Friday, 22 November 2013

DINING OUT: Aerocity's First Hotel Woos Delhi with a Winner Buffet Spread

This review first appeared in Mail Today on November 22, 2013. To view the original, go to and open Page 23. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

WHERE: Asset Area 4, Hospitality District, Delhi Aerocity (on your way to IGIA's T3)
WHEN: Lunch and Dinner
DIAL: +91 11 4521 2121
MEAL PER PERSON (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 1,200+++ (lunch); Rs 1,750+++ (dinner)
RATING: ****

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
DELHI is in the throes of a spate of restaurant openings -- Yuautcha at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj; Dhaba by Claridges at DLF Place, Saket; Soda Bottle Openerwala at Cyber Hub, Gurgaon; Paranda at Vivanta by Taj, Faridabad; Shanghai Club at WelcomHotel Dwarka -- but I chose to start my journey of new discoveries with K3, the all-day restaurant at the New Delhi Aerocity's JW Marriott, the first hotel to be off the block at what has been a ghost of a destination for the past one year.
K3's Daniele Trivero, one of the three anchor
chefs stationed at the sprawling open kitchens,
 rolls out pizzas that will give La Piazza a good 
run for its wads of money

What drew me to K3 was the chatter it had caused on Facebook for serving the city's lowest-priced buffet (Rs 1,250+++ per person for lunch; Rs 1,750+++ for dinner). People know it's an introductory offer -- how else does a newbie get us to talk about it in a competitive market? -- but what has blown them away is the sheer quality and range of the food dished up by the sprawling restaurant's three show kitchens.
Each kitchen is led by a chef who brings bundles of talent and newness to the food he serves. The Chinese kitchen is headed by the reassuring Thomas Wee, a Malaysian of Chinese origin from Malacca, whom many of us know from his days at the Empress of China, in the hotel that was once known as the Parkroyal. Daniele Trivero brings the best culinary gifts of his mixed parentage (his father is Piemontese; his mother is from Puglia) to the Italian kitchen. And Pavan Chennam, who in his last job at the ITC Grand Maratha spent five years documenting the recipes of the legendary Imtiaz Qureishi, brings his energy, repertoire and a young team to the Indian kitchen. You can only expect the best from this formidable trio.
I knew I was on to a good deal when I dug into the dim sum (the one with crab meat impressed me with its freshness and flavours). I followed it up with a platter of roast duck, pork with crispy skin and honey-glazed pork -- a meatvaganza that should warm any carnivore's heart with the subtle sensations it leaves behind on the palate. It's a pleasure to have meats served to you with just a hint of cooking and brushstrokes of accompanying sauces that don't smother the main ingredient. An example of this minimalist yet flavour-intense cooking style was the lightly steamed sea bass that came to life with the accompanying garlic-ginger-chilli sauce, which was splayed on the middle of the fillet like a victory belt.
I first had the tomato focaccia bread from the Italian kitchen and I kid you not, I could have had just that for dinner. But you can't have a complete K3 experience without Daniele's unbeatable pizzas. I had one with just a pelati tomato base (without oregano to dress it up, the umami of the tomatoes made me go chomp-chomp-chomp). The toppings were speck, radicchio and scamorza, the famous cheese from Puglia, the home province of the chef's mother. I have not had many pizzas that taste better. I had another slice from the pizza with the mildly hot Neapolitan salami as topping. It's just what our chilli-foraging palate would want more of.
It's a pity that the Indian kitchen doesn't serve kebabs (the hotel could have put the five years that Chennam spent under Imtiaz Qureishi's wings to better use), but its tadkewali bhindi (cooked in cold-pressed kasundi sourced from Kolkata), Purani Dilli ki Murghi, Mutton Nehari and dum biryani made with sella (parboiled) rice, which I thought was a nifty diversion from the standard basmati.
The restaurant actually has four kitchens, because its dessert counter has a distinctive presence, and the masala chai ice-cream convinced me that you can't let a sated tummy make you miss the offerings lined up to tempt you. You'll not regret spending this Sunday with your family at K3.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

FORTUNE COOKIE: Din Tai Fung's Amazing Success Story is a Lesson in Mall Dining for India

Fortune Cookie first appeared in the November 21, 2013, edition of Mail Today. I have tweaked the headlines and the order in which the individual items have appeared in the newspaper.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

Din Tai Fung, Taiwan's gift to dim sum lovers,
has shown that even a mall setting can't stop a
restaurant from getting coveted Michelin stars
Image: Courtesy of 
MANY eyebrows were raised when the news first broke of Yuautcha opening at Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj? How could a pedigreed international restaurant open at a middle-market mall not particularly known for outstanding food offerings? I found the answers during a visit to the Din Tai Fung, the dim sum restaurant famous for its soupy dumplings (xiaolongbao), at its fifth-floor outlet in Taipei 101, the world's third tallest building whose steel-and-glass pagoda structure towers over the Taiwanese capital.
Like Din Tai Fung's growing legion of Indian admirers who lovingly call it DTF, I had discovered the brand in Singapore, before also finding it to my utter joy at Bangkok's Central World mall. But having the xiaolongbao, after piercing each one of them with a chopstick and seeing the soup ooze out seductively (if you eat it any other way, you'll be left with a scalded tongue), in the city of its birth is a different experience altogether.
It's a sprawling restaurant at a food court with not one vacant seat, but you'll ignore its regular appearance (and commonplace seating) the moment you immerse yourself into the delectable xiaolongbao with finely minced pork and crab roe cooking in the stock inside, and the star anise-flavoured beef noodle soup, which the Taiwanese revere as much as their oyster omelette, and the gently flavoured egg fried rice. A great food concept, you'll realise, doesn't need a plush appearance and credit card-burning prices to become an international sensation whose two outlets in Hong Kong (Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay) have won a Michelin star each.
The global network of restaurants spread across 11 countries had humble origins at the arterial Xinyi Road in Taipei, which acquired international celebrity status only after DFT was rated by The New York Times as one of the world ten best gourmet restaurants in 1993. It is also the road where Taipei 101 is now located. DFT's founder, Yang Bingyi, and his wife Lai Penmai, opened Din Tai Fung as a shop retailing cooking oil in 1958, but the rise of packaged cooking oil put them nearly out of business. They started selling xiaolongbao and steamed noodles from their shop to stay out of the red, but so popular was their food menu that by 1974 Din Tai Fung grew into a restaurant famous for its soup dumplings. Fortunately for its fans, it has only gotten better in the past four decades.

