Amari, a contemporary Indian gem – at LUX* Belle Mare, Mauritius

This is a story about food and design, which shows India in a very different way.


“Amari, derived from the Sanskrit (amar) meaning ‘immortal, eternal’ weaves a culinary story around India and Mauritius and where the two meet. Under the helm of Vineet Bhatia MBE, the first chef to get a coveted Michelin star for Indian cuisine and accredited with transforming gourmet Indian cuisine worldwide, the menu is deeply rooted in his accumulation of a lifetime of culinary influences combined with his strong belief that food is a universal language with the power to bring people together. Amari reflects his eternal love for flavours and spices.”

I remember my first interview with this Michelin-star chef at an outdoor restaurant on the eastern peninsula of Mauritius almost 10 years ago. A casual chat over a tandoor oven turned into the feature story from that visit. I’ve been an avid follower ever since – returning regularly to Amari by Vineet when he opened a restaurant at LUX* Belle Mare, further along the coastal road from that first meeting point and being fortunate enough to dine twice at Rasoi by Vineet in Geneva before Covid caused its closure.

Amari has long been in the skilful hands of Chef de Cuisine Subi Mungroo and a dedicated, talented team, including Tandoor Chef Sandeep Lodeechun, Sous Chef Ravi Dookhun, Chef de Partie (Curry section) Swaraj (Kunal) Ramgoolam and Rajiv Gangaram. Chef Vineet returns at intervals to refresh the menu and enjoy a little family downtime. 

Phoenix Rising

When we reconnected this September, before my return visit to the island, he was busy with a much larger task. LUX* Belle Mare was rising from the ashes, like the veritable Phoenix, after a devastating fire caused a year-long closure for a critical renovation. It was a few days before the much-vaunted reopening on October 1, 2023, and I was proud to be one of the first journalists preparing to return to my “home away from home” shortly after that.

I spoke to Rashima, Chef Vineet’s wife and business partner, imagining her view over the resort’s pool – the island’s largest at 2,000 square metres, now heated. She was sitting in Mondo, the new European-style restaurant, as she recounted their latest journey to recreating the look and feel for what is bound to be another phenomenal success. Although they decided not to change the name, they made subtle adjustments to the interior to acknowledge the restaurant’s evolution over the past seven years – like a child growing into a teenager. The larger kitchen contains three tandoori ovens, enabling patrons to see some of the preparation through a massive glass window. “In many ways, we approached the concept the way we felt about Mauritius [in the beginning] and how we feel at this point in our lives. We’ve been coming to the island as a family since 2001, but Vineet first touched these shores in 1992, so his recollection and memory of Mauritius as an island place is from that time. In 2001, we experienced a different Mauritius. And now, when we visit, it’s completely different again. So, how do we feel about that?

Health and Healing

“And also from our stage of life, where we are now, and his [position] as a chef…he’s not stopped evolving but he’s stopped cooking to please. He’s no longer that student trying to get a foothold or that chef trying to sustain himself and please his partners or investors; it’s not the case anymore. Today, he’s very much about, ‘What do I want to do? What resonates with me? What am I happy eating? What am I happy cooking?’”

The new Amari menu, therefore, reflects that, as well as how Mauritius cuisine is influenced by Indian cuisine and what guests’ preferences are. Chef Vineet provides further perspective in a recent Instagram post acknowledging receipt of his MBE. “Building on my conversation with King Charles III, my upcoming focus is on promoting awareness regarding sustainable approaches to food production and advocating for natural ayurvedic medicine, using ingredients such as turmeric, for its contributions to health and healing.”

That clearly resonates with me unconsciously because I’m on the same wavelength. I’m no foodie, but I will never forget my taste sensations and experiences at Amari. I had a no-alcohol cocktail comprising cassis, raspberry, Darjeeling tea and sugar. I started with the Lattice Samosa Chaat, a vegetarian dish involving vegetable samosa, chickpeas, tamarind, and herb chutneys. This was followed by the Lemongrass Chilli Coconut Prawns (coastal preparation of prawns in lemongrass, coconut, Kaffir lime and chilli flakes) and my new favourite dessert – Turmeric Tres Leches (cinnamon coconut-pineapple basundi, Mauritian vanilla-pineapple cream, almond bark). It redefines the term “melt in the mouth” and leaves you clamouring for more.

Positive Energy

Rashima explains that Amari is atypical in the style of a conventional Indian restaurant, for example, in the UK. This is partly due to interior designer Jean-Marc Tang’s fresh approach to creating a tropical décor in a resort, focusing on a more pastel palette of coral, blush, and sand colours to heighten your senses, make you feel good and highlight different things in the landscape. “It’s a different take into creating a tropical environment… different components of a context that bring the spirit of the place back into the spaces,” he says.

Rashima adds: “I think Jean-Marc has done a very good job because what we have right now is a very different take on Indian food ambience-wise. You have a very natural, holistic Indian appeal, down to the terracotta walls. Nothing else is there. Not one artefact, picture or wall hanging. When it was coming together from a design point of view, before the tables had gone in, I would have said it passed as a very good spa. It has this serenity and calmness to it, because of the very tasteful calamine, terracotta colour. And then we joined with Jean-Marc who said he wanted just one mural to overlap the whole room. I said, ‘Fantastic!’”

The Big Reveal

Whereas in other parts of the world, the solution may have been wallpaper, Jean-Marc sourced local artisans to paint the artwork in a style deeply rooted in the Indian culture and yet not very common. The main characteristic is its composition of dots and lines, which represents movement for them. “It’s a tribal art called Gond, named after one of the largest and oldest tribes in India. They occupied the central plateau, and they would draw these murals or paintings around their house. They were all about connecting with nature, so they drew the fish, birds, trees, and plants around them,” says Rashima. “And that is what we have here, because we are surrounded by nature. The tree stands for spirituality, or connection to God, extending from earth to heaven as one of the tallest living things, so it’s all positive energy. So for us, it was one more representation of the Indian aspect that perhaps is not very well known and people will ask about it.”

As Jean-Marc was working with other local artisans to make tables out of sand for the suites, Rashima’s design flair started moving in the same direction, gravitating towards “this natural element of the mud, the sea, very earthy elements, which is reflected in feel and shape of the stoneware and tableware.”

Regular guests will remember the previous entrance was from the deck outside the bar, on the beach side. You could see inside the restaurant before you even entered it. Now, they’ve created a new entrance next to Duck Laundry, the Chinese fine dining experience, which opens into a long, curved tunnel with soft lighting, leading you into the restaurant. Rashima adds, “You come out not quite at the centre. It slowly reveals itself. And that, I think, is the best part of the Amari renovation.”

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