Chef to Watch: Jiwan Lal, Executive Chef of Babur, London

Alex South

Alex South


Chef to Watch: Jiwan Lal, Executive Chef of Babur

Born and raised in Jaipur India, Jiwan is a master chef on a mission to create exquisite Indian cuisine that excites guests visiting South London’s Babur.

Jiwan’s journey into hospitality differs from his peers both in the UK and abroad, with the chef making a significant career change early in his adult life, before later calling his Forest Hill restaurant home.

“I was originally a science student, but I didn’t do well with chemistry. I persevered through it though and started my career as a pharmacist assistant,” he explained.

Talking about how he entered hospitality, Jiwan revealed: “One day, I saw an ad in the local newspaper about a hotel management course and the sound of it really excited me, so I decided to apply. I was thankfully selected and from then on, I pursued a career in hotel management. After finishing my degree, I was selected as a commis chef in Rajputana Place by ITC Shereton, Jaipur.”

After numerous jobs, Jiwan moved to the UK, joining Babur in 2005 where he's since transformed what was a casual Indian restaurant into a fine dining gem.


Jiwan’s experiences working and mastering his craft in India has allowed him to create a sophisticated and exciting cooking style.

Describing his style and how he implements it across Babur’s extensive range of high-quality Indian cuisine, Jiwan said: “My cooking style is more homestyle presented in a refined restaurant style. It's based on my homemade spice mix of clove, cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric and whole red chilli, and I enjoy blending my own spices for the cooking.”

With so many different complex flavours and raw spices, being confident in fully understanding an ingredient’s pairing is a skill that isn’t just learnt but is instead grown and developed overtime, and is something that Jiwan has mastered across his career as chef.

Explaining his favourite flavours and ingredients to use, Jiwan said: “I mostly enjoy cooking with beetroot, fennel seed, garlic, turmeric, and coriander seed.”

Using his in-depth knowledge, Jiwan’s creations are delicate and hearty, flavourful but well rounded, with each dish on Babur’s menu boasting true mastery from him and his kitchen team.

Highlights at the restaurant include stand out starters including Clove-smoked lamb chops roasted in garlic and yoghurt, Goat shoulder tikka, cumin puff cooked in black cardamon and served with green tomato and aubergine mash.

For mains, Babur takes classic perceptions of Indian food, before tearing them apart in the process to produce a refined modern take on traditional homecooked Indian food, that goes beyond fine dining.

Guests can enjoy mains such as Baby monkfish tail caldeen cooked with samba rice, in a creamy Goan coconut sauce creating a spicy, sharp, and delicious flavour; and Chicken Chettinad, cooked with plenty of Black pepper and South Indian Chettiyar masala, all served in a rice pancake.


Opening in 1985, Babur has come along from a casual Indian restaurant to a fine dining powerhouse, thanks to Jiwan’s vision and dedication that has remained at the forefront of the restaurant’s operations since he joined in 2005.

Babur’s strong reputation for quality and dynamic food has led to features in The Michelin Guide, AA’s Restaurant Guide, The Waitrose Good Food Guide, Hardens as well as numerous reviews from regional London food titles.

Babur is a pioneer of homestyle modern Indian cuisine. Inside it is an upmarket, contemporary, brasserie-style space decorated with original Indian artworks. The restaurant serve 100 covers in total with majestic Rajasthani marquee.

Describing the menu and what guests can expect, Jiwan revealed: “The menu is designed with modern ideas such as swordfish tikka with radish pickle, 24 hours marinated steamed shoulder of lamb with beetroot rice, or sea bream in Malabar coconut sauce with green beans and chickpeas.”

“Vegetable dishes and sides are also amazing – think spinach and sweet potato shingara pastries or baby aubergine with peanut sauce. To finish, try the black cardamom kheer (Indian rice pudding with caramelised figs and silver leaf),” added Jiwan.

Despite being a restaurant of an incredible calibre Babur has become a favourite in Forest Hill’s strong community thanks to his passion and the work of his incredible team.

“On Sundays, Babur’s ‘help yourself’ family buffet is something of a local institution. Our team consists of sous chef Praveen Kumar Gupta who joined us directly from Oberoi Rajvillas Hotel, Jaipur. Our tandoori chef Gambhir Singh Negi has got 45 years of experience and our curry chef Ajay Kumar Sharma has worked with Hyatt Hotels and worked in different continents of the world. Finally, our pastry chef Kuldeep Singh has joined us recently,” he explained.


Looking to the future, Jiwan’s aims for himself, and Babur are the same, he wants to bring international recognition to the restaurant and develop his team so they can continue serving customers with delicious fare.

When asked what his personal dream was, Jiwan replied simply: “My dream is to achieve a Michelin star.”

For Jiwan his ambition to achieve a Michelin star stems from the achievements of chefs that inspire him and his incredible culinary skills.

“Chef Vineet Bhatia – he was the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star,” he said.

To get Babur the recognition it deserves and land that all important star, Jiwan explained some of the restaurant’s plans as well as his advice for younger chefs breaking through both in his team and across the industry.

“Something exciting that we do is a tasting group with some of our most loyal customers is anytime we change up the menu or introduce new menu items, we invite them to be the first to try it out and get their feedback. We have our first one of the year coming up and we are also working on Babur’s 38th anniversary menu, which is going to be really special,” explained Jiwan.

With recruitment being an issue affecting every hospitality firm, Jiwan revealed how he keeps his team onboard and committed to his vision at Babur.

“Providing a good working environment, training program and various incentives. A lot of the staff at Babur have been with us for decades,” he explained.

Offering his advice on how younger chefs can succeed, Jiwan advised: “Be extremely hard working and dedicated to what you do. It’s important to stay focused and be mentally prepared to face a lot of challenges. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Keep calm under pressure and be prepared to take on challenges.”

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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 2nd February 2023

Chef to Watch: Jiwan Lal, Executive Chef of Babur, London