Friday, 31 January 2014

DINING OUT: The Hidden Gem of Marina Hotel

This review first appeared in the edition of Mail Today dated January 31, 2014. If you wish to see the original, click on and go to Page 27. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

WHAT: Jashn-e-Lahore Food Festival
WHERE: The Great Kebab Factory, Radisson Blu Marina Hotel, G-59, Connaught Circus (Outer Circle)
WHEN: 7 to 11:45 p.m. Open for dinner only.
DIAL: 011-46909027
Rs 1,299+++ (adults); Rs 749+++ (children)

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

MARINA HOTEL has always been a mystery to me. Here's a heritage hotel in the heart of Connaught Place, with a terrace to die for, and a location that any five-star hotel would give an arm and a leg for. Yet, it's hardly ever in the news, though I know for a fact that it is popular among English tourists, who check in to soak up some Raj nostalgia. And when it became a Radisson Blu hotel three years ago, immediately after its renovation during the Commonwealth Games, it was seen as a prized catch for the Carlson Group.
My curiosity about the hotel resurfaced when an old friend, Dhananjay Kumar, called up to say he had taken charge as its general manager and would like to invite me to The Great Kebab Factory. A TGKF, my favourite destination for kebabs, at Marina? The information stoked my appetite for more information on the hotel.
The Great Kebab Factory at the Radisson Blu
Marina Hotel, Connaught Place, festooned for
the Jashn-e-Lahore Food Festival
Marina is New Delhi's oldest hotel. It was built in 1934 by the Japanwalas, one of Delhi's old Punjabi Muslim families who owe their surname to their trading links with Japan. The hotel, which had as many rooms for guests as for their servants, was managed by an Italian family, but they got externed for being 'enemy aliens' at the outbreak of the Second World War. The place of the Italian family was taken by the brothers Sardari Lal and Girdhari Lal, who were from a prosperous landowning family.
Sardari Lal was a bon vivant (he was reputed to have spent more time frequenting London's hotspots than pursuing his legal studies, his official reason for being in the city) and he eventually married the celebrated Olympian and British Life Peer, Lord Sebastian Coe's maternal grandmother, Vera Swan, who was a member of Uday Shankar's dance company and was also romantically involved with the maestro. Sardari Lal and Lord Coe's grandmother came back to New Delhi to settle down, but Vera Swan wasn't accepted by the British high society in the imperial capital, so she went back to England with her two daughters and never returned to be reunited with her husband.
The hotel is owned today by real estate and publishing tycoon Shashank Bhagat and his two business partners. It carries the Radisson Blu stamp and has The Great Kebab Factory, where  a Jashn-e-Lahore food festival is now on. It was a Tuesday, traditionally a light day for most restaurants, yet the place was full. And why shouldn't it be?
I can't imagine any sane person shying away from a meal plan that includes unlimited helpings of six kebabs with paired breads, two dals, three 'main course' items, a biryani with raita, and three desserts -- all for Rs 1,299+++ for grown-ups and Rs 749+++ for children. Right from the strawberry chilli sauce that the salad is drizzled with and the signature galouti, the restaurant has zealously guarded the high standards set by the original TGKF at the Radisson Blu Plaza, NH-8. It's a Connaught Place gem that deserves its place in the sun.
I asked Anish Potdar, whom I have known since the time he was a young chef at TGKF (he's now the custodian of the brand, which encompasses 16 restaurants), about the Lahore connection. He said the festival showcases the kebabs (TGKF has a repertoire of over 500, for its philosophy is not to repeat a kebab for 15 days) whose recipes were shared by Mohammed Ikram of Pearl Continental Lahore's Dumpukht restaurant with TGKF's master chef, Meraj-ul-Haque, when they were pitted against each other on the reality cookery show, Foodistan. Talk about cross-border brotherhood!
The kebabs with the Lahori connection that I had were the melt-in-the-mouth Chicken Firdausi and the delicately textured Khyberi Chooza, and then there was the intensely flavourful mutton nihari cooked in the Lahori style. These are three good reasons for you to drop anchor at the Marina's TGKF.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Recipes for a Multitasking Generation

