaurant and whether his physics degree has any influence on his cooking.
How do you think your Physics degree has affected your cooking and the dishes you create?
Overall, I like to keep those two worlds quite separate. Of course, there is a degree of spill over and having studied the sciences means I do approach the creative side of cooking with a little more structure. While we don’t shy away from using hydrocolloids and cutting-edge cooking techniques, at the end of the day, our most important assets are still great produce, well-sourced charcoal, and sharp knives!
Looking after one’s mental health is a big topic within the hospitality industry. How do you find the right work-life balance and how do you support your team to do the same?
At the moment, BiBi is open Tuesday to Saturday, as we think we need to give the team time to rest and enjoy their life outside work. Like many people, I struggle to find the right balance, especially now that the restaurant just opened, but my wife hides my laptop on Sundays so that I can switch off for at least one day.
Do you have a favourite food memory with your grandmothers that you can share?
Whether it was peeling fresh almonds with my paternal grandmother in England, or picking produce at 5am with my maternal grandmother in India, those early food memories with my grandparents will always be very special to me.
If you could describe BiBi in three words, what would they be?
Contemporary, complex, and playful.
Could you take me through the journey you went on with BiBi, from conception to launch?
The pandemic delayed the opening of BiBi and it definitely helped develop a different concept. Two years ago, BiBi was meant to be a high-end restaurant built around a chef’s table, but that has changed completely. We’ve opened a cosy restaurant where guests can still watch the chefs in action but can enjoy ever-changing dishes, hopefully time and time again.
You are clear about the food at BiBi not being traditionally Indian. How do you balance the challenge of staying true to your roots and putting your own spin on the classics?
I want the food to be able to tell a story about my travels around India but use techniques I’ve learnt working in restaurants like Moor Hall and Mugaritz. Every dish should be recognisably Indian but at the same time modern and totally unique, it hasn’t been easy!
If I was to dine at BiBi, which dishes should I order?
Right now, the sweetcorn kurkure, based on my favourite Indian crisps which are like spicy NikNaks, Orkney scallop nimbu pani, and Sharmaji’s Lahori chicken. But we print our menus daily so are always responding to what’s in season and what our suppliers are able to bring us.
In your opinion, what is the most overrated food trend?
I don’t know that any trends are specifically overrated, but you do often find people getting carried away; fermentation is a good example of that. We use fermentation techniques at BiBi, for example with our Gujarat rose kombucha and peanut miso for our peanut-chilli, but it’s always in the background supporting a really great headline act.
When not at your restaurant, where can we find you drinking and dining?
One of my favourite restaurants in London is Sabor, I love the food and the vibe there. I’m also a big fan of The Harwood Arms and often go there on Sundays when BiBi is closed. They do a great sharing board which comes with two or three cuts from the same animal and their Aynhoe Park honey tart is standout as well.