Two global celeb chefs raise a toast to our city
FOR THE first time after Wasabi, which introduced Masaharu Morimoto to the Nobu-obsessed city, Delhi will be home to restaurants of two international celebrity chefs -- Akira Back at the Aerocity's sparkling new JW Marriott and Aldo Zilli, who makes his Asian debut with Zerruco at the airy spot that was formerly occupied by Mashrabiya at The Ashok.
Back, a Korean-American who started as a professional snowboarder and acted in extreme action movies before becoming a student of Morimoto and an executive chef of Nobu Matsuhisa's Aspen restaurant, and Zilli, a celebrity TV chef and best-selling cookbook author who recently sold his successful restaurants in London and Dubai for a tidy pile, are alike in many ways. They are both intensely creative (an admiring JW Marriott insider was telling me the other night that Back can turn even a potato croquette, which he serves with seared foie gras, into a sensory experience) and they are also brilliant showmen with a celebrity fan following.
Back has had Taylor Swift, Eva Longoria and a host of other entertainment industry celebrities eating out of his hands at his Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Zilli, whose last book, Fresh and Green, was on the Daily Telegraph's Top Ten Books of 2012, made headlines not so long ago by creating an a pair of edible stilettos from fresh pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and truffles for the multiple award-winning Manchester restaurant, Cicchetti, which is said to be the favourite of Coleen Rooney, wife of the England and Manchester United football superstar Wayne Rooney.
A regular on the pages of Daily Mail, a food columnist for Daily Express and a television food show host who has also appeared on Celebrity X-Factor, Zilli is the corporate executive chef (they call him the consigliere!) of the company that runs Cicchetti. Zerruco, though, is his independent venture, for which he has tied up with restaurateurs Kashif Farooqi and Prashant Ojha of Urban Pind fame, industry consultant Manish Baheyti, and three private investors. It was the Michelin one-starred London chef, Atul Kochhar, who introduced Baheyti to Zilli -- Baheyti and Kochhar know each other since their days as students at the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development.
The entry of these successful international chefs seals Delhi's reputation as a foodie city that believes in spending good money on good food, but what do these chefs see in the city? I asked Baheyti this question and he said it is precisely this reputation that is drawing chefs of the calibre of Back and Zilli. Gone are the days when Delhi could be dismissed as the Republic of Butter Chicken. Yes, we (and I say this as a flag-waving Dilliwallah) do love our butter chicken (I'll have driven for more than an hour to Invitation, Ashok Vihar, to dig the best BC of Delhi), but we also have an adventurous, world-travelled palate.
More importantly, we put our money where are taste buds are. Another celebrity powerhouse of culinary talent, Mumbai's Rahul Akerkar, who's ready to open Indigo shortly on what was formerly a nallah on Africa Avenue, said as much when he described Delhi to me as a city of well-heeled, high-spending food lovers. For the new international imports, Delhi offers hope in a world where fine dining is yet to recover from the wallet-tightening aftermath of the economic downturn of 2008. Expect more to follow the road taken by Akira Back and Aldo Zilli.

Akira Back Lines Up His Best for Delhi Gourmet Club
AKIRA BACK'S restaurant at the JW Marriott opens with a Delhi Gourmet Club dinner on Saturday and the menu that the Korean-American celebrity chef has prepared for the evening will give you a foretaste of his inventive style. Back spikes his famous tuna pizza with ponzu mayo (ponzu is the citrus-flavoured soy sauce that the Japanese use extensively), kaenip (perilla leaves, which the Japanese call shiso and the Koreans use to make a kimchi) and black truffles. His other hallmark preparation, seared foie gras, comes with a corn croquette, tosaka (a seaweed that is either served cold or eaten with sashimi) and spiced litchi honey. And the supporting cast of his duck breast include a puree of kabocha (a white squash that the Japanese and Koreans believe to be an aphrodisiac), compressed Korean pear and the sweet soy-base Kabayaki sauce that an unagi or eel is dipped into. Ingredients Delhiites haven't experienced before.

Delhi-NCR's First Irani Restaurant is Chef Saby's Last Hurrah for AD Singh
I'VE BEEN constantly monitoring the progress of Gurgaon's Cyber Hub, which is evolving as the new must-go-to destination, but the new restaurant that's got the city chattering is Soda Bottle Openerwala. An AD Singh venture that is being justifiably billed as Delhi/NCR's first Parsi-Irani restaurant, the quirkily designed Soda Bottle Openerwala is also the last hurrah of the hugely creative Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai, who has spent more than a year researching a cuisine that most Delhiites equate with akoori scrambled eggs, and is now moving on to launch his own consultancy services.
The more discerning among us have been goading us to try out the amazing fare that Mrs Dhun Bagli serves at the Delhi Parsi Anjuman on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, but for those who can't think beyond Mumbai's iconic Irani restaurant, Britannia & Company, Soda Water Openerwala may be the best place to start for an understanding of the cuisine. I will review the restaurant at length, but I have not heard such a buzz accompanying any opening for a long time. With Zorawar Kalra's Made in Punjab drawing capacity crowds, Soda Water Openerwala doing better in its opening week, and Zambar with a new menu designed by the extremely creative Arun Kumar waiting in the wings, I can see all roads leading to the Cyber Hub.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Three New Pedigreed Chefs Land in Delhi: Angshuman Adhikari at Diya, Sujan Sarkar at Olive Mehrauli and Alex Marks at Orient Express