This column first appeared in the Mail Today dated January 30, 2014. If you wish to see the original page, click on and go to Page 15. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
A NEW generation of cookbook writers are rewriting the ground rules of the craft. It may be because of the criticism that their recipes are meant to be admired for the pictures that accompany them because they are impossible to follow. Elaborate recipe requiring numerous ingredients and many stages of cooking may demonstrate the prowess of the person writing them,  but these are impossible to replicate at home, and can be frustrating for both the homemaker and the hobby cook.
It is heart-warming therefore to see the efflorescence of cookbooks that the Regular Ritu or the Neighbourhood Neha can relate to even as she juggles the multiple chores of managing a career, running a home and raising children, who can never be satisfied with the food they get. Cookbooks must address the needs of our multi-tasking, multi-cultural urban middle-class universe, where each family wakes up every morning with one existential question: What shall we eat today that will be different from what we had yesterday?
The debut cookbooks of Kunal
Kapur (above) and Rushina
Munshaw Ghildiyal address
the needs of a time-challenged,
 multi-tasking homemaker
 and hobby cook

We have two of them that have just been published and stand out in the crowd. A Pinch of This, A Handful of That (Westland; Rs 595) is by a popular food blogger (A Perfect Bite), Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, who lives the life of the average working mother making a desperate daily effort to prevent her children from seeking out junk food as deliverance from 'uninteresting' food at home. I first met her at a Godrej Nature's Basket cookery demo and was impressed by the turnout -- there's clearly an audience of young mothers out there among whom Rushina is the new domestic goddess.
The other cookbook (A Chef in Every Home; Random House) is by the sunny-faced Kunal Kapur from MasterChef India, a good-looking Punjabi munda whom every auntieji following the reality show co-hosted by him would want to have as her son-in-law. Away from his popular television persona, Kunal is an inventive chef who works very hard in the kitchens of The Leela Gurgaon and I first discovered him through his paan-flavoured panna cotta at the hotel's under-rated Indian restaurant, Diya, whose kitchen is now headed by an acolyte of the Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar.
In his acknowledgements, Kapur mentions an array of male relatives, unintentionally pointing to a rising constituency for cookbooks -- the urban male hobby cook, whom you'll find all over Facebook and Twitter, exchanging their recipes and holding forth on those of others on Sikandalous Cuisine, the busiest and the largest (at least in South Asia) recipe-sharing social media community. The audience for cookbooks clearly has transformed dramatically since the glory days of Mrs Balbir Singh and two Mrs Dalals -- Tarla and Katy.
The beauty of Rushina's book is that like the average day of a homemaker, it follows no order. Each page, as a result, throws up a little surprise, or an interesting anecdote, and you can start reading the book from anywhere and still find a recipe you'd want to replicate at home. You could find a recipe for something as easy as Keema Pasta or as challenging as the 13 Onion Pasta, or as nostalgia-laden as the chicken curry that is served with roomali roti at Mayo College on Tuesdays, or as exotic as the Root Spinach Soup of Istanbul's Asitane restaurant, or the South African Bunny Chow, or Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, or the Channa Bateta of Bhendi Bazar's Bohri Mohalla. There's something for every inclination.
Kunal's book, as you'd expect from a chef, is structured like a traditional cookbook, but its sweep is remarkable -- from Menaskai, the famous spicy pineapple curry from coastal Karnataka, Bhutte ka Shorba with Chilli Butter Popcorn and Potli Masala Creme Brulee, to Mutton Varuval, Fish Amritsari, Prawns Moilee and Char Siu Mutton Chops, the recipes come with a twist to excite your imagination. And perhaps prevent your little ones from ordering in a McDonald's lunch or Domino's dinner.


WHAT do Instagram, India Art Fair, signature breakfasts and tea-time eclairs have in common? I asked myself this question as I watched Arnaud Champenois of Starwood Hotels and Resorts walk in, his fluorescent green shoelaces grabbing my attention before anything else. We were at Le Meridien, at an exhibition of Instagram pictures of Delhi's sights and people by Dan Rubin, who with 600,000-plus followers on the picture blogging site is a social media hero. The three-city show (San Francisco and Paris are the other two big cities) is a part of the Filters of Discovery initiative of the international hotel chain -- one of nine owned by Starwood -- and the event where I met Champenois was timed to coincide with the India Art Fair.
"Mobile photography is the new language of our social media-obsessed world," Champenois said as he went about explaining the connections. After the Obama selfie kerfuffle, don't we know all about it! Travellers "unlock destinations" with the pictures they shoot with their mobiles and they have turned the social media into a global repository of these millions of "picture story books", as Champenois described them. To engage their guests in a more creative way, Le Meridien hotels (#lmfilters) around the world encourage them to Instagram or tweet their mobile photographs, and get rewarded for their work. And by connecting with the art community through the concluding dinner that Le Meridien New Delhi, where the country's many culinary traditions will be showcased to the accompaniment of music by the Bandish Project, Champenois said, the hotel is reaching out to "creative-minded travellers" who are "more plugged in" than the rest of the world.
The Dan Rubin show coincides with the global launch of Le Meridien's signature breakfast, which after nearly four years of carrying American top chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's stamp, will have a strong local flavour. You can now order a rasam poached egg served with a lentil galette to start your day, or have a baked omelette rolled in a gramflour cheela with tandoori chicken morsels and mint chutney. Craving for an eclair with your coffee? Don't miss the one with ginger and jaggery, or maybe rose and cardamom. Indulge -- and Instagram. That's the new mantra.

