Leela, the highly anticipated modern Indian restaurant by Yenn Wong’s JIA Group in partnership with Manav Tuli, has had its soft opening in Lee Garden Three, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, showcasing its unique and playful approach to Indian cuisine.
Derived from the Hindu concept of “Leela,” which represents the divine play or sport of the gods, the restaurant intertwines the playfulness and whimsy associated with Indian cuisine. Leela positions itself as a culinary playground, bridging the gap between tradition and innovation with an a la carte menu and set menu offering.
At Leela, guests can expect a culinary journey that pays homage to India’s most influential empires, with a particular focus on the Maurya Empire of circa 300 BC. By using the finest local proteins, vegetables, and ingredients sourced from Prime Organic Limited, a trusted supplier of Indian origin certified organic and GMO-free spices, lentils, and millets, Leela ensures a flavourful and sustainable dining experience.
Leela is a restaurant that is proud to support local agriculture and aquaculture and has partnered with Farmhouse Productions for its locally sourced vegetables, Hong Kong Aquaculture for its sustainable seafood, and Wah Kee Farms for its premium local pork.
Leela’s signature dishes are a testament to the rich heritage and flavours of Indian cuisine. One such dish is the Lucknowi Tokri Chaat (HK$118), which traces its origins back to Lucknow, where the tradition of eating chaat in an edible basket began.
This innovative dish consists of a basket made from grated and deep-fried potatoes, filled with potato patties, bhallas, chickpeas, saunth, curd, and tamarind chutney. Garnished with pomegranate seeds, it is a delightful blend of textures and flavours. Meeting the creator of this dish, Mr Hardayal Maurya, also known as the Chaat King, was a privilege for Chef Manav, who will now be adding to the fascinating story behind it.
Another standout dish is the Chakundar Oxtail Gosht (HK$288), which showcases the culinary traditions of Punjab. This meat dish is made with a unique combination of beetroot and oxtail, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, capturing the essence of Punjabi cuisine.
Traditionally prepared during the winter season when vibrant red beetroots are at their prime, this dish has a stunning visual appeal. At Leela, oxtail is used in the place of mutton to enhance the flavours with its collagen richness.
This dish holds historical significance, as it was popular in the region around Lahore before the Partition and serves as a reminder of the culinary heritage of the Mauryan Empire.
The Saoji Lamb Shank (HK$228) is a tantalising creation inspired by the cuisine of the Kandahar region in Afghanistan, which has greatly influenced the flavours of Punjab.
Drawing inspiration from the classic Kandhari gosht, a lamb curry infused with the flavours of pomegranate and fennel, Chef Manav and team have reinvented the dish using succulent lamb shank. The dish perfectly balances the tender lamb meat with aromatic spices, creating a harmonious blend that transports diners’ tastebuds to the vibrant flavours of the region.
Another standout dish at Leela is the Chicken Baida Roti (HK$98), made with succulent chicken wrapped in a flaky roti. Born from the bustling streets of Mumbai, where Chef Manav grew up, this famous Mughlai street food dish has a rich history.
Although the exact origins are uncertain, it gained popularity during the Mughal era and can now be found in various countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Leela’s version of Chicken Baida Roti pays homage to the classic rendition enjoyed at Bade Miyan in Colaba, Mumbai.
The final dish not to miss is the Wah Kee Farm Pork Pandi Curry (HK$248). With its roots in the days of the British Raj, this dish is said to have originated when wild boar was hunted and transformed into a flavorful curry.
The masala of this dish incorporates a blend of spices, including pepper, cumin, coriander seeds, mustard, onions, and green chilli, which imparts a tantalising aroma and taste.
The star ingredient of this dish is kachumpuli, a unique ingredient obtained from the fruit of the local Panapuli tree. This thick and black fermented juice adds a tangy and robust flavour similar to balsamic vinegar, enhancing the overall taste of the curry.
Leela’s dedication to reviving and showcasing the historical significance of these dishes is evident in the careful selection of ingredients and the skilled techniques used in their preparation. Each dish reveals the depth of Indian culinary traditions and provides a truly remarkable experience for dining guests.
Leela not only excels in its culinary offerings but also boasts an impressive beverage program that complements the bold flavours of the dishes. The cocktail list, specially curated by JIA Group’s acclaimed beverage director, Mario Calderone, is a testament to his expertise and creativity.
Each cocktail is thoughtfully created to enhance the dining experience and harmonise with the vibrant flavours found in Leela’s culinary offerings.
Additionally, Leela offers a well-crafted wine list that is designed to pair seamlessly with the complex flavours of Indian spices. The wine list is categorised based on spice levels, ranging from mild to heavy, ensuring that guests can find the perfect wine to complement their chosen dishes. This careful categorisation allows for a harmonious balance between the spices and the wines.
The Design of Leela
In close collaboration with Chef Manav, renowned restaurant interior designer André Fu Studio has designed a dining experience that immerses guests in enchanting vignettes of India, reflecting the elegance and modernity of Leela’s cuisine.
The interior takes inspiration from Manav’s culinary roots, capturing the colours, character, and style of traditional palaces in Jodhpur’s old town. With meticulous attention to detail, the space offers a retreat from the bustling streets of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, enveloping guests in a customised ambience of old-world charm.
As guests enter Leela’s foyer, they are immediately drawn to the striking cylindrical burgundy design and marble counter. A dimly-lit tunnel, adorned with teardrop-shaped wall scones, guides them towards an awe-inspiring artwork by Sosa Joseph and a traditional Uruli fountain.
As guests step into the main dining room, they are met with a symmetrical design that features semi-private alcoves and curved windows reminiscent of Jhaokha structures.
Every detail has been considered, with the space showcasing the richness of traditional Indian craftsmanship through marquetry patterns, sumptuous velvet, and exquisite lotus flower-like lampposts.
Whimsical touches abound, including custom-made furnishings, brushed brass accents, and ethereal cloud glass lighting. The verandah dining hall boasts a captivating theatrical ceiling, while the terrace sets a playful backdrop with lush tropical plants and inviting rattan furniture.
For those seeking an intimate experience, the 10-seater private room offers a sanctuary adorned in mustard gold silk panels, intricate embroidery, and a vaulted ceiling adorned with golden foliage pendants, further evoking the palatial theme.
The restaurant’s commitment to sustainability extends to its menu design, using recycled corn paper menus and eschewing the use of plastic throughout the establishment.
The Chef at Leela’s Helm
Chef Owner Manav Tuli, previously served as Chef de Cuisine at CHAAT at Rosewood Hong Kong, where he played a pivotal role in earning the restaurant its prestigious one Michelin star rating and one diamond rating from Black Pearl Restaurant Guide, leads a team dedicated to redefining Indian cuisine in a contemporary setting.
With its nuanced approach to flavour and technique, guests can expect a dining experience that captures the essence of India’s rich gastronomic heritage in a truly modern and innovative way.
Leela is poised to become a culinary destination for those seeking a unique dining experience in Hong Kong, where modern Indian cuisine intertwines with sustainability, creativity, and the divine play of flavours. Leela is open for dinner service only, with further lunch service to commence from 5th December onwards.