Saturday, 18 October 2014

Kejriwal Out, Sabina In: AD Singh's Second SBOW in 11 Months Launches Sandwich Sensation

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AD and Sabina Singh at the
soft opening of the second
Soda Bottle Opener Wala
(SBOW) at Khan Market
on Wednesday.
A YEAR AGO, no one could have imagined that an Irani cafe would take the city by storm, but AD Singh's Soda Bottle Opener Wala (SBOW) at the Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, set a new gold standard for Delhi-NCR when it had a 20-to-30-minute waiting daily in the eight-odd months it was without a liquor licence. A queue at a restaurant without 'real' liquid nourishment? Nope, it doesn't happen in Delhi-NCR. Well, it did -- at SBOW.
At a time when the sons of the owner of Mumbai's most celebrated Irani/Parsi restaurant, Britannia at Ballard Estate, are debating whether they should shut it after their 90-year-old father, Boman Kohinoor, hangs up his boots, SBOW breathed new life into a Mumbai institution that was dying out. That too, of all places, in Gurgaon, in whose long history dating back to the time when it was given away to Guru Dronacharya as a token of respect by his most worthy students, the Pandavas, the Parsis or the Iranis have been conspicuous by their absence.
It was with great anticipation therefore that we attended the 'soft' opening of Delhi-NCR's second SBOW at Khan Market, where an old favourite of restaurant of mine, Ginger Moon, used to serve some really good Chinese food -- good enough to make me want to keep going back to it. The evening had all the elements of an AD Singh party -- after all, he's the Richard Branson of Indian restaurateurs.
It had the right celebrity quotient -- media baroness Kalli Purie, fashion designers Rohit Bal, Leena Singh and Ashish Soni, and the evergreen Chetan Seth and Manya Patil, to name a few of the notables -- and just the dose of oomph that the doctor would order to light up an evening: a sprinkling of gori chicks and Dwayne Bravo, who had come to unwind with some of his teammates on the eve of India-West Indies ODI. And they were being served well by the inimitable team of Mohit Balachandran (a.k.a. Chowder Singh of the blogging world), who kept plying me with his version of the LIIT (naughtily named Babaji Ka Thullu!), Nikhil Alung, and the light of the SBOW kitchen, 20-something Anahita Dhondy, who won the Best Newcomer of the Year title at the Delhi Gourmet Club's Top Chef Awards.
The show-stopper, though, was what I have named Sabina's Sandwich. A simple boiled egg sandwich has never tasted better. And this one's going to put the famous Kejriwal Sandwich of Mumbai's Willingdon Club out of business. As Vikram Doctor, the food chronicler of the Economic Times, informed us a couple of years ago, the Kejriwal Sandwich owes its existence to a colourful man named Devi Prasad Kejriwal, who was the brother of gaming entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal's grandfather.
The absolutely stunning decor of SBOW,
Khan Market. complements its
well-established culinary reputation.

Coming from a conservative Marwari family, the older Kejriwal was forbidden to eat eggs, but he loved them, and he ensured he got them made the way he wanted them at his three favourite haunts: Willingdon Club, Cricket Club of India, and Kobe's, the sizzlers restaurant. The original sandwich, now also served at Theobroma, Mumbai's celebrated cafe-patisserie, consisted of cheese on toast, topped with a fried egg and sprinkled with chopped green chillies.
What, then, is Sabina's Sandwich? It is an invention of the life of AD Singh's world, his designer wife Sabina, that can make for a Sunday treat your children will love. It consists of two slices of bread, not toasted but lightly fried in oil and butter so that they are crunchy outside and soft within, with a thin layer each of butter and cheese spread to hold together the slices of hard boiled eggs and diced green chillies, their seeds removed to reduce their pungency but retain their flavour. You can add raw onion rings for an added crunch and dust the sandwiches with red chilli powder for extra bite. You need such soul food after a night fuelled by Babaji Ka Thullu.
I don't know what they call the sandwich on the menu, but the next time I am at SBOW, I'll ask for a Sabina and not a Kejriwal!

Friday, 17 October 2014

One Gurgaon Restaurant Sells More Wine Than All of Millennnium City's Five-Star Hotels Put Together

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN Ashish Kapur launched Yo! China with his business partners Ajay Saini and Joydeep Singh in 2003, I trashed their maiden outlet at a Gurgaon mall in Hindustan Times. Eleven years, many successes and some failures later, Ashish is richer, leaner and his passport is thick with visas of all the countries he and his wife Meghana have travelled as his restaurant business keeps growing. And I am where I am, tapping away on my computer, but nothing I have said or written had prepared me for the success of The Wine Company at the Cyber Hub in Gurgaon.
Meghana and Ashish Kapur strike
a pose at The Wine Company
during the launch of the online food
Image: Courtesy of Ajay Gautam
I met Ashish at the launch of Meghana (she, by the way, is named after the Bangladesh river by her father, who received the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery in the 1971 War) and her business partner Elisha's must-visit online food store,, and we had several pours of my favourite white, D'Arenberg's Broken Fishplate Chardonnay, followed by the incredibly smooth Oak Cask Malbec from the Mendoza Valley wine house Trapiche, and finally a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley (Rutherford) label, Frank Family Vineyards, which is owned by the Hollywood veteran and one-time Walt Disney Studio President, Richard Frank, whose son Darryl is now co-president of DreamWorks Television.
With such conversation-engine wines, plus the company of celebrated food critic Marryam Reshii, Ashish young wine diva, Kriti Malhotra, and food experience designer Chhavi Jatvani, and a couple of out-of-the-menu dishes prepared by The Wine Company's 27-year-old chef, Abhinav Sharma (I just loved his mushroom risotto and duck confit), it was not surprising that time just flew by. That gave me enough time to absorb the facts. The Wine Company, which I knew dishes out more pizzas daily than the California Pizza Kitchen, has sold more wine than all the five-star hotels of Gurgaon put together. And it has sold more bottles of Fratelli's Sette, my favourite Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, than any other restaurant in India. This is what industry sources I trust have told me.
This is the drinking culture that wine clubs and wine importers had set out to create, but were not able to do as successfully as The Wine Company. I asked Ashish how he managed to do it and he said he was able to successfully remove the "intimidation barrier" by first making wine affordable (The Wine Company, I am sure, sells more of the celebrated Super Tuscan, Tignanello, than any other restaurant in the country simply by pricing it, unlike five-star hotels, at sub-Rs 15,000) and then freeing the experience from the intellectual callisthenics associated with wine snobbery. And the beauty of it is that it's a replicable model.
Ironically, The Wine Company location went to Ashish after AD Singh, because of some vaastu considerations, turned it down for Soda Bottle Opener Wala. Not that SBOP has done badly, but the iffy vaastu seems to have served The Wine Company well. So, finally, we have a venue where young people can just enjoy wine without bothering about the aromas and the notes, and without burning a hole in the pocket. Unsurprisingly, it is teeming with guests even on Tuesdays, which are traditionally bad days for the restaurant business. Ashish says he works very hard for "prestige and profit" -- he has been able to get both in good measure from The Wine Company.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