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DIYA at The Leela Gurgaon is one of Delhi-NCR's few finer Inventive Indian restaurants that can be counted on your fingertips, but it has never got its due, maybe because the chef who was responsible for its outstanding menu, Kunal Kapur, is more famous as the genial host and judge of Masterchef India, and not for his tawa parantha stuffed with feta cheese, spring onions and onion seeds (kalonji).
Kapur has risen steadily up the hotel's corporate ladder -- he's now the executive sous chef -- so Diya will soon have a new chef and he's Angshuman Adhikari, who has been running Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar's Simply India restaurant at the year-old St Regis in the scenic Le Morne peninsula, an old hideout of runaway slaves on the south-western tip of Mauritius. Angshuman was sous chef at Kochhar's Dubai restaurant, Zafran, before he moved to the Indian Ocean island nation.
The St Regis at Le Morne stands in the shadow of a 556m-high basaltic monolith that looms over the palm-fringed resort thriving in glorious isolation on a beach in pristine condition. It is here that Kochhar, who opened London's Tamarind restaurant and now presides over Benaras, conceptualised Simply India, where the Samundri Do Pyaza, a treat for seafood lovers, competes for your attention with Karara Kekda Aur Salad (soft-shell crab paired with apple and peanut salad and apple chutney); Batak Chettinad served with cabbage and vermicelli foogath (which gets its name because of coconut and curry leaves); Tandoori Machhi teamed with crispy bok choy and Kochhar's signature smoked tomato chutney; and Citrus Rice Pudding with Blood Orange Ice Cream.
I can see Diya becoming the talk of the town, which Angshuman knows very well, having worked at Set'z with the formidable Master Chef Arif Ahmed, but it is not the only restaurant that'll see the infusion of pedigreed talent. The ever-popular Olive Bar & Kitchen at Mehrauli has got itself a prized import -- the young Sujan Sarkar, who's fresh off the boat from London (and all set to get married). I was reading up about Sujan when I stumbled upon a tweet by Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame informing his followers about how this talented dynamo was "preparing [a] dazzling display" for TreatFest 2012. It's not often that Blumenthal tweets as enthusiastically about a young chef.
Described as a "gastronomic genius", Sujan was crowned London Chef of the Year and was National Chef of the Year finalist in 2012. The rising star of 'molecular ingenuity' who uses liquid nitrogen like a magician, left Mumbai's JW Marriott, where he launched his career, in 2004 to join the Hilton hotels in the UK. Soon, he found himself working at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, from where he moved under the wings of the Relais & Chateaux grand chef Peter Tempelhoff, and then on to the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows on the 28th floor of the London Hilton at Park Lane, where he got to work with Andre Garrett and Chris Galvin.
Sujan Sarkar, seen at the TreatFest 2012 in the UK,
has joined Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli. His
appointment has been a casting coup for the
restaurant's charismatic owner, AD Singh.
Moving fast, Sujan changed gears and went on to be the opening chef of the Automat American Brasserie on Dover Street, Mayfair, whose popular menu is as famous for its macaroni and cheese with truffle as for its chicken liver and foie gras mousse served with plum chutney. From Automat, Sujan also ran the affairs of the private members' club, Almada, which opened beneath the brasserie and attracted the likes of George Clooney because of its classic decor, good food and discreet setting.
Alex Marks is the other debutant from London who is opening his innings at the Orient Express with a dinner on Tuesday, November 12. He's replacing D.N. Sarma, the Taj veteran who learnt his craft from the legendary Arvind Saraswat and became synonymous with OE. Well, OE needed more than just Sarma's reassuring presence to shore up its jaded reputation and Marks, who earned his spurs at Gordon Ramsay's Maze at the Marriott on Grosvenor Square, may just be the oxygen that the chic restaurant badly needs.
Marks got noticed because he did a pretty competent job of stepping into Ramsay's star protégé Jason Atherton's shoes at Maze -- a gushing review of the restaurant had lauded it for its "attention to infinitesimal details and a commitment to exactingly high standards". He was previously the head chef at the Michelin-starred Foliage, the Modern British restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge that has been replaced by Heston Blumenthal's Dinner.
With such talented chefs with impeccable track records arriving in the city (apart from of course the incredible Rahul Akerkar), we seem to have a great gastronomic season ahead. I can't wait to see how it unfolds.

Friday, 8 November 2013

DINING OUT AT UZURI: A Terrace to Die For and A Menu With Winners

This restaurant review first appeared in the 08/11/2013 edition of Mail Today. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHERE: Uzuri Deck & Dining, M-40, M-Block Market, GK-II. It's on the Chungwa lane on top of Market Cafe.
WHEN: Lunch and Dinner. High Tea to start soon.
DIAL: 011-41623623 / 25
AVE MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 3,500+++
The restaurant doesn't have a liquor licence. But you can buy a day licence and have a party on the terrace.
STAR RATING: ***1/2 out of 5

