Overall ranking: 62
Restaurateur ranking: 19
Namita and Camellia Panjabi, Ranjit Mathrani - Snapshot
Namita Panjabi, her husband Ranjit Mathrani and her sister Camellia are the masterminds behind the award-winning Masala World restaurant group that specialises in authentic regional Indian cuisine prepared by specialist chefs. Mathrani serves as chief executive and the Panjabis as group directors. Masala World owns three upmarket restaurants in London – Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and the Michelin-starred Amaya. It also operates in the midmarket with the Masala Zone brand.
Namita and Camellia Panjabi, Ranjit Mathrani - Career guide
The trio were born in India, where Camellia launched 40 restaurants over a 30-year period as marketing director of Taj Hotels, including the Bombay Brasserie and the Ile de Kashmir in Paris.
Namita, who started as a merchant banker, became fashion merchandising manager in Bombay for the Associated Merchandising Corporation. She moved to London in 1986, where she married merchant banker Mathrani and set up a business designing Indian jewellery for department stores, which she still runs.
The couple opened Chutney Mary in Chelsea in 1990. In 1997 they bought London’s oldest Indian restaurant, Veeraswamy, which dates back to 1927.
Camellia, who had been involved from the start, came on board full-time in 2001 when the group opened its first Masala Zone in Soho. There are now seven Masala Zones in London.
Camellia spearheaded the group’s third upmarket restaurant, Amaya, which opened in Belgravia in October 2004 and won a Michelin star in 2006.
Namita and Camellia Panjabi, Ranjit Mathrani - What we think
Namita and Camellia are regarded as leading authorities on authentic Indian cuisine, which they have researched extensively in people’s homes, maharajas' palaces and wayside stalls rather than conventional restaurants.
They are responsible for devising the restaurant and food concepts. Camellia refines the food offer and handles marketing and PR, while Namita fine-tunes the food presentation, decor - which features stylish Indian folk art - and kitchen management.
Mathrani handles the financial, commercial, human resources, front-of-house and site-finding aspects. He arranged the funding for Chutney Mary under a Government business expansion scheme with input from Neville Abraham and Laurence Isaacson, the founders of Groupe Chez Gérard (now Paramount Restaurants).
The restaurants all offer a different slant. Chutney Mary, in Chelsea, serves cuisine from diverse regions, while Veeraswamy focuses on food from the north and west of India. Amaya, in Belgravia, is based around ancient grill techniques that are new to the UK, while Masala Zones are hip cafés offering street food and thalis for less than £14 a head.
The restaurants have been recognised with a number of awards: Chutney Mary won the Good Curry Guide's Best Indian Restaurant in the UK award shortly after its launch in 1990, while the 2005 Tatler Restaurant Awards named Masala Group Restaurateur of the Year for Amaya - the first time it has gone to purveyors of non-European cuisine. Amaya has also held a Michelin star since 2006. National Geographic, the travel magazine, has named Veeraswamy as one of its 10 Best Destination & Special Restaurants in the World. No other UK restaurant is in the top 10.
Masala Zone, which launched in 2001, now has seven London sites, in Bayswater, Camden Town, Covent Garden, Earls Court, Fulham, Islington and Soho.
Namita and Camellia Panjabi, Ranjit Mathrani - Further information