OK, I did extol the virtues of cookbooks for the new homemaker and hobby cook in the lead piece, but there's still a market for the strikingly illustrated tome that looks good on your coffee table and also has recipes that you can attempt at leisure (and of course, if you're adventurous as well!).
One such cookbook, appropriately titled Taste (Om Books), has been moving fast in the market. You'd  expect it from a cookbook with recipes from four Michelin-starrers (Vineet Bhatia, Vikas Khanna, Frances Aitken and Marcello Tully), Australian celebrity chef Ian Curley, Michelin Rising Star Laurie Gear, and BBC2 cookery show host Anjum Anand. Creative Services Support Group's Anand Kapoor, whose grandfather's Chicken Korma and Coffee Mousse Cake recipes are the ones you must attempt at home, has accomplished the surprising feat of getting the celebrity chefs together to share their best. Having done two annual charity events with these chefs, Kapoor seems to have mastered the art of balancing their egos and managing to get the best out of them, and it shows in the selection of recipes, which are arranged in the form of meals.
Surprisingly, despite the heavyweight presence of Michelin stars, the recipes are not that hard to replicate. Start with Anjum Anand's Fluffy Spinach Koftas in Creamy Tomato Curry, or the New York-based Vikas Khanna's Octopus Chaat and Watermelon Shorba, Ian Curley's Tortellini of Pumpkin and Ricotta, Marcelo Tully's Bread and Butter Pudding, and find out for yourself how these creative powerhouses elevate the simplest pleasures of life.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

With The Penguin Food Guide to India, Charmaine O'Brien Emerges as New Voice of Authority

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AS A food writer with more than a hundred thousand words to show for all the good meals I have had, I wonder at times why the three most encyclopaedic and readable books on Indian cuisine have been written by foreigners. I am referring to Rick Stein's India: In Search of the Perfect Curry, Christine Manfield's Tasting India and now The Penguin Food Guide to India, a most delightful work by Charmaine O'Brien. To this list, the only book by an Indian that I would happily add is Eating India by Chitrita Banerji, a food scholar based in the United States.
Rick Stein is a celebrated English chef, restaurateur and television presenter. Christine Manfield is the chef-owner of Sydney's acclaimed Universal restaurant (her fifth), which she plans to close down, and she organises food tours for people who pay really serious money. Charmaine O'Brien is an Austalian like Manfield, but from Melbourne, and she's a writer (her previous books include the slightly skimpy Flavours of Delhi: A Food Lovers' Guide and Recipes from An Urban Village: A Cookbook from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti), cookery educator, restaurant consultant and, as she describes herself, a "culinary explorer". What the three share in common is a passion for India, a magisterial understanding of our country's culinary traditions, and an abundant gift of expression. As a result, they manage to pack in bundles of information without getting boring.
Charmaine O'Brien (left) and High Commissioner
Patrick Suckling after the release of The Penguin
Food Guide to India
at the Australian High
Commission in New Delhi on January 30.
That's exactly what Charmaine does in The Penguin Food Guide to India, which she took four years to write without succumbing to the temptation of over-writing. Charmaine's affair with Indian food started when she first came to this country in 1995, expecting to eat the kind of monocultural tandoori cuisine she was getting back in Melbourne. She did get much of the same stuff in Delhi, which was then truly the Republic of Butter Chicken and travel guides did not know any better. Charmaine's first meal in India was at Sagar in Defence Colony Market, but it was only after she ate her way through a thali at a highway restaurant in Hospet, the Karnataka town famous for its proximity to Tungabhadra dam, that she got a taste of the depth and diversity of our culinary geography.
Charmaine's quest to dredge this wealth out of obscurity and showcase it to the world is now about two decades old. I am of the view that Flavours of Delhi was written for the gora crowd interested only in a superficial understanding of India, but the Food Guide to India, which follows her highly acclaimed Flavours of Melbourne: A Culinary Biography, shows the breadth of knowledge she has acquired over the years. And befittingly, the book was released on Wednesday, January 29, by the Australian High Commissioner, Patrick Suckling, who has a post-graduate diploma in Hindi and was last posted in Delhi in 1997-99 -- and he got married here as well. Like Charmaine, he's an "old India hand".
There's no superfluity in the book -- it's information-loaded all the way, without the brevity of Lonely Planet, strewn instead with anecdotes to keep the reader hooked to the narrative, which moves gently from Ladakh to Palakkad in Kerala, from Bhuj to Mawlynnong in Meghalaya. Whom does one contact to organise a meal with the Khamti tribe of Arunachal Pradesh? Answer: Antena Monglon, who runs Maunglang Tour & Trade Camp. Which is the restaurant where you can relish authentic Manipuri dishes in Imphal? Answer: The Host at Hotel Anand Continental. Where in Chhattisgarh can one attend cooking classes to master the local cuisine? Answer: At Kanker Palace, Bastar, and the person who holds the classes is none other than Surya Pratap Deo 'Jolly', the hotel's owner and member of the former royal family.
Too exotic? Well, Charmaine is equally well-versed with the more familiar parts. If you wish to buy Kutchi confections from Farsaani Duniya at Bhuj, she will advise you on what to get. Craving for a Kathiawari-style thali? Charmaine advises us to stop at Avantika in Limbdi, on the highway linking Saurashtra and Ahmedabad. Even for Goa, which most Delhiites now treat with a proprietary air, she surprises us with suggestions such as Confeitaria, the sunshine state's oldest bakery, and Horseshoe, which specialises in Portuguese-Goan food cooked by Vasco Silveria, and Venite, the best place for a Goan breakfast, and my recent discovery, Viva Panjim, where she recommends that you start your meal with the Goan rumba, a cocktail of cashew feni, rum and pineapple juice. These restaurants are in Panjim, but Charmaine also has a fairly useful list for Margao, a town with picture-postcard buildings now known as Madgaon.
I can go on forever. Charmaine, after all, has 240 listings from 25 states and Union terrirotries. This is one book I wouldn't want you miss for anything in this world.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Olive Bistro Opens at DLF Cyber Hub; Olive Mehrauli Gets Winter Menu With Sujan Sarkar's Picasso Touch

