Street & Conversation with…George at Pilau

Street food hub Pilau is a quintessentially London phenomenon – an unselfconsciously cool blending of Indian and British flavours, all packaged quickly and efficiently for London’s ever-changing, ever-demanding, high speed food scene.  Owner George got the idea for Pilau on a trip to India and it’s spawned an entire franchise, with venues in both London and Dubai. We caught up at the Fitzrovia branch to find out more.   

Hi George! What’s the story behind Pilau?

It started back in 2015. I’ve been working in the restaurant industry since I was 14, washing dishes. Then my brother and I went to India and fell in love with the cuisine, the culture, the people. We went to a religious festival called Ganpati, and we were on the beach looking at what was going on. A family pulled us in and said “you look out of place – come and join the celebration.” We ended up staying with them for four days. They didn’t let us pay for anything, they fed us, we danced every night. The mum became my surrogate mother out there, and she’s come over here two or three times since. She knew nothing about us, and she took us in and welcomed us. Basically we came back and we were blown away. We also had the realisation that Indian food is the nation’s favourite – had been for about ten years – but there was no well-known Indian brand in the grab and go sector. With Mexican food you’ve got things like Chipotle, Chilango…there are loads of sushi places too, burger places…but no-one doing Indian food. Dishoom and Kricket are smashing it in the sit-down market, so we wanted to start something for the lunchtime, grab and go workers. So that’s how it was born. We looked at how we could change people’s perceptions of Indian food as just being an evening meal, and what we could do to make it more lunchtime. So we reduced the size of our menu, played two-step garage and old-school hip hop, and we try to make the food light, healthy, fresh and easy to carry away. It’s all fresh, with healthy vegan and vegetarian ingredients.   

You’re partnered with a charity aren’t you?

Yeah, so at the same time as setting up Pilau, we set up a charity called “Feed Yourself, Feed A Child.” So every time someone eats at one of our restaurants, we feed a child in India. We’ve fed close to 200,000 children to date.   

What do you think is the British perception of Indian food right now?

I think it’s improving. Obviously the chicken tikka was invented in Britain…we want to get away from some of the negative connotations of British curry – that the same gravy is used for all of them, that it might upset your belly, that you might need a nap after. I think a lot of the perception of Indian food is probably wrong. We live in a country where people have curry sauce on chips. Which I’m not against, to be fair. But I think with the likes of Dishoom, people are understanding that Indian food is more than that. It’s delicious, and comes in so many different forms. It’s not just tikka masala and rice. It has come on in leaps and bounds.   

How would you describe the food at Pilau?

We’ve drawn inspiration from all over and put our own stamp on it. It’s not your traditional Indian, it’s a slight variation of it. But it’s all fresh and original and tasty. It’s Westernised grab and go Indian food. Soho meets Mumbai.  

What’s your favourite go-to restaurant in London?

I’m at Quo Vadis quite a lot. Rochelle Canteen in Hackney. Studio Kitchen in Haggerston. Max’s Sandwich Shop in Crouch End is great as well.  Not to forget 10 Greek St, a personal favourite of mine.   

What’s a great secret place in London?

Hampstead Ponds. Probably not that secret, but I love it. I have meetings there, swimming about and talking business. It’s a really nice way to do it.   

Finally… describe London in three words.

It’s my home.