Ashok Bajaj is the founder of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group and owns many of Washington’s top restaurants, including the Bombay Club, the Oval Room, Rasika, 701 and Ardeo + Bardeo. He moved to Washington in 1988.
So, apparently your age is a secret.
Ha-ha. I knew you would ask me this. No, it’s not a secret. I’m in my early 50s. I’m not telling you exactly — 51, 52, 53. When I was younger and opened my first restaurant in London, I wanted to seem older. Now I want to seem younger.
Your restaurants are some of the most praised in Washington. What is it about you that fosters that kind of success?
I think a restaurant is like a human being, and I treat them like that. I constantly stay focused on them. These are my pride and joy, and I enjoy them. There is an expectation from Washingtonians, and I like to meet those expectations.
What makes a power table a power table?
It depends on one’s definition. A power table for you and me would be two different tables. Some people want to be seen, and others just want a secluded table. But definitely not by the bathroom or kitchen.
What if you have two people who want the same power table?
It happens a lot. So what we do, whoever comes in first we give the first table. And then, if someone arrives later, they get the second power table. Ha-ha-ha.
You deal with a lot of big shots. Who of those was the most humble?
All big shots are humble. Why? Because they know when they walk in a place they’re going to be looked after. It’s very simple. But one? Nelson Mandela came in. The nicest man you’d ever meet. He had a very calm personality.
What can other restaurateurs around town learn from you?
Every restaurateur or chef, they all have special qualities. What can they learn from me? I don’t know if I can teach them anything. I have a lot I can learn from these young guys myself. But what I tell people is to stay focused. There’s an old saying that a restaurant is only as good as the last meal you served. So, it’s a constant challenge.
Have you failed at anything in your life?
I’m sure I’ve failed at many things in my life. But, restaurant-wise, no. Maybe some have been more successful than others, some have taken off faster than others.
Do you have time for anything other than restaurants?
Restaurants are a lifestyle, so I spend a lot of time in them. But outside the restaurant I read, and I’d love to learn to paint. And I love to travel.
What’s the craziest thing that has ever happened in one of your restaurants?
When you turn off that recorder, I will tell you.
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