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
This quirky chandelier promises
to be a conversation point at
Olive Bistro, DLF Cyber
Hub, Gurgaon

OUR Republic has just celebrated its 65th birthday and tomorrow is a working day. For most of us, it will be just another day; for AD Singh, it will be a day of managing one more restaurant.
Olive Bistro has opened at DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon, right on top of Soda Water Openerwala. Looking very much like a stately restaurant from the 1920s, it has a sprawling balcony protected from the elements by a foldable umbrella of awnings. Just right for this season, now that the sun seems to have made a comeback. I am also told that its USPs are going to be a first-of-its-kind pizza menu and never-before-seen granary breads, which are made with brown flour and malted wheat grains, added for their distinctive nutty flavour. And the picture of Olive Bistro's unusual chandelier accompanying this blog post, which I owe to a Facebook post by Singh's Guppy by Ai business partner, Rohit Grover, proves that like all AD Singh restaurants, its design will have a quirky theme that promises to become a conversation point.
When Singh had said in an interview with me last August that he was going to launch 20 new restaurants by 2014-end, I half-believed him. With Olive Bistro opening after Guppy By Ai, Soda Bottle Openerwala and Monkey Bar, I don't need more convincing. Adding to my faith in Singh's ability to pull off this dasavatara act is the new winter menu unveiled at Olive Kitchen & Bar, Mehrauli, by Sujan Sarkar, who just got married after his return to his mother country following a successful stint in London. If the dishes that Sarkar has lined up for the winter menu taste as good as the pictures, I can assure you we have a new star in our city and he's going to have us eating out of his hand.
Sujan Sarkar's wood oven-roasted baby pumpkins
with green beans (above) and pear tarte tatin
(top) are some of the picture-perfect dishes that
the newly-wed chef has put on Olive Bar &
Kitchen, Mehrauli's new winter menu
At the rate at which independent restaurateurs such as AD Singh and creative chefs like Sujan Sarkar are raising the bar for excellence, I don't see five-star hotels, the old bastions of fine dining, continuing to be relevant to the universe of Delhi-NCR's foodies. That's bad news for an industry already struggling under the twin loads of debt and mounting operating costs. They have three options: reinvent (a distant possibility because of their bureaucratic management structures), re-engage (maybe they can retrieve their dwindling F&B market by selling their restaurant spaces to inventive chefs and visionary entrepreneurs), or perish.
Keep reading to check out my reviews of Olive Bistro and Sujan Sarkar's winter menu. I have had my dinner and yet, I can hear the rumblings in my stomach.
When Singh had said in an interview with me last August that he was going to launch 20 new restaurants by 2014-end, I half-believed him. With Olive Bistro opening after Guppy By Ai, Soda Bottle Openerwala and Monkey Bar, I don't need more convincing. Adding to my faith in Singh's ability to pull off this dasavatara act is the new winter menu unveiled at Olive Kitchen & Bar, Mehrauli, by Sujan Sarkar, who just got married after his return to his mother country following a successful stint in London. If the dishes that Sarkar has lined up for the winter menu taste as good as the pictures, I can assure you we have a new star in our city and he's going to have us eating out of his hand.
At the rate at which independent restaurateurs such as AD Singh and creative chefs like Sujan Sarkar are raising the bar for excellence, I don't see five-star hotels, the old bastions of fine dining, continuing to be relevant to the universe of Delhi-NCR's foodies. That's bad news for an industry already struggling under the twin loads of debt and mounting operating costs. They have three options: reinvent (a distant possibility because of their bureaucratic management structures), re-engage (maybe they can retrieve their dwindling F&B market by selling their restaurant spaces to inventive chefs and visionary entrepreneurs), or perish. Keep reading to check out my reviews of Olive Bistro and Sujan Sarkar's winter menu. I have had my dinner and yet, I can hear the rumblings in my stomach.