Animal prints and African artifacts are all
over Uzuri's fine dining section to reinforce
the restaurant's positioning as the purveyor
of European fine dining suffused with
 uniquely African flavours.
I DROPPED in at Uzuri Deck & Dining almost on an impulse at an unsually sleepy Greater Kailash-II, M-Block Market (post-Diwali fatigue, I guess!), with my good friend and man-about-town, Shaun Lobo, whose father Ronnie is a much-revered name among hoteliers. Shaun's mother Fatima is one of the three owners of Tres, which has become a must-go-to fine dining destination, thanks to the combined talents of her chef-partners Julia Carmen De Sa and Jatin Mallick.
I was therefore in good company -- and I was particularly keen on meeting Guy Clark, the Masterchef South Africa finalist who had guests at the wedding of Max India Chairman Analjit Singh's daughter (it was the wedding where Lionel Ritchie sang) eating out of his hands. Clark is one of the two chefs steering Uzuri, which bills itself as a European-African restaurant (the name itself comes from the Swahili word for 'goodness'), but he was vacationing in Rajasthan.
That gave me an opportunity to meet the restaurant's young executive head chef, Rishim Sachdeva, who has moved back from London, where he went when he was 16, after studying hospitality management at Oxford Brookes University and working at Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal's celebrated Michelin three-star restaurant at Bray, Berkshire. I was particularly impressed by the last bit of the young chef's biography.
Rishim has actually worked for two years and half with the god of molecular gastronomy and was promoted to sous chef at Fat Duck, where most youngsters consider themselves lucky to be able to work as unpaid interns, just to be able to flash the name on their CVs. On the Uzuri menu, Blumenthal shows up with his invention, chocolate soil, on which rests the restaurant's must-have dessert with semi-frozen truffles, caramelised nuts, pickled grapes and butter caramel ice-cream. A silent tribute from a proud student.
I chose the two-storey restaurant's tastefully turned-out terrace, which was a delight on a nippy evening, and I could see it becoming the city's favourite party zone when the place gets its liquor licence only after the assembly elections. This hiatus may hurt the restaurant in the short run -- and it is showing in its uneven occupancy -- because its food is made for wine and long conversations. Frankly, I didn't say 'wow' after each dish, but the meal left me with a sense of satisfaction and a desire to return soon.
It was the mustard lamb shoulder, cooked for 48 hours and served on a bed of wild spinach with hazelnut salsa verde, that made me silently pray for this restaurant's long life. I had it with the herbed quinoa salad, bush-style smoked vegetables and truffle-scented pesto, whose charming simplicity won my heart, and the trio of beetroot and goat cheese mousse, toasted pumpkin seeds and warm bread. I just loved the bread, though I couldn't decide whether I loved the accompanying beetroot jam more (even the butter trio -- paprika, garlic and pesto -- accompanying the bread basket will make you consume a lot of carbs)!
The opening was heart-warming, but then came two jarring notes -- the Cape Malay fish cakes made me wonder why I was having aloo tikki in a restaurant that otherwise takes its food seriously and the pressed pork belly resting on an apple cider mash was left half-eaten. Before we could start complaining, though, we were blown away by the palate cleanser -- an unbeatable lemon souffle -- followed by the African-spiced leg of lamb with mint puree, onions carmelised for 48 hours, confit garlic and caper jus. I just loved the interplay of textures and tastes and how well they sat on my palate, and the twice-based cheese souffle served with braised edamame, sun-dried cherry tomatoes and balsamic fondue can give the grand-daddy in this department, Orient Express, a good run for its money. This is one restaurant that'll see more of me.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

FORTUNE COOKIE: Max India Boss Analjit Singh Says Cheers to South African Wine

This column first appeared in the 7 November 2013 edition of Mail Today. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A COUPLE OF fortnights back, I had written about the discovery of Masterchef South Africa finalist Guy Clark by Max India chairman, Analjit Singh (current worth: $705 million, estimated by, which culminated in the opening of Uzuri Deck & Dining at M-Block Market, Greater Kailash-II. The multi-millionaire has now sent ripples across the wine world by buying into one of South Africa's youngest and much-acclaimed wineries, Mullineux Family Wines.
Singh's "complete love affair" with South Africa, as we are informed by the wine writer Tim James (, started with his maiden trip to that country during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, thanks to his soccer-obsessed son. It was then that he discovered Franschhoek, an exclusive enclave near Cape Town established by the French Huguenots in 1688, and now famous for its wineries as well as award-winning restaurants (including Le Quartier Francaise, which was ranked 36th in the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants of the World in 2011). He bought a mansion house, the Dassenberg Farm, in that exclusive neighbourhood and James writes that it is being re-landscaped in a major way.
Max India Chairman Analjit
Singh has invested in the young
and acclaimed Mullineux Family
Wines in South Africa owned by
Chris and Andrea Mullineux
Mullineux Family Wines was established in 2007 by a young accountant-turned-winemaker Chris Mullineux and his American wife Andrea, a graduate of the famous viticulture and oenology programme of the University of California-Davis -- they had met, as you'd expect from a wine fairytale, in Champagne and instantly fell in love. They started the company with investments from the British serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Keith Prothero, who had made his money in the finance business in Hong Kong, and accountant Peter Dart.
Within a short time, Mullineux acquired a stellar reputation with its portfolio of wines (three with the coveted five-star rating) produced in the granite- and shale-based terroir of the Swartland, a young and tiny wine region 50km north of Cape Town that was previously famous for being the home of South Africa's oldest colonial hotel, The Royal at Riebeek Kasteel. The viticulturist Rosa Kruger, one of South Africa's great "wine innovators" (to quote FT's celebrated columnist Jancis Robinson) and fairy godmother to the Young Turks of her country's blossoming wine industry, introduced Singh to the Mullineux couple.
For Singh, who's seriously looking at bigger forays into food, wine and hospitality, to mastermind which he has appointed Hector de Galard to Max India, it seemed like just the kind of match he would love to seal. An opportunity presented itself when Prothero, who has also financed the London fine wine store, The Sampler, and is funding a charity working for the welfare of South African children afflicted by the foetal alcohol syndrome, announced that he would like to sell his stake in the business. Singh's Leeu International Investments Limited ('Leeu' is the Afrikaans word for 'lion', or Singh!) picked up this stake, making him the first major Indian investor in an important South African wine company.
Last fortnight, I had written about Hindustan Construction Company's Ajit Gulabchand and his massive investment in Nashik's Charosa winery. If Indian investors of the stature of Analjit Singh and Ajit Gulabchand pump money into the wine business, whether in India or around the world, then the profile of the country's wine market will transform dramatically. What the country's wine business desperately needs is an infusion of corporate culture into its daily operations to help it rise above its infantile presence. It will definitely help the country's wine producers to stop behaving like small farmers and make common cause to grow the market, and also get the government to start taking the business seriously. At the moment, the Indian Grape Processing Board is a joke dominated by small-time farmer-producers led by officials who essentially use the organisation to collect frequent flier miles by organising study trips around wine-making countries. People like Analjit Singh can change the face of this unorganised business.