I Have Moved from Blogger to My Own Dotcom

I cannot ever thank you enough for the overwhelming response that you, my readers, have given me and the faith you have placed in me. I have now moved from my present perch to my own new address, namely,, and I welcome you to click on it to keep finding out what's happening in the world of hotels and restaurants. I add something new almost every day. You'll also find all my old articles in the archives of my website, which will now be like the book of life. Keep support me with your page views. I love it!!!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Gaggan Shows India's Centurion Club How To Do 'All Things Unimaginable to Indian Cuisine'

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
YOU KNOW a great chef when you see him at work. He makes even the most complicated operation seem like Cooking 101.
Most chefs of the stature of Gaggan Anand -- one-time acolyte of the Spanish maestro Ferran Adria and the lead chef/co-owner of the world's highest-rated Indian restaurant, Gaggan of Bangkok (Asia's No. 3 and the world No. 17) -- do not venture into an unfamiliar kitchen to feed 30 world-travelled, potentially hyper-critical diners, all carrying the most precious, and prestigious, strip of anodised titanium -- the American Express Centurion Card.
Not many hours after the dinner, Gaggan Anand
put up a cookery demonstration for journos. You
can see him assembling his Matcha Ice-Cream
Sandwich with his 23-year-old associate, Sergi
Palacin Martinez from the Basque country.
On Thursday, September 4, Gaggan turned ITC Maurya New Delhi's Executive Club dining room, which is essentially used for breakfasts and cocktail hours, into a show kitchen that provided these 30 diners a ringside view of the effort and imagination he invests in his art. From hand-crafted, 180-euro tableware custom-made for him in Spain to wooden sake cups from Japan with his name carved on them, to sleek liquid nitrogen dispensers and mini portable frozen teppanyaki counters, Gaggan and his team -- one Indian, two Spaniards, one Frenchman and two Thai nationals -- have come armed for eight consecutive meals to show India's high and mighty what the genius from New Alipore with the flying ponytail and shaggy beard means when he says it is his dream to do "everything unimaginable with Indian food". All team members were required to pack their clothes and personal toiletries into their carry-on bags, all within the seven-kilo allowance, because there were 260 kilos of ingredients to be lugged.
The highlights of Gaggan's evening of dreams were the 'Indian foie gras' with bheja (goat's brain) mousse, the faux steak tartare for vegetarians with liquid nitrogen-chilled baigan bharta, 'false egg yolk' and vacuum fried onions, the sponge-like deconstructed dhokla served with coriander chutney foam and coconut ice-cream, which made hotelier Ranjan Bhattacharya (Country Inn & Suites) comment in jest that Gaggan would put Haldiram's out of business, and the 4G version of the Kheema Pav with minced lamb curry mousse at the centre of two dehydrated buns.
Even the 'Bird's Nest' is a work of inventive art made with what Bengalis call jhoori bhaja (fried potato shavings), chutney and 'egg' created out of a potato mousse sphere. And the idea of eating with one's nose blew my mind. Gaggan's Poor Man's Porridge (jasmine rice ice-cream and pistachio gel served with almond and rose 'glass') actually tastes different when you eat it with your nostrils blocked. Reason? You don't get to breathe the rose-flavoured room freshener that is sprayed when the ice-cream is sprayed. What you breathe does make a difference to what you taste.
In Gaggan's repertoire, technique is not allowed to transform taste -- jhoori bhaja tastes just like it should, as does the aloo chokha that fills in for the 'Indian foie gras' for vegetarians. Form, likewise, doesn't intervene in the interplay of flavours, so the gunpowder (or milagai podi in Tamil) expresses itself with all its fierceness, and the curry leaf powder adds its zest, when put in the company of poached fish (basa, unfortunately!), Basmati rice porridge (actually, a curd rice, or thair sadam, mousse) and tamarind sugar.
The same authenticity of flavours is evident in Gaggan's Down to Earth 'soup' -- asparagus, morels, mushrooms and artichokes with 62 degrees C egg yolk (if it's 63 degrees, it gets runny -- that's molecular gastronomy for you) and truffle chilli air. And in his Khichdi, or risotto made with nine-year-old rice, forest mushrooms, morels and fresh truffles with a hint of chilli (Gaggan's only concession to carb cravings), the distinctive presence of each ingredient plays on your senses and gets your neurons on overdrive.
The lamb chops were the only disappointment -- they seem to have come straight out of Bukhara and Gaggan, with an honesty and a complete absence of arrogance that we have come to associate with star chefs, promised to take up the matter with the hotel and not repeat the error again. We were too overwhelmed by the evening to really care about the lamb. Gaggan is a magician. He has you in his spell -- each course came with a story, which he narrated with a dose of his impish humour before the dish was served, and was an experience in itself. And he wowed the guests by personally serving each one of them. He's not only the master of the back of the house, but also an efficient manager of the front end.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gaggan Anand Sets Out to Reinvent the Cuba Libre at his 11-Course Theatre of Molecular Gastronomy for Centurion Card Holders

