Viceroy, a British Indian gastropub located on West Main Street in downtown Durham, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
There are so many new restaurants in Durham, being one-year-old sort of already labels you as an “established spot” in our city, but as most restaurant owners know, the first year is full of trial and error, lessons learned, and flexing to change. With any luck, at the one-year mark, you begin to feel as though you’re finally getting into a groove: you’ve established the busy seasons, honed in on your customer base, made tweaks to the menu, and discovered what works and what doesn’t.
A Look at Durham’s Indian British Gatropub, Viceroy’s First Year
by Amber Watson, Bites of Bull City
Restaurant owners in this market have to learn fast, think on their feet and be willing to make changes to accommodate and entice more diners, and that’s something Viceroy’s co-owner, BJ Patel, and general manager, Nick Singh, have made a point to work on throughout their first year. It probably helps that Singh and Patel are not brand new to the food industry, having run an Indian restaurant in Greenville, NC and launching the Tan-Durm food truck prior to opening Viceroy.
While the thought of Indian/British fusion might still confuse some people in the South, it’s the norm in Birmingham, UK, where Singh grew up, and Viceroy’s menu introduced a new global cuisine to downtown Durham.
While many people dove right in to give it a try, others challenged the restaurant to flex and experiment with recipes in order to capture a broader audience. Singh and Patel started taking customers’ dietary needs and requests into consideration almost immediately upon opening. They quickly recognized there was a large vegan population of diners in Durham and began to tweak and test certain recipes (making the nann, for instance, with coconut oil. When they got it to where you couldn’t taste a difference between the regular and vegan version, they started making it all vegan). They also realized they could start off with a lot of dishes that had a vegan base, and if they wanted to, easily transform them by adding meat and making everyone happy.
Luckily, this style of cuisine, with rich sauces and flavorful filling vegetables, is a natural fit for vegans and vegetarians. And even if you’re not, you probably won’t notice a difference or miss meat in many of the dishes.
Now, a year later, Viceroy can confidently say that half their menu is vegan-friendly!
Singh also made an effort to accommodate other food restrictions, particularly after his mother had to adhere to a gluten-free diet. When she visited him in Durham, he realized how limiting her options were…there were so many good restaurants, but not enough with food she could order.
The fact that Viceroy is already, by nature, a type of global fusion, allows it to bend and flex perhaps a little bit better (or at least differently) than some other restaurants that might have to adhere to more traditional perceptions of what should be on the menu and how it should be prepared. If Viceroy needs to substitute a key ingredient or rework a dish, they have more creative leeway.
Creativity and flexibility is something they embrace, particularly with their specials board, whether it’s seasonal dishes or changing up the draft list, they use these boards as a testing ground and take customer’s feedback into consideration.
For the one-year anniversary party, Viceroy teamed up with local brewer, Durty Bull, to create a mango lassi beer, which was a big hit and still available on draft.
After a year in business, Viceroy also felt they were ready to start giving back to the community. They have partnered up with the “Me Fine” Foundation, which provides financial and emotional assistance to families whose children are receiving treatment at UNC and Duke Children’s Hospitals. Viceroy will hold several special beer dinners throughout the year to donate a portion of sales to the organization. They are also planning to host the second annual Durham Holi Festival in Bull McCabe’s lawn in March.
We are just now heading into Viceroy’s second year and peak season: winter. The inviting interior with warm lighting and tall booths, and the food, with rich warm sauces and bold hot spices, is what everyone starts craving during the colder days. The tandoor clay oven, which char roasts items like the cumin-infused jeera wings, is well suited for cooking in this time of year.
The kitchen just introduced new winter items, such as Thai Chili Naan, Green Moong Palak Daal (split green moong lentils with fresh baby spinach and house blend spices), and Lamb Vihna (lamb stewed in an onion tomato chili vinegar sauce and potatoes), both of which are a bit more spicy and add some heat, perfect for this time of year. And don’t worry, staples like Paneer and Curried Shephard’s Pot Pie will stay on year round.
Viceroy is used to making changes, whether it’s in the long-term or for the season. Along with the specials that change our regularly, Viceroy introduces new items to the seasonal menu every five to six weeks, so there’s always something new to try.
In “Durham restaurant years,” one year seems like a long time, but really, it’s just the beginning for a place like Viceroy.
Amber Watson is the owner and content manager for the Durham food and restaurant news blog, Bites of Bull City