To read about Sujan Sarkar, copy this link:
To read about AD Singh's business expansion plans, copy this link:

Turning Point Wines Get A Capital Welcome as Delhi Gourmet Club Serves Paradise on a Plate

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT WAS only appropriate that the wines being showcased at the Delhi Gourmet Club's 68th event are called Turning Point. DGC's first-ever al fresco wazwan lunch on Saturday, January 25, was indeed a turning point for the club, which is now, despite being a 'Secret Group', a 5,000-strong Facebook community.
Delhi Gourmet Club's founder-member Rocky
Mohan (left) with Shafi Waza, one of the four
brothers who are carrying forward the great
gastronomical legacy of Khan Abdul Ahad

Waza. Picture: Shalini Chauhan
It was the first time that the club had invited a well-known catering company, none other than the inimitable Ahad Sons, which is carrying forward the legacy of Khan Abdul Ahad Waza, to present a traditional 16-course wazwan lunch. A celebratory wazwan meal can accommodate up to 32 courses, but the club's three founder-members (Rocky 'Mr Old Monk' Mohan, Atul 'The Guru of Sikandalous Cuisine' Sikand and yours truly) decided that 16 would be more than enough! And believe me, they were.
Of course, with Rocky, whose book Wazwan: Traditional Kashmiri Cuisine is the most insightful on the subject, to guide us, with the suave Shafi Waza, the third of the four brothers who are now the custodians of Ahad Waza's legacy, personally supervising the proceedings, and with Mohit 'Chowder Singh' Balachandran orchestrating the service with club member Nikhil Alung, we could expect the lunch to be a memorable affair, even though the weather wasn't.
Turning Point wines, which have just been launched
in Delhi and Gurgaon, share the limelight with
the invincible Old Monk, Ketel One and Bacardi.

Picture: Ajay Gautam
It was a cold and gloomy day (we joked that we had brought Srinagar's weather to Delhi), and the ever-hospitable Rocky, at whose sprawling Vasant Kunj farmhouse the lunch had been laid out, was worried that the chairs would be wet. The weather made no difference to the elevated spirits on the ground, for there was enough warmth to be had from the wood fires, the lavish spread of delectable wazwan dishes, and Turning Point wines, which have just been launched in Delhi and Gurgaon after a fairly good run in Mumbai and Pune.
Turning Point is the brainchild of Ashwin Deo, whom many of you'll remember as the man who steered Moet Hennessy India very successfully in the company's early days. A product of Nashik's wine lands, Turning Point is India's first wine label that addresses young people, the  country's largest population segment that hasn't evinced much interest in wine.
I suspect it is because wine has been presented in a manner that it comes across as some 'serious' drink that only 'connoisseurs' can appreciate. The truth is, wine, like any other alcoholic beverage, is meant to be savoured in the company of friends, with good food to accompany it, and not intellectualised upon. Turning Point wines draw you in with their bottle design -- it's sassy, youthful, vibrant. You just have to keep a bottle on your table to get people talking about the wine. It's a great ice-breaker.
But Turning Point wines have more to offer than their sleek bottles and meaningful conversations. The wines are made from grapes sourced with great care from contract farmers in Nashik, and matured and bottled at Ravi and Kailash Gurnani's York winery with expert advice from the roving biochemist-turned-oenologist from Bordeaux, Marc Dworkin. I had the Turning Point Rosé, made from Zinfandel grapes, and I was surprised by its lively freshness. It was not overly sweet; instead, it balanced crisp acidity with a hint of fruitiness.
I thought I would stick with the Rosé, but I changed my mind after I had the Cabernet Shiraz. It was young, flavourful and delicately balanced. The vines from where the grapes are sourced for the Turning Point Cabernet Shiraz are 10-15 years old, yet there's no rawness in the wine, which made it a perfect match for the food that was served piping hot from silver containers by by Shafi's men, all clad in white kurta, pyjama and skull cap.
And what a feast it was, from the nadru (lotus stem) fritters and mutton lahabi kebabs circulated as appetisers during the meet-and-greet hour, to the pounded mutton kofta with an apricot at the centre, the ruwangan chaman (my most favourite paneer dish), the unbeatable Hind roghan josh and its polar opposite, the aab gosht (mutton cooked in a milk curry), the unputdownable haak (Kashmiri spinach) and monje (turnips), the spongy gushtaba bearing the unmistakable Ahad Waza stamp, and the sooji halwa, phirni and kahwa (Kashmiri tea) at the end. It was a meal I won't forget in a long time.
For DGC, it was without doubt a landmark event -- a brilliant showcase of a regional cuisine rooted in tradition and a new wine label that has set out to re-write the old, cobwebbed rules of wine drinking.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Two Oberoi Icons on TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards Top Hotels List As Indians Garner 8 World and 39 Asian Honours