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A CULINARY team representing four nationalities -- Indian, Thai, Spanish and French -- is working overtime at the ITC Maurya even as I write this post to put together the first-ever Progressive Indian feast being curated by the inimitable Gaggan Anand in his mother country.
Gaggan Anand is all set to unveil
India's gastronomic event of the
year on September 4 in New Delhi.
The 11-course meal, priced at Rs 15,000 per person for owners of the American Express Centurion card, will feature items that are not on the menu of Gaggan's eponymous Bangkok restaurant ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the world. These are being created especially for the two-city (Dellhi and Mumbai), eight-dinner event, facilitated by Mangal Desai and Nachiket Shetye's Cellar Door Kitchen. Among them will be a drink that Gaggan proudly calls the Indi Libre. An exciting take-off from the Cuba Libre, the concoction consists of the famous rum that Gaggan appropriately describes as "Rocky Mohan's Old Monk", ginger, kala namak and Thums Up (a far better choice, I believe, than the standard, sweeter Coke).
I met Gaggan at the hotel's 28th Floor Executive Lounge, where he'll present the four back to back dinners starting from Thursday, September 4. A bundle of positive energy sporting his trademark unkempt ponytail, Gaggan talked excitedly about the 250 kilos of ingredients that he and his team had carried with them from Bangkok to New Delhi. These include fresh yuzu and wasabi and one of Japan's best sake from Tokyo, fresh coconut milk extracted out of burnt Thai coconut from Bangkok, and white asparagus from Chiang Mai. For his genre-defining white chocolate paani poori, he contacted Cocoberry's Asian region head and got her to source for him the world's best white chocolate shells. And he has also brought along his dehydrator, his liquid nitrogen mixing bowls and a host of other gizmos from his kitchen, apart from customised Gaggan-endorsed sake cups made in Japan.
Foie gras was the only favourite ingredient of his that Gaggan could not get. "But why has the government issued a blanket ban on foie gras?" he asked -- and added: "Not all foie gras is extracted out of force-fed geese. I get my supplies from the Spanish ethical farmer, Eduardo Sousa, who produces the world's best foie gras without force-feeding his birds." At Gaggan's restaurant, no farmed fish is allowed and 70 per cent of the fresh ingredients used are organically grown.
Gaggan's 11-course meal will be more or less carb-free, so there'll be no "naan breads", he warned, though a truffle oil risotto will take care of carb cravings of the guests. Among Gaggan's exclusive creations for this series of meals is a drink he has named Yos (Japanese for 'drunk') Samurai -- it comprises an exclusive sake, umezu (pickled plum 'vinegar') and fresh juice of a yuzu, the tart citrus fruit that physically looks like a small grapefruit. Coconut lassi is the other one, but the matcha (green tea) ice-cream sandwiches with a topping of freshly grated wasabi are designed to take the privileged diners by surprise.
For Dalal, who first met Gaggan two years ago when both were in Copehagen for an internship at Rene Redzepi's Noma restaurant, and Shetye, it's the first big step towards "taking Indian cuisine to the world". Of course, they had their moments of fun (and creative tension) -- "our WhatsApp exchanges, if not R-rated, are certainly Not Safe For Work!" Dalal said with a chuckle -- but they were surprised by the spontaneous interest in the event. "We didn't have to scream and shout that Gaggan is coming," Shetye said about the response to the sold-out event. "I am surprised by the buying power of Delhi," Gaggan added.
Unsurprisingly, Dalal and Shetye are planning four pop-up events next year. Gaggan has already mentally mapped out his next outing in India -- a picnic brunch at a Himalayan resort with freshly sourced local ingredients (you can't get any cooler than that!). With such electric excitement in the air, it was hard to let Gaggan get back to work. He returned to the kitchen with one worry hanging over his head. Would all his guests arrive sharp at 8? Forewarned about Delhi's habit of being always fashionably late, he said with a degree of finality: "Those who come late will have to start at the course that is being served." Consider yourself cautioned.

Monday, 1 September 2014

An Indian Revolutionary's Curry That Our Vegetarian PM Couldn't Savour in Japan

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

BEING VEGETARIAN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won't get to savour one popular Japanese dish that continues to be celebrated as the everlasting legacy of an Indian revolutionary who prepared the ground for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. Indo Karii, or chicken curry served with rice and pickled vegetables, is the name of the dish and it is still the best-seller at Shinjoku Nakamuraya, the Tokyo restaurant where the riveting story that started with a bomb attack on a British
A studio picture shot in Tokyo of
Rash Behari Bose and his Japanese
wife, Soma Toshiko, whose parents
owned Nakamuraya, a famous
bakery in Shinjoku, where the
fugitive revolutionary introduced
the Japanese to 'real' Indian
chicken curry
viceroy ended in its invention.
Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945), whose memory survives in the name of an important arterial road in Kolkata, was the head clerk at the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun when he came in contact with leaders of revolutionary groups active in Bengal and Punjab. Inspired by them, he participated in the conspiracy that resulted in a bomb being hurled at Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, the British viceroy responsible for the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, on December 23, 1912.
The viceroy escaped with minor bruises and Bose's role in the conspiracy was never established by the British Raj police (Bose, to cover his tracks, is said to have even organised a public meeting in Dehra Dun condemning the attack!), although three revolutionaries named in the bombing -- Basant Kumar Biswas, Master Amir Chand and Avadh Behari -- were hanged to death. Bose's involvement with revolutionary groups eventually came to the knowledge British intelligence agencies, leaving him with no option but to flee the country.
Bose landed in Japan in 1916. It wasn't the best thing to do, for World War I was on and Japan had allied itself with Britain, but he found a powerful supporter in the ultra-nationalist politician, Toyama Mitsuru, who belonged to the secretive Genyosha society. The Bangladeshi Tagore scholar, Probir Bikash Sarkar, who first brought to light the connection between Bose and Indo Karii, shared the story in an interview with The Sunday Guardian newspaper last year. (
The Japanese police were on Bose's trail, but they were wary of raiding the house of a politician as influential as Toyama, though they were certain that he had provided shelter to the fugitive revolutionary in his home. Toyama eventually asked his good friend, Soma Aizo, and his wife Kokkou, who owned a popular bakery named Nakamuraya in the Shinjoku entertainment district, to hide Bose in an attic in their home above the store. It was Toyama again who prevailed over the couple to get their daughter, Soma Toshiko, to marry Bose.
Toshiko succumbed to tuberculosis in 1925, leaving behind a son, who later died fighting the Americans in Okinawa, and a daughter, who inherited the store but stayed away from the limelight. The Indian son-in-law did not wish to be a freeloader, so, even as he continued with his espousal of the cause of his home country's independence, he suggested to his in-laws that he would start selling chicken curry, cooked with authentic Indian spices and not English curry powder, with rice.
Before Bose came on the scene, the Japanese, as the Indian-Canadian cookbook writer and blogger (Curry Twist), Smita Chandra, cooked curry the British way: "meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, and the mixture simmered slowly". ( Bose did it the way he had had it at home and he would make it a point to taste the curry before it went to his patrons. His creation was an instant hit and Bose even partnered with Japanese farmers to grow long-grained rice and chickens needed for it.
Japanese newspapers of his time were full of stories about 'Bose of Nakamuraya' and his curry, which they christened "the taste of love and revolution". Bose established the Indian Independence League, convinced the Japanese to allow Indian POWs to form the Indian National Army and paved the way for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose taking charge of the rebel force. His comrade was the engineer Aiyappan Pillai Madhavan Nair (1905-1990), fondly remembered as Nair-san in Japan, who served as Netaji's valet. After World War II, Nair went on to establish Japan's first Indian restaurant at Ginza in Tokyo.
The restaurant, which opened its door in 1949, continues to be famous (as we learn from the Tokyo edition of Time Out magazine) for "its 'Murugi Lunch', a hearty meal that includes mashed potato, boiled cabbage and a curry that's been simmered down along with a leg of chicken (which contains meat so soft that it practically falls off the bone the moment you pick it up) for an incredible seven hours". The magazine goes on to say: "You'll probably want to tuck in as soon as arrives at your table, however, the recommended way to enjoy this fantastic meal is to grab a spoon and mix everything -- which includes a portion of turmeric-flavoured rice made with Iwate prefecture rice -- together." (
Bose, ironically, was sidelined by the Japanese war-time leadership in favour of Netaji and he died, like his wife, from tuberculosis in 1945. Two days later, his home was reduced to rubble in bombing by the Allied forces. He may have been forgotten in his home country, but his chicken curry remains alive in the popular imagination of his adopted home. It is served at Shinjoku Nakamuraya -- and it is present on every supermarket shelf in the form of packed ready-to-eat meals.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