I WAS in Bangkok on Diwali eve, on an assignment for one of my many current employers, and I was struck by the sight of women brightly dressed in the Indo-Thai style accompanied by plainly clothed men with flat white turbans and flowing beards zipping into the porch of the busy Sheraton Grande on Sukhumvit Road in their sport cars, conversing with each other in the Thai language as spoken by the locals. They lent colour and buzz to the lobby of the busy hotel.
I found out that they were members of Bangkok's Namdhari Sikh families, which are at the forefront of local businesses, and Diwali-eve parties are occasions for them to bond. For the hotel, which is owned by an old Punjabi business family settled in Thailand, these parties mean good business. And the seriousness with which it takes this business is apparent from the presence of an Indian chef, Janmejoy Sen (formerly of The Imperial New Delhi), catering especially to the social calendar of the Thai capital's vibrant Punjabi community.
Unlike Delhi's Diwali parties, where high stakes rule the gambling tables, single malts and Barolos get flashed, and an array of exotic dishes (from fondues to anda paranthas, which were hugely popular at a party hosted by a builder-hotelier this past weekend), the ones in Bangkok are strictly dry and vegetarian, and gambling is a big no-no. Namdharis (or Kukas), who constitute 60-70 per cent of the Thai population of Indian origin, are vegetarian and teetotallers. Their code of simple living forbids them to gamble and explains the everyday nature of the simple clothes worn by the men. I am told the non-Namdhari Punjabis aren't bound by such considerations, but thankfully, they haven't imported the culture of gambling.
The Diwali-eve party that I got a glimpse of was a tasteful affair. The hotel's event planner had got the venue decorated with Thai silks and flower arrangements, an old-fashioned band was in attendance with a pianist playing old Hindi film numbers and contemporary Thai tunes, and the food spread was a delight. From vegetarian sushi and quesadilla, to khao suey, pad thai and pastas cooked live, to Vietnamese kanom baung yuan (coconut rice pancakes), to matar paneer, naan and pedas, it looked as if the kitchens of the world had come home to roost at this Diwali-eve party. You can take Indians out of India, but you can't take India out of them!

THE Bollywood stars who attended Nita Ambani's 50th birthday, and the 55 private jets that ferried them and the other celebrities and captains of industry who attended the celebrations in Jodhpur, may have cornered media mind space, but who were the chefs who kept the country's A-List eating out of their hands?
As you'd expect from an event of this class, super chef Hemant Oberoi of the Taj Group presided over the Umaid Bhawan Palace dinner where the best dishes of the hotel chain's top restaurants, from Blue Ginger to Wasabi, were showcased. At the Bal Samand Palace high tea followed by dinner, Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent rolled out his signature phulka tacos, but the fillings were strictly vegetarian, and six designer chaats, including dahi batata poori with wasabi peas and caramelised onion kachoris served with blue cheese sauce.
The equally inventive Abhijit Saha, the chef-restaurateur behind Bangalore's Caperberry, served molecular gastronomy canapes and desserts carrying his creative imprint. The surprise of that evening, though, was a caterer from Surat named Tapan Choksi. He laid out a wow Gujarati spread that his mother, who's in her 70s and very close to Kokilaben Ambani, personally got made over two days. She made sure the dinner turned out to be a wow experience that the privileged guests wouldn't forget in a hurry.

WHEN I woke up to Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai's Facebook post on what Charlie Trotter meant to him and other young chefs of his generation, I got a sense of the vast circle of influence of the Chicago chef-restaurateur who passed away on November 5. Trotter was 54 when he died, which only compounds the loss, for the man who read Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, talked management (Businessweek brilliantly describes him as a 'Master Chef with a McKinsey Mind'), took foie gras off the menu in 2002, and was one of the most revered chefs of his age, could have shaped at least a couple of more generations. Aspiring chefs have devoured his books, his restaurants have won a procession of honours, but we'll always remember him for his famous line from his cameo role in My Best Friend's Wedding: "I will kill your whole family if you don't get this right!"