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Oberoi Group has struck gold in's Travellers' Choice Hotel Awards 2014. In the 11th edition of the consumer review site's annual world awards, The Oberoi Udai Vilas at Udaipur ranked No. 5 in the 'top' hotels list, pole vaulting from No. 22 last year, and The Oberoi Mumbai jumped to No. 9, after being in the double-digit territory at No. 17 in 2013. The two hotels are at No. 15 and No. 22 respectively in the pecking order for the luxury category. The grande dame of Udaipur, Taj Lake Palace, also made it to the top hotels list, but at No. 17.
The Oberoi Udai Vilas, Udaipur, has climbed from
No. 22 to No. 5 on the world 'top' hotels list of the
TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards 2014
Coorg's Orange County makes its world debut
at No. 15 in the family hotels category
These three hotels bagged five of the eight world awards that went to India -- a record for the country. The other three winners are real undiscovered gems in their categories -- Kaiya House, Varkala (Kerala), among bargain hotels (No. 12, up from 14); Friendly Villa, Jaipur, on the B&Bs and Inns list (No. 20); and the increasingly popular Orange County, Coorg, makes its debut on the list at No. 15 in the family hotels category.
In the age of digital marketing, the value of these awards cannot be understated. A study by Cornell University’s Centre for Hospitality Research notes that increases in a hotel’s user review scores can positively influence the relationship between price increase and demand. Higher review scores, the study says, allow hotels to charge more while maintaining their occupancy rate.
Hotels that are lackadaisical about their social media engagement must rethink their strategy. Here's why they must do so. Friendly Villa's Shweta Mehra reports that her business has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year growth "both in terms of bookings and revenue" in the past three years she has been winning the Travellers' Choice Award in her category. "Had it not been for the award, I wonder if I could have ever achieved so much without very painful and expensive marketing efforts," she says.
Commenting on the awards notched up by establishments in Goa, Nikhil Desai, the state government's Director of Tourism, points to the obvious advantage of this recognition. "I am optimistic that these awards will cement Goa's place as one of the best tourism destinations in the world," he says.
Based entirely on travellers' reviews and ratings posted on the site, the much-anticipated awards have brought plenty of good news for India. Indian hotels and B&Bs have also won 39 Asian awards, second only to Indonesia's 41. India's Asian tally includes a remarkable 12 wins in the B&B and Inns category -- eight of the top 10 establishments in this category, in fact, are from India. As many as 92 countries are covered by the awards, which are given out in seven categories: Top Hotel; Luxury; Bargain (hotels in the lowest 30 price percentile in a particular geography); B&B; Family; Romance; Small. India has notched up 222 awards across the World, Asia and India lists.
In India, the category leaders are: Top and Luxury: The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, for the second time in a row; Romance: Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur; Family: Orange County, Coorg; Small: The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore; Bargain: Kaiya House, Varkala, for the third time in a row; B&B and Inns: Friendly Villa, Jaipur.
Rajasthan is the topper in hospitality with hotels from the state garnering an impressive 50 awards across the World, Asia and India lists. The other top performers include Kerala (36), Karnataka (30) and Goa (17). Among metros, Delhi is the leader with seven awards; Bangalore is a close second with six. Binay Bhushan, General Manager, Delhi Tourism & Transport Development Corporation, attributes Delhi's success to the Capital's "245 B&B establishments offering approximately 900 rooms at a reasonable cost to travellers from all over the world, including different parts of the country".
Interestingly, no establishment in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Punjab and the entire north-east have got an award. Is it a reflection of the backwardness of the hospitality sectors of these states, or a commentary on their poor social media engagement?
Is there a message in these awards? TripAdvisor's media release makes a relevant point. "The competition between large hotel chains and standalone properties is heating up with the latter becoming a formidable force," it says. The chains dominate in the Luxury and Top categories, but standalone properties lead in the Family and Small categories. In Romance, the scale is only marginally tipped in favour of the chains, with them clocking 13 ranks out of 25 and the rest being standalone properties.
As Nikhil Ganju, Country Manager, TripAdvisor India, puts it, "The beauty of the awards this year is that standalone and boutique hotels overshadow the large hotel chains.”