An Ode to the Unputdownable Hainanese Chicken Rice at K3's Singapore Street Food Fest

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN the JW Marriott became the first five-star hotel to open at the New Delhi Aerocity, we were wondering how it would make money, especially because it had opened with just half of its rooms, the other half awaiting clearance security clearance from the Delhi Police.
Fortunately for it, in a market where weddings are getting bigger by the minute, the hotel got some big banqueting assignments and its F&B team emerged with its reputation intact in this baptism
Hainanese Chicken Rice stood out among
the Singapore street food preparations on
 offer at K3, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity.
by fire. And it was able to buttress its reputation with the quality of the buffet at its all-day restaurant -- K3. Executive Chef Girish Krishnan achieved it with the help of his two stars -- the Italian Chef Daniele Trivero and the Malaysian Dilliwallah Thomas Wee (who, sadly, has left K3 to oversee the high sea kitchens of an offshore oil exploration company) -- and the front-of-the-house team led by the mild-mannered Tarun Bhatia with his ever-smiling dynamo, K3's Restaurant Manager Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla. Its only weak spot is its Indian kitchen, which is badly in need of a new direction.
K3's strength is the flexibility of its design, which enables it to organise specialised food festivals, like the one showcasing Singapore's street treats, which concludes today (Sunday, August 31). Some time back, K3 hosted a Bohri food promotion, which I missed because I wasn't in the city (and it got very good reviews too), so I made sure I didn't miss the Singapore street food festival. What drew me to it was the fact that it was being curated by John Chye of the Singapore Marriott Hotel and that the young chef is from Penang. You can't get two better good food destinations than Penang and Singapore, and Chef Chye's spread draws on the best of both worlds.
The Singapore spread is quite extensive, yet there wasn't one dish, from the popiah (fresh spring rolls) to the braised aubergine, that fell below my expectations. If you're a carnivore, you can make a meal out of the seafood laksa, braised duck with tofu skin in soy sauce, fish in spiced tamarind gravy and, my favourite, Hainanese Chicken Rice. You can judge the real worth of a Singaporean chef, in my view, by his or her ability to dish up the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice. Chef Chye cleared my test with distinction.
His Hainanese Chicken Rice is a study in fine balance. The slivers of chicken, which are icy white because the whole chicken is dipped into icy water after it has been steeped in bone stock, are served with a helping of rice cooked in the same broth in which the chicken is steeped, pieces of cucumber dipped in chicken broth, and a hot dipping sauce made with minced chillies and garlic, topped up with soy. The dip breathes life into the slivers of silken chicken and rice cooked in broth tastes like something special. It take a bad chef to complicate this dish; an expert hand knows how much of human intervention is needed to let the ingredients and cooking methods speak for themselves.
The guardians of K3 must make the Hainanese Chicken Rice a lasting feature of their Sunday spread. That would be a befitting tribute to the talents of Chef Chye.

-- The Singapore Street Food Festival's Sunday Brunch is priced at Rs 2,500++ (without alcohol), Rs 3,000++ (with alcohol; no champagne) and Rs 4,200++ (with free-flowing champagne).

Saturday, 30 August 2014

THE NEWS BRIEFLY: Le Cirque's Star in Exit Mode; Vella Ramaswamy Heads Home; Vikramjit Roy Returns with Nian; and a Greek Skydeck

Mickey Bhoite is heading back
to Florence leaving his Royal
Enfield for the highest bidder
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DELHI'S five-star hotels are heading for a churn because of exits by familiar faces and entrances by new arrivals.
The big news is that Le Cirque's Abhay Singh 'Mickey' Bhoite is going back home to Italy, where he plans to settle down in Florence (closer to his collection of more than 60 venomous snakes, who are now in the custody of his mother). That'll be a big blow to The Leela Palace New Delhi (a little bird informs us that Bhoite's deputy, Federico Tucci, is exiting as well) because Le Cirque's reputation owes a lot to Bhoite's personality and style of cooking.
Royal Enfield enthusiasts, though, are waiting for the opportunity to bid for Bhoite's custom-made motorbike, which comes equipped with mind-blowing woofers. Bhoite and his young colleague, Vaibhav Roy, team up together with friends as often as they can and hit the highways. People who know the motorcycle (known as the Highway Queen) say it is in sparkling condition and Bhoite is reportedly asking for Rs 4 lakh for the beauty.
Vella Ramaswamy may not have burnt rubber on highways, but the Mauritian who grew up in Australia is the only expat general manager I know who has seen two hotels in Delhi-NCR come up under his guardianship from the bhoomi pujan to the first guest walking in.
As the opening general manager of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon (now known as The Leela Ambience Gurgaon), he got the hotel off the ground at a rather difficult time for the global economy and successfully established Spectra as one of Delhi-NCR's foremost restaurants. Then, as the founding father of the Kempinski Ambience Hotel Delhi, he turned its locational disadvantage on the head and took full advantage of the size of its banqueting area to make it the go-to destination for mega business providers in the MICE (Meetings Incentives Conventions Exhibitions) segment. The hotel is also a favourite of wedding planners and has seen many a Big Fat Bania Wedding take place with a no onion, no garlic vegetarian spread laid out for 1,000-plus guests.
Vella Ramaswamy gave Delhi-NCR
to hotels, but is now returning to
home city Melbourne
Puneet Singh is back in Delhi after
spending 20 years with Kempinski
Hotels in eight countries
Ramaswamy's time is up. The affable hotelier with a brilliant sense of humour is going home to Melbourne and he is in the process of handing over charge to a Delhiite, Puneet Singh, who is returning to his home city after putting in more than two decades with the Kempinski hotels in eight countries. After completing his hotel management studies in Germany, Singh got selected to Kempinski's four-year management training programme, which took him to Germany, the U.S. and Turkey. Thereafter, the polyglot roving hotelier, who's fluent in six languages, spent six years gaining F&B operations experience in culturally diverse markets, then held leadership positions at Kempinski hotels in China, Tanzania, UAE, Russia and Egypt, and even in the midst of all this movement, got his Executive MBA from the top-rated Reims Management School, France. Before his transfer to Delhi, Singh was the General Manager of the Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel at the Bahrain City Centre.
In other developments, Sevilla at The Claridges has been shut for its annual refurbishment; it is expected to open in October-end. I can't wait to see what Executive Chef Neeraj Tyagi and his deputy, Rajiv Sinha, have up their sleeves for the new Sevilla. Vikramjit Roy, who Delhiites remember from his days at Wasabi by Morimoto, is returning to the rooftop of ITC Maurya to open an 'Asian Cooking Studio' named Tian. The restaurant will replace My Humble House, which never came close to the popularity of Bali Hi. An IHM-Taratolla graduate, Roy opened Pan-Asian at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai about a year ago and became an instant superstar in a city that hadn't been exposed to his genre of fine dining.
And of course, The Leela Ambience Gurgaon is taking a leap of faith by turning its poolside into a 69-seater restaurant, Skydeck Lounge, with a Greek menu washed down by ouzo, the anise-flavoured aperitif, and retsina wines, which have a more than 2,000-year-old history. It is the first five-star hotel to tread into this unfamiliar territory. I hope it's not the only one taking this plunge.

