GRILLING their way to success!

“We wanted to create a place that felt like home. Someplace you would want to be around always” says PRASHANT MENON, owner, THE GRILL LAB with undisguised enthusiasm. And I had to agree! When I heard the name Grill Lab, my mind conjured up images of a sterile, stark, unwelcoming blank white walls and steel furniture but the moment I stepped over the threshold, I felt I had arrived back home! The place immediately set me at ease. All I wanted to do was sink into a bean bag and just chill! There was good music playing in the background but only just to fill in the vacuum if any…I doubt there would be, because it looked like the perfect setting to start a conversation that would last for hours!
L to R: Rohit, Laxmi and Prashant
By the time I was done admiring the eclectic mix of books and the music paraphernalia adorning all four corners of the room, Prashant had rushed over with a big smile and a menu done up in the same soothing terracotta shade as the walls. I wasn’t the exception here with the owner taking my order, Prashant, his wife, LAXMI HARI PANICKER and chef ROHIT KRISHNAN (All partners in the venture) take turns playing all possible roles that need to be played in a restaurant set up. I kid you not! So whilst Prashant made a rather large selection of goodies for me to try (I literally begged for tasting portions!) I started chatting about how the very idea of getting into the food industry came about.
The Hell Thy Burger

Prashant and Laxmi were both born and raised in Dubai. Prashant was a sales professional with 7 years of experience and Laxmi was involved in the social media industry for about 2 years. Rohit was based out of Auckland and he has worked as sous chef for 6 years. Come to think of it (and I’m sure you would have noticed it as well) three individuals with perfectly puzzle pieced backgrounds that when together, formed the complete picture! The three of them had a life changing experience during the quake in Nepal and decided to do away with their cushy, comfortable jobs and follow their passion in life. So they met up one day in April 2015 with a whole bunch of plans and ideas about what to do next. Of course the aim was to tie things up with food as all three of them love cooking and are die hard foodies and after a series of long discussions, The Grill Lab was born in Nov 2015!

“The basic concept is to cultivate a good mix of food, music and art” says Prashant. And that is the general vibe that the eatery gives out. I kept wondering why I felt so at home when Prashant added that each piece before me was something that the three of them had brought from their own homes! He points to a gorgeous vintage table and says that it belonged to his grandmother. A few customers walk in and Prashant leaves me with a tall glass of GREEN MANGO AND GINGERADE and a bowl of CHILLI CHEESE FRIES. I took a sip of the drink. It was sweet and refreshing but it left me a little unsatisfied. I expected a twang of lip puckering sourness teamed with a polite hello from the ginger. But I got nothing. I moved on to the fries and people! People! Please pay attention to this part! The fries served to me were crisp and well-seasoned topped with slices of jalapenos, a layer of flavourful beef chilli and a lovely helping of ooey gooey cheddar cheese. The best way to enjoy this dish is to mix everything together so that you get a bite of all the flavours in every mouthful. 

Scooping up all the layers, I gave it a go. The crispness of the fries, the juiciness of the meat, the tart bite of the jalapeno, soothed by the creaminess of the cheese…it was absolutely delicious! So remember the magic formula…MIX IT UP! So I casually take another sip of my drink and go HELLO! I was smacked with a sourness flowing into sweet and I had the ginger reciprocate my hello rather beautifully! I just loved the way the food and drink worked in tandem there! The drink soon became my favourite! I must mention that all the concentrates used for various drinks are all home made by Rohit’s mother. Good food sense runs in the family yes?

Prashant came over after taking the orders and explains to me how their customers enjoy the interaction they have with the owners. He tells me that they all enjoy having conversations with their patrons because “The little things do matter!” he says. There are other reasons why conversation with patrons plays such a crucial role. One, to educate. The food served by The Grill Lab needs to be eaten in a specific way to elicit the full enjoyment of the meal. So Prasanth, Laxmi and Rohit ensure that each dish ordered is described to the customer so that he or she gets a complete idea about what her meal comprises. With customer delight being of utmost importance, the menu changes every six months so that new and unique dishes can find their place in the mix. They also have yum specials that change every two weeks, with the best sellers ending up on the menu permanently.