DINING OUT: No Smokey's Without the Fire of Chilli

This review first appeared in Mail Today dated 24/01/2014. To see the original, please log on to
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

WHERE: Smokey's BBQ & Grill, VIPPS Centre, Local Shopping Centre, Masjid Moth, GK-II
WHEN: 12 NOON TO 1 A.M. (Happy Hours: 12:30 to 8:30 P.M.)
DIAL: 011-41435531

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DELHI-NCR, one can now say with justifiable pride, is the country's unchallenged dining capital. There's been an explosion of creativity in the city's kitchens, with established and young chefs, from Indian Accent's Manish Mehrotra to Soda Bottle Openerwala's Anahita Dhondy, tirelessly extending the boundaries of the geography of gastronomic imagination. All those who used to mock at Delhi-NCR as the Republic of Butter Chicken can go eat crow.
An American diner serving burgers and hot
dogs with a chilli twist, Smokey's draws you in
with its log cabin look, smoked cocktails, and
dishes like the meaty Two Peppercorn Steak 
Over the past month, we have seen the opening of Soda Bottle Openerwala and Monkey Bar, both of which have game-changer written all over them, the overwhelming success of Made in Punjab's new menu, the back-to-the-roots winter menu of Punjab Grill, and the entry of JW Marriott's K3, whose dim sum, pizzas and Sunday smoked martinis are my favourites. We have seen so much happening that when Smokey's opened, I felt it was to be expected in a city with evolved taste buds. It has become our fundamental right to expect good food from the new restaurants opening in the city.
Smokey's is a restaurant with heritage. It has opened at the same address where Smoke House Grill (SHG) used to run and it's the baby of Shiv Karan Singh, who's a familiar face in Delhi-NCR's restaurant circles. It was he who used to run SHG with Riyaz Amlani, one of the country's most successful restaurateurs. The two parted ways amicably and Smokey's has a lot of SHG, but with Shiv Karan's larger-than-life stamp and ace mixologist Sherine John's smoked cocktails.
An American diner with a deliciously priced wine list, about which I have commented in Fortune Cookie, Smokey's is just the kind of place card-carrying carnivores would love to visit to sink their teeth into the burgers and hot dogs, each of which comes with a twist. The Andhra Style Tenderloin Chilli Hot Dog made me sit up and admire the inventiveness of the Smokey's team. Guntur chillies add fire to the most boring ingredient and sure enough, they infuse pep into the juicy Bangalore beef, the city's flavour of the season, that goes into the hot dog.
You can taste the same fire in the Two Peppercorn Steak, which is crusted with crushed pink and black pepper. I wonder why pink peppercorns haven't become more popular among chefs. They endow dishes with a different kind of zest. The Slow Cooked Pork Ribs are the other gems -- marinated in the house spice mix, lager and BBQ sauce, and slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven, the meat simply slips off the bones. It's the most expensive item on the menu, but if you love Chilean pork, you've can't continue living without tasting this dish.
I was trying hard to look for dishes that would gladden the heart of a vegetarian, but Smokey's is green-friendly only in one respect -- it only loves animals who feed on greens! It may even challenge those carnivores who've started to go slow on red meat. They have the option of asking for the Chicken Wings, generously drizzled with umami-laden BBQ sauce, or the Atomic Drumsticks spiked with red chillies, the Spicy BBQ Chicken and Grilled Pineapple Salad, pan-seared John Dory served with tomato risotto and Shimla chilli sauce (a memorable new addition to the city's culinary repertoire), and Raja Chilli Marinated Seafood Crepes with Saffron Gratin. Just in case you don't know what Nagaland's Raja chillies are, I'd like to forewarn you that these belong to the same family as the palate-numbing hot Bhut Jolokia. Shiv Karan loves his chillies.
I can't complete this review without a mention of the Sherine John's cocktails. My personal favourite is The New Old Fashioned with Jim Beam, Drambuie, fresh mandarin, cucumber, green apple and basil -- I love the balance and freshness of ingredients, and the low sugar content. It's a cocktail for grown-ups -- and one of the reasons why you must have a meal at Smokey's.