Progressive Indian Cuisine's Foremost Exponent Gaggan Anand to Curate Rs 12,500-Per-Head Meals for India's Most Exclusive Club

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

GAGGAN ANAND was a little-known chef when he left India to take up a job at a restaurant named Red Bangkok in a city where he's now among its culinary superstars. On September 2, Kolkata-born Gaggan, whose eponymous restaurant in Bangkok is ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the
Gaggan Anand at work in the 'laboratory' of his
eponymous restaurant located in one of
Bangkok's upscale neighbourhoods.
world, will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport for his first professional assignment in Delhi, where he once fed Bill Clinton during his days as a junior chef at Orient Express. And he'll be laying out an 11-course tasting menu for India's most exclusive club -- the uber-wealthy people who possess the American Express Centurion Card.
"I will recreate the Gaggan experience as much as possible with the ingredients available in Delhi and Mumbai," the chef said on phone from Bangkok. On many occasions, Gaggan has said that it is dream to launch a restaurant in Mumbai. Will his Indian experience bring him closer to his dream? That's a question up for speculative answers.
No bank in the country has taken the entertainment of its key customers to this level. But then, the people who own the anodised titanium card, famously known as the Black Card, are in a league of their own. Amitabh Bachchan is the owner of one and so are members of the Bhartia, Burman, Godrej, Munjal and Oberoi families. The charge card comes with annual fee of Rs 2.5 lakh and a joining fee of Rs 2 lakh, with there's no spending limit globally. Unsurprisingly, a Centurion card holder bought a Bentley with the world's most hallowed piece of titanium.
Arriving with his team of chefs and sommeliers, the Master of Progressive Indian Cuisine, who's the only Indian to have interned under Ferran Adria at El Bulli, will curate eight meals, four at the ITC Maurya and the remaining four at the Four Seasons Mumbai. Each wine-paired meal, according to sources, has been priced at Rs 12,500 per person.
Cellar Door Kitchen, a platform for pop-up restaurant events founded by Mumbai-based culinary consultants (and creators of Citibank Restaurant Week India) Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye, is the organiser of this eight-day event, which promises to a set a new benchmark for food events across the country.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Restaurant Bigwigs Bet Big on Home Deliveries and Takeaways, Airport Retail and Promised Turnaround of Railway Stations

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Indian Restaurant Congress 2014, organised for the fourth successful year by Franchise India, opened at the Vivanta by Taj in Faridabad with the overarching theme of 'Think Global, Eat Local' and the inaugural speaker, Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman, drove home the point by stating how just one innovation -- the introduction of masala papad as a side dish -- drove the per outlet sales of Punjab Grill up by Rs 2 lakh a month in Delhi/NCR.
Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman gave
an insightful start to the Indian Restaurant
Congress 2014 with his analysis of the challenges
and future growth areas of the restaurant industry.
Innovation. Consistency. Localisation. These were the buzzwords that kept coming up in the presentations by the leaders of the industry as they looked into the crystal ball to predict the trends that would define their business in the years ahead.
Burman started his talk by listing the "continual challenges" -- higher-than-ever real estate, ingredient and personnel costs -- which have confronted the industry since the past year. Food inflation peaked at 20 per cent in November 2013 and energy cost went up on average by 11 per cent, Burman added. He listed four strategies to find a way around these challenges: smart menu engineering, efficient real estate use, smart hiring and tighter cost controls.
"We earn for the government, real estate owners and banks," Burman said on a light note, adding that taxes sliced off 20 per cent of the margins of a restaurant business, and rents as well as repayment of bank loans with interest accounted for another 30 per cent. What he mentioned in passing, though, is an even bigger challenge. Indians still do not eat out as much as their counterparts in south-east Asia, for instance. Though we eat out twice as much as we used to in the recent past -- eight times a month, compared with four in the past -- we are way behind the residents of Hong Kong (3.2 times a day) and Singaporeans (41 times a month).
In this tight market, how can restaurant operators make money? For Lite Bite Foods, which has become a benchmark-setter in the restaurant retail business, the future is in airport retail, which, according to Burman, offers more consistent footfalls and growth than malls or the high street. The company is now looking at food courts at next-generation railway stations, as visualised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the next big growth avenue. "More and more travellers are eating on the go," Burman pointed out.
Home deliveries and takeaways were the other growth drivers highlighted by speaker after speaker. Discussing the Yo China growth model, the 51-outlets-and-growing restaurant chain's CEO, Ashish Kapur, said that home deliveries and takeaways accounted for 40 per cent of its revenues, providing a cushion to the dine-in side of the business. A sound logic drives this mixed growth model: You're paying rent for the entire day, so why don't you make your most expensive asset sweat harder! "Maximise business, reduce transaction costs," Burman said, pointing to the obvious benefits of this mixed growth model.
K.S. Narayanan, CEO, Pan India Food Solutions, whose brands extend from Copper Chimney to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Spaghetti Kitchen, made a strong pitch for "constantly innovating in the way we cook, serve, deliver and communicate". He made three points that the industry can ignore only at its peril:
* Food is very local, very culturally driven (hence, the new buzz phrase, 'eat local').
* Taste is an important driver of consumer preferences (hence, the salience of consistency).
* Consumers are becoming critics (hence, the paramount importance of communications).
Everyone talks about consistency, but it's easier said than done. For a single restaurant, it may mean, as Saurabh Khanijo, the man behind the successful trio of Kylin, Kylin Premier and Sartoria, put it: "standardisation of recipes and regular audits" to ensure that the recipes are followed without deviation. Kapur at once gave the audience a reality check.
Consistency of the quality of food that is served at a restaurant depends entirely on the consistency of supplies and the consistent quality of ingredients, which are both big challenges. The supply chain, likewise, is dependent on the efficiency of the transport network and the consistency of temperature control, which are both logistical nightmares.
Kapur said that in an ideal world, it would make economic sense to prepare at a central commissary and transport the thousands of dim sum consumed daily at the many Yo China outlets in Delhi/NCR (all that these would then require is steaming or frying once orders are placed), but this enterprise would require a "chilled chain", which is a dream in our country as we still struggle to put a cold chain in place. In an imperfect world, it's not easy to be a restaurant operator, but the growth rates are too tempting for any entrepreneur to ignore.