RIP: India Loses Her Sunny Granny of Comfort Food

This obituary first appeared in the 7 November 2013 edition of Mail Today, Delhi/NCR. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

FROM Narendra Modi to India's first television chef Sanjeev Kapoor, all of India is mourning the passing away of Tarla Dalal after a heart attack at 77, for her cookbooks have been an essential ingredient of our national life, and a rite of passage for the pre-internet generation, for four decades since she was first published in 1974.
Tarla Dalal lifted home cooking from its
cycle of predictability and affected the
lives of millions in the pre-internet age
A chatty Mumbai homemaker with a sunny temperament and halting command over English, who'd gained a considerable following for the cooking classes she was running at her Napean Sea Road home since 1966, Tarla Dalal (with her husband taking dictations) spent 18 months writing The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking. It became a runaway best-seller after its debut in 1974 and a mandatory gift for brides in an age when cookbooks and Eve's Weekly were the only sources of recipes, and it was eventually translated into six languages (including Dutch and Russian).
With the cookbook, Dalal took home cooking with everyday ingredients to a new level of replicable creativity, lifting it out of its self-limiting cycle of predictability with her brand of accessible excitement. She was the grandmother of comfort food even before the term became fashionable. Betty Crocker was a figment of a publisher's imagination; Tarla Dalal was real. Her constituency was the country's mushrooming middle-class trying hard to bring some excitement to its table. And she achieved the impossible: to quote Atul Sikand, founder of Facebook's most vibrant Indian recipe-sharing community, Sikandalous Cuisine, "she made simple recipes, which are the toughest to get right, seem so easy to do".
Inspired to become a hobby chef by Dalal's cookbooks, Sikand remembers meeting his idol when he was 23-24, fresh out of his development economics master's programme at the University of Sussex, and asking her about how to get his kadhi right. She explained the intricacies of her recipe with the patience of an indulgent aunt and even said how he would become a great chef one day. Of course, he never became one!
Even chefs are proud to admit that they have liberally borrowed from Dalal's cookbooks. She authored 170 of them, which have sold more than four million copies, and her TV show,  Cook It Up with Tarla Dalal, ran on Sony Entertainment Television for three years. Yet, she was candid enough to announce in Harmony magazine some years back that she had stopped cooking, leaving the job of creating recipes to a team of chefs and nutritionists guided by her. The pre-internet diva's website,, which is run by her son Sanjay, now has 17,500-plus recipes that people pay to access.
Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai, whom Dalal had ranked in 2003 as one of India's top 10 chefs in the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways, says he dipped into these cookbooks to sex up the vegetarian fare served to the 25,000 people who ate daily at the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge Centre cafeteria. "Where else but in Tarla Dalal's cookbooks could I have found recipes for vegetarian dishes with a Mexican twist?" asks Gorai, adding that when he was working in Australia, chefs at Indian restaurants liberally borrowed from Dalal.
Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal, corporate food consultant, blogger and modern-day Tarla Dalal, says her icon was special because she touched the everyday lives of ordinary people. Her Gujarati parents gifted her Tarla Dalal's cookbooks when she got married and, Rushina recalls, she got addicted to 'Spanish Rice' (a desi version of a vegetarian paella), a recipe she had picked up from one of the books, when she was pregnant.
Few middle-class Indians who grew up in the pre-internet age can say they haven't had a Tarla Dalal moment in their lives. She taught us how to cook at home and make our next meal a little more exciting.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Olive Bar & Kitchen Tops Delhi Gourmet Club's Best Pizza of Delhi/NCR Ranking

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The Olive Bar & Kitchen team posing for a photo-op with
the Best Pizza Trophy being handed over by Rocky Mohan
and other members of the Delhi Gourmet Club jury
AFTER enjoying a long Diwali weekend, I am back with a bucketful of news, starting with the announcement of the Delhi Gourmet Club's Pizza Hunt results. When I look back at the evolution of the pizza in our city, I remember the days when the Nirula's Keema Do Pyaza Pizza used to be my post-examination treat from my father. The pizza crust used to be like toast, with shredded Amul processed cheese filling in for mozzarella, the 'tomato puree' suspiciously seeming to be straight out of a ketchup bottle, and the keema do pyaza was unevenly spread on top, with the serving getting thinner as the pizza got popular. Of course, there was also the pepperoni pizza, which was hugely popular (with good reason!), but I discovered it much later.
I am speaking of the early 1980s, when a pizza was a treat that few middle-class families could afford. That was when Taxila, the city's only respectable Continental restaurant on the Maurya rooftop, was struggling to survive, and so was Valentino at the fledgling Hyatt Regency, which made way for the juggernaut named La Piazza. It was La Piazza, together (a little later) with Italian electrical engineer-turned-restaurateur Tarsillo Natalone's Flavors, which ended Delhi's pizza virginity. In fact, the opening chef of La Piazza, who was an Austrian, was so pernickety about the restaurant's Neapolitan pizzas that he banned the waiters from dousing them with Tabasco sauce or chilli flakes. The waiters, as a result, had to smuggle bottles of both in their jacket pockets to serve their contents on the sly.
Since those early days, we have seen Ritu Dalmia introduce Delhi to the wonders of the wood-fired oven at Diva. We have had Bill Marchetti inaugurate one with great fanfare at Pavilion, the all-day restaurant at the ITC Maurya, but the restaurant never became famous for pizzas. We have watched Olive Bar & Kitchen turn pizza slices, freshly out of the wood-fired oven, into popular party snacks in the days when the trio of Anirban Sarkar, Mohit Balachandran and Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai had made the restaurant a force to reckon with. And Mist at The Park, in the days of Bakshish Dean (the golden age of the Connaught Place hotel's culinary journey), rolled out such novelties of the time as the smoked salmon and quattro formaggi pizzas.
Of course, we had our share of PR gimmicks as well, such as the pizza priced at Rs 9,999 (its toppings included a generous helping of beluga and lobster), with which The Qube opened its doors at The Leela Palace Chanakyapuri. It was the creation of the hotel's then executive chef, the affable American, Glenn Eastman, who formerly presided over the kitchen at the personal yacht of the world's richest man, Mexican telecoms tsar Carlos Slim Helu. Talking about Americans and pizzas, India is well on its way to becoming one of the top five market for Domino's, which straddles across 55 per cent of the country's Rs 1,300-1,400-crore organised pizza market. Pizza Hut is hot in pursuit, followed at a respectable distance by players such as Papa John's and Sbarro, and now, JSM Hospitality, the company behind Shiro and Hard Rock Cafe, is ready to roll out California Pizza Kitchen in Delhi/NCR after a successful run in Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore.
With Delhi's pizza offerings getting more diverse than ever, it has become important for food connoisseurs to get a sense of where they can get the best pizzas in the city and its upscale suburbs. True to its record of becoming the final arbiter of taste in the city, the Delhi Gourmet Club, led by 'Mr Old Monk' and author of four well-received cookbooks, Rocky Mohan, went on a whirlwind hunt for the best pizza, covering 15 restaurants a record three weeks.
The jury consisted of a mixed group of well-travelled people united by a passion for food but representing the universe of Delhi restaurants--a couple of home-makers, a social media marketer, a management consultant, a well-known restaurateur, and even a professor of human rights at a reputed law school. Each of them spent Rs 5,000, tasting a basic margherita pizza followed by a gourmet pizza at each of the 15 restaurants, over five nights to arrive at a ranking that is refreshingly honest, though some of the big names in the business may not agree with their relegation to the lower end of the list.
My big complaint against the jury is that it left out Flavors and Cilantro at The Trident, Gurgaon, which, I maintain, has been consistent with the superior quality of its pizzas. I wholeheartedly endorse the No. 1 position going to Olive Bar & Kitchen, but I was left wondering how threesixtydegrees at The Oberoi managed to be No. 2 -- I have never known of anyone going there to ask for a pizza. Fat Lulu, in my opinion, should have been No. 2, not No. 3. But the shocker was Diva ending at the bottom of the heap, at No. 15. The news made me lapse into a state of violent disbelief followed by shock. Has Ritu Dalmia allowed her restaurant to slip to such an extent or was it a bad dough day? Anyway, without more quibbles, let me share the ranking with you:

Olive  Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli, 79.33; threesixtydegrees, The Oberoi New Delhi, 74.50; Fat Lulu, Gurgaon, 70.50; San Gimignano, The Imperial, 68.50; La Piazza, Hyatt Regency, 68.44; Sen5es, Pullman Gurgaon, 66.25; Sartoria, Vasant Vihar, 62.93; Mistral, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 62.20; Prego, The Westin, Gurgaon, 60.57; La Tagliatella, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 58.47; The Qube, The Leela Palace Chanakyapuri, 53.35; Amici, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 50.36; Tonino, Andheria More, Mehrauli, 48.57; Mist, The Park, Parliament Street, 43.22; Diva, M-Block, Greater Kailash-II, 42.88.

So, how do you rate a pizza? Did the jury follow certain guidelines? Rocky shared them with the Delhi Gourmet Club before posting the results. Though Rocky did not mention this fact, you'll find the pointers in the blog 'A Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels'. Anyway, here they are:

Is the crust worth eating on its own? Or is it simply a load-bearing device to hold up massive quantities of toppings (not necessarily a bad thing, but not usually seen in the best pizzerias)?
Is the bread dense or airy?
Do the individual toppings taste good on their own? Would you eat them if they were served on an appetiser plate alone? Or do they need cheese, bread and tomato sauce to work.
What types of cheeses are being used? Would the cheese(s) also taste okay on its own?
Is there a lot of sauce, a sauce drought, or is it in-between? Is the sauce delicious on its own?
Does it rely on salt or sugar for a strong taste?
Does the pizza remain tasty and interesting from start to finish? Or does the pizza have a great first bite, but then become an uninteresting trudge to finish eating. Over-salted pizzas can definitely fall into this trap. If you wish to check out the original, go to 

Interesting pointers! Keep these in mind the next time when you to have a gourmet pizza experience.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

High Rollers Hold Back Big Bucks at This Year's Diwali Parties, But Food & Drink Get Better

This article appeared in Mail Today, Delhi/NCR, on 02/11/2013.
Copyright: Mail Today

By Sourish Bhattacharyya and Radhika Bhalla

Diwali parties may be seeing less money being thrown
around this year, but the food, wine and single malt
offerings are getting better by the year. Image:
Courtesy of
THIS is the weekend when the pace and magnitude of Diwali card parties picks up, but the city's punters are already complaining about the market having become "thanda". They blame the cooling down of property transactions for the dampening of the high-roller sentiment this season.
Diwali has traditionally been the season of brisk property sales, which in turn has sustained the cash economy that comes into play at the imported roulette tables of the city's richie-rich parties. This season, the punters are no longer talking about fatcats sauntering in with suitcases bulging with money at Chhattarpur farmhouses or of Rs 5 lakh being the minimum 'move'.As one veteran of these parties put it ruefully, "There's a liquidity crunch." In other words, there's not enough liquid cash floating around in the grey market. But of course, card parties have shown no signs of slowing down. They continue to go on till 6 or 7 a.m. -- the time people leading less colourful lives normally set off on their morning constitutional -- though the stakes may not be as high as before.Two features of this season stand out, according to insiders. The first is the growing visibility of the scions of business families -- not the prominent ones, but those that are locally important, from rice traders to car dealers. These young men with their trophy wives, each one of them a walking DLF Emporio, are the new high-rollers. Even they are being restrained in their 'moves'. No one's putting more than a couple of lakhs per move. And these high rollers literally enjoy elevated positions at card parties -- they play in secluded cabanas or on machans. Hosts are also judged by the number of roulette tables they set up, enabling guests to indulge their passion for blackjack.At the more 'affordable' parties, the 'blinds' range from Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000 and in some cases even Rs 1 lakh. But the minimum buy-in at medium/high poker games, a favourite of the scions, extends from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. The 'ladies', who are assigned separate tables away from the men, play with very small stakes that their husbands wouldn't even sniff at.The other trend, which is not a new practice but has held its ground, is that no one gets to play on credit. This old practice often led to ugly situations in the past. The most infamous incident was that of a former cricket czar ending up owing Rs 1 crore to a late hotelier after a cards party. The day after got so out of hand that the former (and controversial) BCCI top honcho's industrialist father had to bail him out by paying in installments the money his son owed. Since then, you're allowed to play on the high tables only if you have the cash and you can move' only what you have.The money changing hands this season may not be high, but the hosts of card parties are pulling out all the stops when it comes to showing their hospitable side. Single malts are the flavour of the season. At one such party, on offer to guest were a hundred single malts, some of them from the barrels of distilleries that had stopped operating decades ago. Italy's premium red wine, Barolo, is another favourite, and the hosts are going to great lengths to get their wine lists right.Finger food, fondue (this year's flavour of the season) and kebabs accompany these libations and they continue to be served through the night. "The stakes may be lower, but our business is booming this year," said a caterer who's popular at high-end card parties. Win some, lose some. Isn't that what gambling is all about?

