When is a pub not just a pub? When it’s Viceroy Publik House, set to open in Stamford in early April. The difference: Viceroy is taking as its theme the British Raj.
For those who haven’t viewed the 1982 movie “Gandhi” lately, the Raj was the term for the British rule of the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. Not a typical motif for a restaurant and bar, perhaps, but then restaurateur Eric Monte tends to avoid the typical.
“I’ve always been fascinated by taking foods that are indigenous to a particular culture and putting a spin on it,” Monte said at the eatery at 211 Summer St. “Preparing what’s familiar but with different ingredients can make for a really cool meld. It exemplifies the old saying, ‘The oceans of the world separate us, but good food and wine bring us together.’”
Although the British Raj may not be remembered too fondly by Indians of a certain age — it was, after all, what Mahatma Gandhi was rebelling against as he led the nation to independence — Monte is convinced that the flavors on display will easily convince any naysayers.
“A lot of people who haven’t tried Indian food think that’s it’s too spicy, too exotic for them,” he said. “But they can get anything here from roasts, prime rib and Yorkshire pudding to madras and tikka masala with a twist.”
Britain’s Indian adventure was, he noted, key in building the popularity of curries and the like in England.
Viceroy — formerly an Indian fusion restaurant called Arka — will feature fare ranging from both Britain — Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash — and India — vindaloos, madras and samosas — as well as crossovers like fried calamari dusted with Indian spices and served with chutney.
That the kitchen is shared by both an American and Indian chef promotes such experimentation, Monte said. “That’s the kind of creative culinary team that’s critical to what we’re trying to do,” he said.
To emphasize the British Raj atmosphere, Viceroy’s entrance will feature the car hood of a vintage Triumph Bonnet, while a ’68 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle will be suspended in the first floor’s picture window. The façade of its upstairs bar features the front end of a vintage Tata Motors bus from the Mumbai-based automotive company, and a tuk-tuk, or rickshaw, is also featured.
Monte — who also masterminded Stamford’s Moroccan restaurant, The Fez, at 227 Summer St. and its Tavern 489, specializing in French-tinged American fare, at 489 Glenbrook Road — said that he “always loved the space” that Viceroy now sits in, having explored the idea of a French-Vietnamese eatery there several years ago before moving on to other endeavors.
The germ of the Viceroy concept came to him during a meeting with entrepreneur and owner of the space Ramya Lakshman.
“Indian food and live music don’t normally work real well together, unless it’s traditional Indian music,” Monte said. “But when I came up with the idea of mixing Indian with an English pub, while making sure that live entertainment was a big part of it, she got really excited, and we started work on Feb. 1.”
The upstairs Tiger Room music lounge features a 10-by-12-foot stage, which Monte said is “large enough to accommodate not just good local bands, but some regional and occasionally national acts on occasion. We want to bring in the next level of talent.”
A house band adept at various musical genres will be on hand and Monte promises the area’s first regularly scheduled live music karaoke night.
The Tiger Room has a capacity of 75 people, while the downstairs dining space, designed to be more intimate, holds 30.
While the last British viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was ultimately assassinated by the IRA in 1979, such an ignominious end to this Viceroy seems highly unlikely.
“We’re trying something new,” Monte acknowledged, “but with the mix of food and the live music, I think we’re in good shape.”