LINKING THE DOTS: Rollatainers, Wendy's, Jamie's Italian, Barista and Saurabh Khanijo

The parent company of the entity bringing Wendy's into India has yet another hospitality industry subsidiary, which has just acquired Barista and picked up an undisclosed stake in Saurabh 'Kylin' Khanijo's Welgrow Hotel Concepts. It's also getting Jamie's Italian, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's highly successful international restaurant chain, into India. These multiple forays are the first in the hospitality business for the parent company, which is a market leader in the business of manufacturing lined cartons for clients as varied as Amul and Gillette.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHEN Economic Times broke the story of Rollatainers and the London-based International Market Management (IMM) bringing America's third-largest burger chain, Wendy's, to India through a jointly owned subsidiary named Sierra Nevada, a number of eyebrows shot up. What is Rolltainers and how is it linked with the food business?
For starters, not many may know that Rollatainers, one of the country's largest packaging companies based out of Haryana, has just picked up Barista, the country's second-largest cafe chain with 190 retail outlets across India, UAE, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The lock-stock-and-barrel acquisition, which includes Barista's central commissary, 65,00-litres-a-month ice-cream plant and four warehouses in Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, was made by Carnation Hospitality, a Rolltainers subsidiary powering the company's foray into the hospitality sector.
Saurabh Khanijo, who's behind the successful
Kylin brand of restaurants, is the man to look out
for as Rollatainers, a Haryana-based packaging
company, prepares to launch Wendy's and
Jamie's Kitchen in India in 2015.
The subsidiary, according to, quoting a stock market disclosure made by Rolltainers, one of the country's leading manufacturers of printed and lined cartons, has also "entered into separate business purchase agreements with Welgrow Hotel Concepts and Mapple Hospitality to operate their brands". The firm, according to the authoritative M&A news website, did not say if it has acquired the brands owned by the firm or picked up stake in the two companies.
Started by poultry farmer-turned-travel agency operator-turned-restaurateur Saurabh Khanijo, Welgrow Hotel Concepts runs a chain of eateries across formats under the Kylin brand as well as the high-end Italian restaurant, Sartoria. Mapple Hospitality, launched in November 2009, runs a chain of budget hotels in Delhi/NCR and a host of business and leisure destinations, and operates the luxury train, The Golden Chariot, in Karnataka and Goa.
The only connection that the publicly listed Rollatainers has had thus far with the food and beverage sector is that some of its major players are clients for the cartons rolled out by the company. These big brands include Amul, Bacardi, Britannia and Haldirams. And of course, it launched its business in 1970 by producing lined cartons for Brooke Bond. Very little is known about its partner in these big-ticket acquisitions, International Market Management (, except that it focuses on emerging markets and its Chief Executive, Jasper Reid, was behind bringing PizzaExpress to India.
It is Reid who has been behind the other major Rollatainers initiative, carried out under a Carnation Hospitality subsidiary named Dolomite Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., to bring Jamie's Kitchen first to New Delhi in 2015 and eventually take it to different parts of India. The celebrity chef behind Jamie's Kitchen, Jamie Oliver, has been quoted by M&C Report, as saying, "We have known our Indian partners for over two years now and I'm thrilled to be teaming up with them to bring the Jamie's Italian experience to the wonderful people of Delhi." Nice-sounding PR lines, but indicative, nonetheless, of the amount of due diligence that has gone into the deal.
Sanjay Chhabra is the name that appears in press statements on all these deals. This Delhi/NCR-based businessman, a mechanical engineer by training with an MBA in Marketing, is a director of Rollatainers and also the independent non-executive chairman of the board of Amtek India Ltd, a leading iron casting company in the business of manufacturing automotive parts. And as we had reported earlier, in the Jamie's Kitchen initiative, Welgrow's Khanijo is the go-to man for Chhabra, who's still wetting his feet in the food and beverage business.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Priya Paul Dishes up a Chettinad Experience on Banana Leaves

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Tucked away in the Chettiar heartland,
The Bangala has preserved a cooking
tradition that can turn the humble chow
chow (above) into a taste sensation.
Image: Rohit Chawla
IT IS NOT often that the Capital's Stiletto Set eat out of banana leaves in a five-star hotel. Priya Paul made sure they did a couple of evenings ago. Those with manicured nails used cutlery; those without, including some of the city's most influential people, from image makers to fashion designers, dug in with their fingers. They did it to celebrate the launch of Sumeet Nair and Meenakshi Meyyappan's The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad, a brilliant showcase of a regional cuisine that is as well-known as it is misrepresented.
Paul, whose passion for food matches her head for business, was dressed like a Tamil daughter-in-law, which she is, being married to Sethu Vaidyanathan, and she succeeded in pulling off yet another culinary coup. Some time back, she got the high and mighty literally to dine 'under the table' -- giving the expression a new meaning altogether. This time around, Delhi's elite ate with their fingers, re-establishing the lost connect between their thumb and the brain.
What they ate was a Chettinad spread that turned our notion of the cuisine on its head. I have had Chettinad food in Chennai, but the delicate interplay of flavours, and the ability to turn even a humble vegetable such as the chow chow (an ugly cousin of the squash) into a sensation for the palate, which I got to experience at The Park, just blew my mind.
The spread had been laid out by Abishek Basu's team at The Park New Delhi and the cooks of The Bangala, a heritage hotel that Meyyappan opened in 1998 at Karaikudi, which is the cultural centre of gravity, two hours from Madurai, of the fabulously wealthy, well-travelled and cultured Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu. Their business took Chettiars all over south-east Asia, from Burma to Cambodia, which reflects in the depth of their culinary repertoire and the catholicity of their taste buds.
A mobile camera view of the banana
leaf treat laid out at The Park, in the
true Chettiar wedding feast style.
The spread will be available at the
hotel's 24-hour restaurant, Mist,
till Saturday. Image: Courtesy
of Mini Shastri
The former chairman of the Murugappa Group, M.V. Subbiah, who, incidentally, got his Padma Bhushan in the same year as Paul got her Padma Shri, shared a telling example of how foreign influences show up on the Chettinad table. The example was that of the kavanarsi, or black rice, which in early days used to be imported by the Chettiars from Burma, where they had extensive business interests. And the rice, which is used in a host of preparations, including a halwa, got its name because it used to be served first to the governor of the Madras Presidency in the days of the British Raj. Governor became 'kavanar' in popular usage, so kavanarsi is literally the 'governor's rice'.
Subbiah, whose humility left a lasting impression on me, and the Meyyappan family members went from one end of each long table to the other, urging the guests to have second helpings and explaining what the dishes were, as we negotiated a spread consisting of a procession of pachadis, kootus, curries and pepper fries. None of the dishes was allowed to be overpowered by spices, which are stone-ground every morning, or red chillies -- subtlety, as in the Chettiar lifestyle (or in Rohit Chawla's available-light photography for the book), is the essence of Chettinad cuisine.
This is most evident than in the Uppu 'Dried Mutton' Curry, where you'd expect a chilli attack, because, as Nair had informed me in an earlier interview, 40 pieces of goondu maligai (berry-shaped round red chillies) are added to a kilo of mutton. The chillies are mild, so you don't end up with a numb palate, but the complex flavours lend a distinctive edge to Chettinad dishes. This interplay of fresh flavours also defined the Pepper Curry, where fresh green pepper and mor mulagai (green chillies soaked in buttermilk and then dried) are the main ingredients. The dinner favourites, though, were the Chicken Pepper Fry, where black peppercorns and goondu maligai did a little waltz, and the tamarind-infused Fish Curry.
Subbiah spoke glowingly about Meyyappan achi's contributions to the revival of Chettinad heritage. Together with Nair, she has put the region's cuisine, as it is meant to be eaten, firmly on the country's culinary map.