The second reason for conversation is the invaluable flow of information. “Cochin is a totally different market. What we serve is a play on perceptions and tastes. We might serve someone up the best of what we have on offer but just get an ‘it tastes OK’ in return. We can expect just about anything when it comes to reactions of people. So we do our best to talk to our patrons and understand their likes and dislikes when it comes to the food we serve” shares Prashant “Interaction is also a major crowd puller and people love the concept of personal communication”

My SPICY BEEF BURGERmakes me take a pause and take in the deliciousness in front of me. Two well-buttered and grilled buns, two layers of ground beef patty, two layers of cheddar cheese, a crumbling of blue cheese at the centre and a final layer of coleslaw at the bottom. Nice! I take the 1st bite and beefy juices squirt onto my diary but I am too busy savouring the burger to notice! It is after a long time that I tasted a beef patty cooked so perfectly!

It was crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth on the inside. The cheddar flows in all its unctuousness with the blue cheese giving off hints of its signature flavour. The slaw was delightful and I got a taste of the house made sauce separately. It was sweet and spicy with a gentle hum of chilli at the back of my mouth. And you must take a bite of every layer to get a lovely flavour circus in your mouth!

Nothing comes easy. It was a total struggle in the beginning. The three of them used to stay back at the restaurant for hours on end ensuring everything was running at its best. Since they cover everything on their own, HANDS ON, is always the watchword. Prasant tells me how they did everything themselves, from taking orders to clearing the tables and washing the dishes…it wasn’t an easy ride. But luck favours the hardworking and now they have almost an 80% of fixed regulars who just can’t enough of TGL! Apart from being a regular eatery, TGL also doubles up as the perfect location for a small party or gathering. “The deviating focus of the crowd is what we look at. That’s what keeps us going!”
The Jawbreaker

To keep up with their customers, Prashant, Laxmi and Rohit are constantly on quality control. They use ingredients of the finest quality, keep coming up with new and innovative dishes and always test the product themselves before including it in the menu. “Consistency is key. And we are going to keep at it. TGL does not serve carbonated drinks and though one might not relate to their menu as being of the I-can-include-this-in-my-diet variety, one can always be ensured that the dish served is fresh and honest!

A slice of MEAT LOVERS PIZZA swoops in and I am delighted to see that it is thin crust. Thin crust always lets you enjoy the toppings a lot more without the feel of gagging on too much of the bread base! The pizza was loaded rather generously with pieces of chicken, minced beef, lamb pepperoni and cheddar cheese topping a tomato base sprinkled with tiny flakes of oregano. 

Oh good lord! It was the perfect marriage of flavours and I say with complete surety that it trumps every pizza I have tasted in Cochin! Undoubtedly pizza is a fast mover and they quickly run out of fresh made pizza dough! I am not surprised!
Just before I start on dessert, I get a chance to speak with Laxmi. I pull her away for a few minutes from the mountain of orders and sit her down. I personally feel so proud seeing women shine in the food industry and I ask her how she feels as a business woman. “It has been tough. There are times when everything gets to you. At times we feel we are drained inside and out. But with all the hardwork, comes success and at the end of the day, we give it up to each other.” She says.

I think Prashant and Laxmi have shattered the myth of couples not being able to work together! When asked about what working with his spouse feels like, Prashant had this to say “With our routine jobs, we used to see each other when we got home from work. Here, we see each other 24/7. It has been crazy because every emotion we go through is shared but it has also been nourishing as we work so much more in tandem”

I am served an enormous slice of WHITE CHOCOLATE AND BUTTERSOTCH BLONDIE. Incidentally, I am told that they have over 100, yes 100 recipes of brownies and blondies in their dessert repertoire! Every dessert that leaves the kitchen is homemade and though they keep rotating flavours, they have people waiting for days on end to get a slice of their favourite flavour! Apart from desserts, TGL also takes cake orders for which you will need to call up much in advance and check for openings. I dig into my blondie and surprise! Surprise! It is not crumbly at all but is a pleasant cross between a custard and a soufflé with a buttery biscuit base. The white chocolate dotted with pearls of butterscotch was the perfect end to a lovely tasting session! I would suggest having this slightly chilled. The butterscotch flavour is enhanced so much more!

The future holds umpteen possibilities and opportunities for The Grill Lab. “We’re still juggling options” says Prashant. With a big thanks to the amazing Chef Rohit and my gracious hosts, Prashant and Laxmi, I walk out with my future clear. Many, many more visits to The Grill Lab lay ahead for me!

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