01/02/2022

Mukka On Family, Food And Why You Should Always Listen To Mum

Editorial Team | Interviews

According to the owners of Melbourne’s Mukka Indian restaurant, good business is less about fanfare and more about doing the simple things well.

Taking its name from the Hindi word meaning ‘punch’, Mukka doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its promise of flavour. It hits you in the proverbial face and the honest approach to cooking is the secret to their success says Prateek Dhawan, who co-founded his Fitzroy restaurant with his brother Aditya Dhawan back in 2016.

“There weren’t many places that
I felt did justice to Indian food.”

Having moved from India to Melbourne over two decades ago, the Dhawan brothers have witnessed the gastronomic evolution of the city – especially with regards to Indian cuisine. Dhawan says that although fast-food chains had started to take off, much of what he and his brother saw aligned more with a sling-it-hard-and-fast approach rather than the more nuanced setting they imagined.

“There weren’t many places that I felt did justice to Indian food,” he adds, going on to explain how he and his brother began to muse over a restaurant concept that weaved in a more authentic “connection” with the food he grew up with and what they wanted to serve.

Since firing up the tandoor, the family have steadily built a reputation for carefully considered cooking that is faithful to the homestyle fare they love. Combining their menu with a robust cocktail list and a fully stocked bar means Friday night at Mukka is the main event… not just a cheeky bite before bed. Led by their obvious “passion” first and business second approach, Dhawan is proud of the front living restaurant he’s created.

Treating eating more like a practice of exploration, Mukka swerves the usual three-course plod along favouring a more modern take on Indian cuisine that is big, bright and celebratory. Mukka champions a variety of home-cooked style curries from across the Indian region as well as street eats and grill items that give it an almost hawker feel. Nanns and rotis are made in house, as are the wafer-thin dosa pancakes. The magic touch? The chefs roast and grind their own spices to ensure the best quality. These small touches help to ensure Mukka maintains its position as one of the ‘must try’ Indian restaurants in Melbourne.

Every dish on the menu is overseen by the Dhawan brothers’ meticulous mother who glides around the kitchen like it’s her own home, which it is. Whether you’re a blood relative, business partner, team member or customer, all are treated as an extension of the family. This sense of community and hospitality waft through the restaurant like the spices do in the air.

“We are a family-run restaurant, laughs Ineet Dua, a business partner at Mukka who joined the business more recently. “Dhawan is a brother from another mother.” Having first met the family as a customer himself looking for a taste of home, he too saw the value of the Mukka mission and has since come on to help expand the brand and lead its operations.\

“We’ve got our mother working here in the kitchen, making sure all the recipes are correct,” he says, alluding to the idea that Mumma Dhawan is never shy when it comes to keeping the team on task and won’t think twice to let someone know when a course needs to be corrected. And the proof is in the eating.

“It’s not something flashy or anything glamorous…
it’s a very simple and very humble approach.”

Food, drinks, and customer service aside, it’s hard not to be impressed with Mukka’s online presence. It’s tough to find a listing that focuses on Indian food in Melbourne that doesn’t feature the restaurant. You may be forgiven for thinking this was orchestrated as part of a wider PR plan or media outreach strategy to drive new customers, but according to Dhawan, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Mukka took about six years to mature and solidify our reputation in Melbourne,” he says, “we just wanted people to just give it a try. Sales were not our focus and to be honest, we’ve mostly grown organically… that’s our secret to our success. It’s not something flashy or anything glamorous, to be honest, it’s a very simple and very humble approach.”

Working with family isn’t easy and Dhawan admits it’s not always smooth sailing. “Working with family has got its perks and has got its disadvantages too,” he explains, “because when you’re fighting, you’re fighting with your mum.”

After spending time cementing themselves within the community, streamlining their offering and honing their service, Dhawan and Dua believe now is the time to expand. With two new restaurants under construction, the 200-pax “Mukka 2.0” in St Kilda and Mukka Express in Chadstone, the business is looking to build on solid foundations. Mumma Dhawan is also leading the development of a ready-meal offering too.

“We are growing together with the community, understanding what locals demand,” explains Dua, referencing their expansion plans. “It’s a great experience and India is all about culture. And when you put that on a plate that would bring smoke alight.”

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