IT CAN BE disheartening to wake up one morning and learn that an old favourite restaurant has been gutted as a result of a short circuit in a freezer kept at the entrance. Yes, that's exactly how I felt -- disheartened -- when I read about the fire at The Embassy in Connaught Place. It was the second fire in two days at Connaught Place.
What followed was utter shock when I learnt that restaurants in the city are not required to get a fire clearance if they seat less than 50 people. It has become common, as a result, especially for the pigeon holes of Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village, or Paharganj (where restaurants and bars are not on the radar screens of the elite media), to under-declare the number of seats they have. It saves them the struggle to acquire the fire licence -- getting one licence less can be a blessing! The subterfuge also saves them the money they would have to spend on the licence, the fire safety equipment, and the inescapable 'facilitation' expenses.
Can someone explain the rationale of letting restaurants with less than 50 seats get away with no fire licence? Each restaurant is a potential fire hazard unless approved fire safety equipment, in working order, are in place. Are lives less valuable in restaurants with less than 50 seats, or those that claim to be so, but cram twice that number of people in, especially on weekends? It's almost a rule for smaller restaurants to abuse the 50-seater rule to dodge the fire clearance.
I have an uncomplicated three-step solution to this life-threatening legal sleight of hand. One, introduce one-stop, online licencing for restaurants to reduce their incentive to dodge the process. Two, make annual fire safety clearance mandatory for all restaurants and bars, irrespective of the number of seats. Three, industry bodies need to work overtime to sensitise their hotelier/restaurateur members to the nature of the time bomb they are sitting on. They must, in fact, mandatorily be made a part of the inspection teams to ensure no compromises are made on the issue of safety. The industry owes it to the consumer.


AFTER the Uphaar fire tragedy, it has become mandatory for cinema theatres to educate their customers about fire exits. Well, the next time you go to a restaurant, look for a fire exit. Consider yourself lucky if you find one. When you are in the third floor of a Hauz Khas Village restaurant, it is not comforting realise suddenly that in case of a fire, the only escape route is the window on the far side. Most restaurants also don't have water in the tank that is meant to be kept permanently filled for use in case of a fire emergency. The daily struggle for water makes this basic fire safety requirement a low priority for restaurants.


Guppy by Ai's Ramen Burger packs in pork
belly, bacon, fried egg, lettuce and tomatoes
BACK IN 2009, Keizo Shimamoto, a young American of Japanese origin, quit his computer programmer's job and hit the road in the mother country of his parents to get to the bottom of the amazing story of ramen noodles. His blog became an international hit and his invention, Ramen Burger, edged out the cronut as the big food trend of 2013. In a ramen burger, the regular buns are replaced by two chewy and not crunchy discs of compressed ramen noodles made according to a proprietary process perfected by Shimamoto.
It may be a year late, but Guppy by Ai at the Lodi Colony Market, my favourite neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, can justifiably claim to be the first to put ramen burgers on the menu. Shimamoto used only a soy-based 'secret sauce', arugula (rocket), scallions and a chunky, juicy beef patty with a higher fat content than the standard burger patty. At Guppy by Ai, the options for fillings include beef, pork belly and bacon, chicken tsukune (meatballs), fried egg, five kinds of mushroom, sake-braised onions and Kewpie, Japan's most popular mayonnaise.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

'A Fake Nair' Puts Real Chettinad Cuisine on North Indian Mind Map & Finds A Heritage Gem

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The Bangala at Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu, inspired
Sumeet Nair's exploration of Chettinad Cuisine
and his labour of love, The Bangala Table.

