Since then, the Sethi family has developed a substantial business empire now headed by patriarch Sam Sethi, who has been developing property in Phuket for over two decades. His wife Chin Sethi and her extended family also run a string of tailor shops in Phuket and Khao Lak well known for their fine craftsmanship.
From the Sethi family’s deep roots in Phuket, and manifold business and family ties to India, sprang the idea of a venture into the culinary world – Bollywood Phuket Restaurant and Bar. First opened four years ago, Bollywood recently relaunched after a four-month break to expand the kitchen and redecorate.
The reopening has also marked a changing of the guard, with Sam no longer involved in the day to day management, having handed over the reins to his eldest daughter Priya. But it is sure to be a smooth transition, Priya having been involved in managing Bollywood since its inception, after completing her university studies in Hospitality and Tourism.
I recently sat down with Priya to share a meal of the reasonably-priced, home-cooked style Indian food that lures regular customers from across the island. I asked why her family decided to get into the restaurant business and why they chose a location close to Phuket Town, as most Indian restaurants on the island are on the west coast beach towns.
“My father opened the restaurant years ago, but initially it wasn’t a business-orientated decision, I think it’s more due to the fact that we are Indians by race and we have a lot of friends who appreciate home-cooked Indian food. So they asked him ‘Why don’t you open an Indian restaurant in Phuket Town?’… because there aren’t any in this area,” explained Priya.
“It’s also as a place where my dad could have his business meetings, or socialise with friends, because we have a lot of relatives and friends from all around the world, so it’s nice to have a place to accommodate them… that’s how it started,” she said, adding, “We also had access to skilled chefs who understood the how to prepare an authentic home-cooked meal.”
Despite being born in Thailand, Priya and her three siblings, just like their father, were educated at boarding schools in India, “you could see the Himalayas from our classroom,” said Priya as she explained how her time at boarding school helped her develop an intimacy with her family’s motherland; its culture, religion, and of course, its food.
“A lot of people think we are from India and moved here, but no, Thailand is home to us, our family moved here 100 years ago. We love Thai food and Indian food equally – they are our two favourite cuisines,” said Priya.
This passion for food meant that finding the right chefs for the restaurant was a task taken very seriously and quite some time was spent finding a team of chefs that were a good fit and understood the style of food they wanted to serve.
“The chefs are all from India, so it was a big recruitment process. We worked with several chefs and tried their food to see if they could modify their cooking techniques to be more home-food style which was what we wanted” explained Priya.
It was at this point in the interview that our dishes began arriving, piping hot from the kitchen. Priya had helped my companion and I order a selection of dishes to that would hopefully give us a preview of the extensive menu.
First came the appetisers; crispy, delicately flavoured Onion Bhajiya; Punjabi Samosas – pyramids of flaky pastry filled with spiced peas and potatoes; and bright red pieces of Chicken Tandoori slightly charred from the oven and smothered in the rich yoghurt-based spice blend that gives them their inviting colour. All of these were accompanied by the typical trio of Indian condiments – sweet and sour tamarind, refreshing minted yogurt and chilli sauce.
Then it was time for the main feature and out came bowls of Paalak Paneer, a light and healthy dish of cottage cheese in spinach-based gravy, and a rich and creamy Butter Chicken curry, bursting with colour and flavour.
To top it off was a plate of Mutton Biryani made from fluffy turmeric-yellow grains of basmati rice and chunks of tender, slow-cooked mutton. To mop it all up were two huge fluffy pieces of garlic and plain Naan bread – ideal for scooping up chunks of meat and vegetable and wiping up every drop of delicious sauce.
While this sumptuous feast certainly allowed the chefs to show off their skills, Priya told us that even with dozens of other items on the menu, regular customers often order much-loved dishes that aren’t on the menu, but nevertheless, easy for the talented team in the kitchen to whip up on short notice.
“We have north Indian, central, and a few dishes from the south, we sort of try to cover all the regions. But we also have regulars that come in and don't even look at the menu, because they know what they want. Since Indian food has so many different ingredients you can play around with it and make a whole new dish… and our chefs are amazing,” said Priya.
After polishing off our delicious meal, we certainly had to agree with Priya on this point, and vowed to return again soon to delve deeper into the Bollywood’s delicious catalogue of blockbuster dishes.
For more information please visit: facebook.com/bollywoodphuket
For the restaurants full menu, please click here.