Aurum and authenticity: Modern Indian restaurant strives to bring hidden gems of Indian cuisine to the mainstream

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN AND AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

No restaurant displays what the gold standard of authenticity can be more than Aurum. With a name literally meaning gold in Latin, the modern Indian establishment in Downtown Los Altos strives to showcase Indian cuisine just as pure as its namesake.

Aurum was founded in December 2020 by owner Anupam Bhatia and chef Manish Tyagi, who, according to Tyagi, see themselves as “ambassadors to Indian cuisine.” They use modern adaptations of classic dishes to deviate from the standard, popular and sometimes “incomplete” portrayal of Indian cuisine found on most Indian menus.

“The Indian restaurant scene is pretty backward because it’s a very stereotyped menu,” Tyagi said. “That’s where Aurum pitched in and tried to break that boundary.” 

In addition to authenticity, Aurum emphasizes the importance of presenting its dishes in a visually appealing manner.

“People eat with their eyes, so the food has to look appetizing,” Bhatia said. “Presentation is such an important part of your whole dining experience.”

A popular dish of Aurum, the creatively titled Mr. Potato Chaat, exemplifies that quality of presentation in a modern twist on the popular Indian snack. Going against tradition, the potato is spiralized, but accompanied by the usual yogurts, chutneys and spices. 

Working to craft a menu with dishes like this chaat in mind, each option is crafted and heavily tested before it is permanently added to the menu. For this, Aurum trusts its customers.

“[Guest] feedback is so important, and that’s how we try to change and adapt to what the local client wants,” Bhatia said. “Positive criticism is one of the most important things you can have in your life.”

From his personal experience, Bhatia believes that adapting to your environment and understanding your clientele’s needs is an uncompromisable aspect of success. Bhatia took these needs into consideration when he was scouting a location for the new restaurant. 

“[The Bay Area] has a loyal customer base,” Bhatia said. “I looked at Los Altos and people love Indian food. There’s a lot of diversity of population we have here.”

To serve this population authentic Indian cuisine, Bhatia partnered with chef Tyagi, who’s been in the industry for 20 years, and has worked at several restaurants. He met Bhatia at the chain Amber India, where they became professional acquaintances as well as good friends.

Described by Bhatia as a “damn professional,” Tyagi said his life has been filled with cooking. From a young age, he said he helped his family in preparing food for guests.

“I belong to a very ‘foodie’ family,” Tyagi said. “My mom is an excellent cook, and my dad is a very passionate cook.”

Tyagi graduated from university with a degree in hospitality and he said his journey toward a cooking career wasn’t easy. Many times, Tyagi said the overwhelming workload and “cutthroat” nature made him want to give up.

But Tyagi’s perseverance eventually led him to compete in the cooking game show BeatBobbyFlay, where contestants compete against Master Chef Bobby Flay and a panel of renowned cooks judges their meals. He advanced to the final round, where, using the same creativity and experimentation he now applies at Aurum, he snagged the win.

“I put my own perspective on a traditional dish,” Tyagi said.“I created the Saag Paneer Lasagna there. Chef Bobby Flay was making the traditional style of an Indian dish, and I was making a non-traditional style… [but my] flavor profile was very Indian, and that’s where he was lacking.”

The success of his dishes on the show influenced the modern yet authentic flavors Aurum strives to serve.

Tyagi, who runs the kitchen and “back of the house,” works closely with Bhatia, for whom hospitality is a priority. 

Bhatia’s savvy comes from his 26 years in the restaurant industry, and although like Tyagi, he struggled with the demands of the career at first, he said that the sense of improvement was inspiring.

“Your sense of learning every day, sense of achieving something every day, your motivation towards making the business successful … and your zeal and enthusiasm just keeps you [working],” Bhatia said.

He started his first restaurant, Broadway Masala, in 2013, and one year later founded Spice Affair. Bhatia’s knowledge and experience in the industry assisted him in planning for the restaurants’ survival through the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, opening the restaurant was a huge risk, but I would say it was a calculated one,” Bhatia said. “The confidence was that the product was good, and the offerings were good.”

Bhatia carefully engineered every detail of a takeout-only menu with Tyagi, making sure the items were optimal to be enjoyed at home.

Bhatia asked Tyagi to work with him on Aurum after August 1 Five — the restaurant Tyagi was working at — closed due to the pandemic. The pair had faith in their vision and worked together to create a menu with dishes specifically created to stay fresh, reheat effectively and travel well.

Starting out with only this take-out menu, the restaurant quickly attracted customers. The positive responses in the first several months were at times overwhelming, but encouraging, Bhatia said.

When the state allowed indoor and outdoor dining, they began to expand their menu, focusing more on the presentation of the dishes. Aurum facilitates a positive customer experience through their colorful interiors and casual atmosphere.

Aurum’s colorful interior.

“While the restaurant didn’t want to get into a white-tablecloth, very fine dining restaurant, we also didn’t want to get into a run-of-the-mill restaurant,” Bhatia said. “We wanted to be upscale; we wanted it to be colorful; we wanted it to be fun.”

With humorously named dishes, mural-covered walls, and close customer relationships, the atmosphere reflects Aurum’s driving principle of bringing people joy through Indian cuisine.

“Feeding people is one of the best feelings you can get,” Bhatia said. 

2 thoughts on “Aurum and authenticity: Modern Indian restaurant strives to bring hidden gems of Indian cuisine to the mainstream

  1. Very neatly written , Avni ..well covered. Straight presentation and appealing.
    You feel like wanting to go to the place and sure that you will like, enjoy .
    Yes the bright interior colour scheme is attractively different .Kudos to the writers .

    Like

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