SUMEET NAIR first made headlines when he set up the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and organised the first India Fasion Week in the late 1990s. That was a humongous achievement, for it is hard to get so many creative and opinionated people on to one platform. Nair moved out to pave the way for seasoned professionals -- Vinod Kaul and Rathi Vinay Jha -- till he was brought back again to stage a rescue act in 2007, for the FDCI was collapsing under the weight of competing egos. Nair ("the fake Nair," as he calls himself, for he's a Punjabi born and brought up in Mumbai), as they say, rose to the occasion and rescued the FDCI from certain disintegration.
All the diplomatic skills that this Stanford Economics graduate mastered during his stint with the FDCI must have helped him prise the secrets of the Chettiar table from the grande dame of Karaikudi, Meenakshi Meyyappan, for The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad. The effort took him six months and the book, another three years.
Nair, ironically, did not even about The Bangala's existence some four years ago, when his good friends, hotelier Priya Paul and her husband Sethu Vaidyanathan, urged Nair and his wife, Gitanjali Kashyap, to spend their New Year's Eve in Tamil Nadu, instead of the usual suspect, Goa. "Sethu drew up my itinerary and The Bangala was on it," remembers Nair. Befittingly, the book is being released at The Park New Delhi on Tuesday, August 26, at a Chettiar-style sadya (feast) served on banana leaves, and hosted by Priya and Sethu.
A passionate cook (a trait he has inherited from his late parents, Sunny and Saroj Nair) with a personal collection of 400-500 cookbooks, Nair made innumerable trips to Karaikudi to master the combinations of spices and understand the nuances of the goondu maligai (berry-shaped round red chillies), which he now also uses to make kung pao chicken, and mor maligai, green chillies soaked in buttermilk and then dried. He also roped in Atul Sikand, shepherd of Facebook's most vibrant recipe-sharing community, Sikandalous Cuisine (21,000-plus members, and counting!), to test the recipes and see whether they could be replicated at home. As many as 35 Sikandalous Cuisine members were roped in for the recipe tests and Sikand remembers that his Palam Vihar home was "smelling like heaven" after he made the Chicken Chettinad, which is nothing like what we are condemned to eat up north. "This book will re-define Chettinad cuisine as we understand it," says Sikand.
When I first heard the name of the book, which is embellished by some fine examples of Rohit Chawla's photography and has a short introduction to the Chettiar community by the 'Chronicler of Madras', S. Muthiah, I thought it was Bangla mis-pronounced. I was wrong.
Dating back to the 1910s, The Bangala is a heritage hotel recreated from an old 'gentlemen's club' in Karaikudi, one of the three main seats (the other being Pudukottai and Sivaganga) of the mercantile, world-travelled and prosperous Chettiar community in Tamil Nadu. The Chettiars, as Guy Trebay of The New York Times recounts in his evocative Foreword, owned magnificent homes that had pillars made out of entire teak logs rafted from Burma via the Bay of Bengal and brackets made with African tusk ivory; Brescia marbles skirted the walls, the English ceramic tiles came from Minton and the crystal chandeliers, of course, could only come from Bohemia. Still, the men, their palatial mansions notwithstanding, had their own getaways for entertainment.
The Bangala, originally called the Senjai Bungalow, was one of them. It was developed by the MSMM family (the initials stand for Meyyappa, Settiappa, Meyyappa & Meyyappa), which had earned its fortunes in Ipoh, Malaysia. The family evidently was very important for Karaikudi -- it built the area's first school for girls, then established the town's water supply system and was one of the founders of the local electricity supply corporation.
Unsurprisingly, back in 1936, the Senjai Bangala played host to Archibald Nye, the then Governor of Madras Presidency, who started his day with Fish Moley, Mutton Chops, Grilled Chicken, Buttered Eggs, Pears and Cream, Tea or Coffee, and Fruits, and ended it with Pigeon Soup, Fried Fish and Potato, Mutton Cutlet, Kidney Curry, Egg Pilav and Chicken Kurma, Brain Balls, Pudding, Dessert and Coffee, with Johnnie Walker being the tipple of choice!
After World War II, the Senjai Bungalow became the Town Club with its own tennis court and rummy room, but the high noon of socialism did not bode well for the MSMM family. Senjai Bungalow was in a state of utter neglect till, in 1998, two remarkable ladies of the family, Visalakshi Ramaswamy and Meenakshi Meyyappan, started working on its turnaround into a heritage hotel. Their vision was to make Chettinad a heritage tourism destination, showcasing the Chettiar houses and the work of the area's sari weavers, and in the 15 years since the time The Bangala opened its doors, it has inspired half-a-dozen other heritage hotels to come up in Chettinad. Like so many success stories of the South, though, this one too eluded our attention. Nair has ensured it would no longer be so.

Friday, 22 August 2014

DINING OUT: Cafe Delhi Heights Creator Opens A Terminus of Unfussy Palate Ticklers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya


WHERE: Terminus 1, Second Floor, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj (Next to the Lifestyle store)
WHEN: 11:00 A.M. to 11:30 P.M.
DIAL: 011-40870755; (+91) 9643654033

VIKRANT BATRA has food in his genes. It was 21 years ago when I first (and for the last time) visited the banquet hall his family has owned and operated in Naraina since 1989. It stood out then like an illusion in the middle of nowhere. In the years that have lapsed, it has grown into one of West Delhi's prominent marriage venues and Naraina has never been busier.
If he were less entrepreneurial, Vikrant would have happily continued with his annual, sleep-depriving routine of 520 (maybe more!) marriage banquets a year. Like Ajay Mago of Om Books International, his good friend who got us to meet over lunch, Vikrant chose to look for money and fame beyond his comfort zone, even as his mother, at 63, continues to oversee the central kitchen and commissary of the family's banqueting empire from 6 every morning, and his wife manages the bakery and patisserie.
The stripped-down interiors of Terminus 1 at the Ambience
Mall, Vasant Kunj, give the newbie restaurant a New York
look. Newspapers in ornate steel trunks are a cool idea.
Ajay has added the power of publishing to his family's old (and thriving) business of bookshops. Vikrant ventured into the business of stand-alone restaurants six years ago and he has scripted the success of Cafe Delhi Heights, whose breakfast and Juicy Lucy Burger are the two unmissable favourites on the list of any discerning patron of good eating. To this success story, he has added Terminus 1 (T1), which may be at one neglected corner of the second floor of Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, but has all the positives of a restaurant that will make waves even in an overcrowded market.
Creamy onion soup with cheese and croutons:
nourishment at soul-satisfying prices
It has the stripped-down, New York-inspired industrial look and Spartan furniture that seem to define the new design favourite of young restaurateurs, but it has other engaging features. A TV screen that zooms in on the chef preparing or plating a dish that's been ordered, for instance. Or menus that are designed like books with covers inspired by immortal titles, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Eat Pray Love. Or newspapers rolled up thoughtfully in an ornate trunk, instead of being tucked away on a soulless standee.
Such eye candy however cannot satiate your hunger or the curiosity of your alimentary tract. For that, you have to turn the pages of the menu and admire the creative touches of the head chef, Ashish Singh, a soft-spoken, smiling man who has to be goaded to let out the fact that he has spent some years working in London restaurants. The beauty of the menu is its delectable unpredictability. You could start with the sublimity of Applewood Smoked Chicken, Corn and Raja Mircha Chowder, where the infusion of the world's hottest chilli is delicately balanced by the residual sweetness of corn, and then transport yourself to the simple pleasures of the ISBT Makhni Maggi, though the 'instant' noodles that can never be made in two minutes, could have done better with less of makhni gravy.
The idea of digging the Railway Cutlets was too tempting, but I had to tear myself away from it because I wanted The Butterilicious TOAST (the capitals are theirs, not mine) -- a plump, melt-in-the-mouth piece of bread gratinated for eight minutes with butter. On the other side of the cholesterol spectrum, the Sous Vide BBQ Chicken Green Salad should do well with the ladies who lunch -- it's light, refreshing and conducive to conversations about daughters-in-law. Heartier appetites will naturally gravitate towards the Kimchi Bacon Quesadillas -- the bacon is crispy; the Monterey Jack connects instantly with the soul.
It's a menu that has something for every pocket and taste bud -- as you'd expect at a terminus. I'd recommend the Grilled Sea Bass, crumbed with sesame and peanuts, and served with wild rice, eggplant and cucumber dashi veloute. Someone else would go for Halloumi Eggs or Cauliflower and Hazelnut Risotto. Diversity of the palate is what we celebrate at T1, but count yourself among the losers if you leaving without having the Batter Fried Mars Bars or the Karachi Halwa Brownie Cake.