Friday, 1 November 2013

DINING OUT: Fashionably Late, But Cavalli Caffe Gets Its New Menu Right

This review first appeared in Mail Today, Delhi/NCR, on 10/11/2013.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

and click on Page 23.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHAT: Cavalli Caffe
WHERE: Ground Floor Atrium, DLF Emporio, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj
WHEN: 11 A.M. TO 11 A.M. (last order)
DIAL: 011-46950000; +919582645245

WHEN Cavalli Caffe (the 'ff' is deliberate!) opened last year, next to the flamboyant silver-haired Italian designer's boutique at DLF Emporio, people joked that it got as many diners in a day as would fit into the monogrammed stretch limo that had ferried Roberto Cavalli to the launch party in the glittering presence of Bollywood's young celebs led by the towering Sonam Kapoor.
Split into two sections--one in the luxury mall's atrium and the other inter-connected with the store, with crystal lamps, floor-to-roof mirrors, zebra-print sofas and chairs, and framed black-and-white photographs of Cavalli schmoozing with international stars, the Caffe was at once perceived to be overpriced and too snobby for regular diners.
Its misfortune was compounded by its location next to Cha Shi, whose wholesome South-East Asian street food, sensible pricing and accessible style made it an instant hit. The Caffe's indifferent menu and Cavalli prices did it in -- in our picky city, the only way you can make a restaurant successful is by serving good food. People pay for taste and not for an international celebrity's licence fee.
The new menu has the power to bring life back 
to Cavalli Caffe, whose bright and fashionable 
decor hadn't been getting people to come in 
and dine. Image: Shekhar Yadav/Mail Today
The restaurant's owner and promoter of a number of luxe brands, Manav Gangwani, was quick to read the writing on the wall and at once drafted Vidur Parashar, formerly famous for Circa 1193, the restaurant that met with a premature end even though it served honest-to-goodness Pan Asian cuisine with an international twist. Parashar took up the challenge, though he knew he would have to work hard to convince Roberto Cavalli's chefs that tweaking their menu was important to get the crowds that the Caffe needed to post decent-enough financial results. In this monumental effort, Parashar was aided by Jatin Mallick of Tres, who, in his capacity as independent expert, convinced the Italians that the menu was badly in need of an overhaul.
The Caffe's new menu is not only miles ahead of its predecessor, but also gentle on the pocket, with most dishes priced between Rs 200 and Rs 500, the notable exceptions being the Sweet Lobster Linguine (Rs 1,000) and the Lasagna Tradizionale/Tagliatelle Amatriciana (Rs 700 each). It has more items in the 'Cavalli International Specials', including melt-in-the-mouth chicken shawarma that'll make you ask for a repeat and a soul-satisfying, soupy tom kha, which has been renamed Oriental Meal in a Bowl keeping in mind the restaurant's global credentials. It took the burrata, or mozzarella with cream inside, with nothing more flashy than cherry tomatoes and a hint of balsamico to give it company, that convinced me the menu had indeed been turned around. And the burrata, oozing cream like a god dropping manna from heaven, had been sourced from saddi Dilli's Flanders Dairy at Brijwasan.
I was eating in the company of Atul Sikand, whose Facebook recipe-sharing group, Sikandalous Cuisine, has become a phenomenon with 10,000 members (and counting). It's very difficult to make him happy, but Atul was as pleased as punch, especially after we spooned up the last drop of the Crema di Pomodoro, a hearty tomato soup served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread -- old-fashioned but wholesome. Next on the agenda was the Beetroot Vinaigrette with feta and arugula (rocket), a much-abused salad that could have stayed that way, but it was actually a delight for the senses. The portion of Cavalli Burger (our choice was chicken) came in as two delicious sliders, with the juicy chicken patty encased in a slightly crunchy breaded batter. And the thin-but-not-paper-crust Margherita Pizza that arrived thereafter blew us away with its sauce, which finely balanced sweet and tangy -- it is apparently not taken out readymade from a bottle, but made in the kitchen with Italian canned pelati (peeled) tomatoes that you'll find in plenty at INA Market.
A regular mortal would have stopped here, but as Atul and I were on a serious tasting mission, we ordered the burrata ravioli with burnt butter and sage -- the description on the menu said it was "divinity on plate" and we had to agree with it wholeheartedly, despite the patent immodesty of the declaration. The burnt butter just did it! The sweet lobster linguine was yet another temptress and it justified its price with the chunks of lobster in it. Our final dish was the Oriental Meal in a Bowl -- the creamy, soupy tom kha with chunky shrimps was just what we needed to prepare ourselves for the grand finale: airy hot chocolate foam sitting atop a rum granita.
The hot-and-cold sensation was just what we needed to be convinced that the new Cavalli Caffe menu not only has depth, but also quality. With it coming back to life (I hope it gets the numbers), the DLF Emporio atrium is now a complete dining experience.