Dhamaka Despite The Clouds: Le Meridien Jaipur Defied Odds to Stage Befitting Finale to Jaipur Literature Festival

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Writers' Ball is the time when the lines dividing the world's leading writers, academics and journalists of varied descriptions and nationalities get blurred as special invitees and delegates to the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) just let their hair down.
Le Meridien Jaipur's team transformed the hotel's vast
 lobby (below) and the 24-hour restaurant, Latest
Recipe, into a party zone in less than 12 hours
for the Jaipur Literature Festival Writers' Ball
In the last three years, this much-awaited finale to South Asia's most important intellectual forum was held at the foothills of Amber, at the property of a Jaipur resident whose forefathers used to be the gatekeepers of the majestic fort that guards the city from its perch atop a rocky outcrop of the Aravallis.
This year, the venue was moved to Le Meridien, the sprawling Starwood hotel close to Amber Fort, which is quite popular in the marriage and conventions market because of its vast banqueting spaces. Le Meridien is Starwood's designated hotel brand for arts and culture, so it was natural for it to agree to host the Writers' Ball. For the JLF organisers, it meant one logistical headache less to worry about.
On the morning of January 21, the day of the Writers' Ball, Jaipur woke up to a dense blanket of fog and slow but nagging showers. The city was wet and gloomy, and the mood at Le Meridien wasn't any better. The hotel had made elaborate plans for an al fresco event with an elaborate dinner spread organised around the themes of salt, spice, vinegar, sugar and chocolate.
The unexpected rain poured water on this ambitious plan, but the Le Meridien staff rose to the challenge. General Manager Sanjay Gupta led from the front; Vikas Malik, Starwood's Regional Director (F&B) for South Asia, was by his side all the time. In less than 12 hours, they transformed the hotel's lobby and attached all-day restaurant, Latest Recipe, and the second-floor bar, which opens up to an expansive terrace, into a seamless party zone, where Jaipur's glitterati quaffed the endless supply of wine and tucked back the delicious circulating kebabs in the company of delegates from all over the English-speaking world.
Festival organiser Namita Gokhale and event manager Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Films slipped in and out of this eclectic crowd, savouring the compliments for putting together an international event that attracted 75,000 visitors across five days. Chugge Khan and Rajasthan Josh, the collective of Manganiyar singers and musicians he leads, kept the tempo high with their energy-infused brand of music. It was too irresistible for the guests not to break into a dance in the lobby. Like everything at Le Meridien Jaipur, the lobby seems to be without an end and it instantly transformed into a dance floor.
Coincidentally, the hotel was also the venue of a marriage in the Kolkata family that owns Emami. Apart from starting the day with their regulation milky tea in earthen glasses, along with toast smeared with butter, salt and sugar, the marriage party let loose a volley of fireworks just as the Writers' Ball was getting into the swing of things. As the pyrotechnics and the accompanying laser show lit up the dark, cloudy sky, all eyes were riveted to the spectacle. Writers' Ball veterans said they didn't miss Amber Fort at all, and everyone just loved the mutton biryani and lal maas, made to perfection by the hotel's invisible kitchen team, from the extensive buffet that ended at one far corner with crispy jalebi and rabri.
For me, the Writers' Ball presented an opportunity to meet hoteliers and learn more about the Jaipur market. Satyajeet Krishnan, General Manager, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, reminded me that his last posting was the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur. Meeting Prashant Gupta in his avatar as General Manger, The Trident, Jaipur, meant catching up and remembering the time when he was at The Trident, Gurgaon. Rohit Dar, General Manager of the Marriott, Jaipur, surprised me by remembering the days when I used to be a regular with my newly-wedded wife at The Palms, The Oberoi New Delhi, where he used to be the restaurant manager. Trust hoteliers to have elephantine memories! The Palms has made way for Travertino and Rohit has risen up the corporate hierarchy. And Tarun Thakral, the suave, never-aging COO of Le Meridien, New Delhi, sounded very happy about the success of his 90,000-sq-ft heritage transport museum at Taoru, which is about 35km from Gurgaon.
This was one evening that had defied the spectre of impossibility. Meena Bhatia, Vice-President (Operations), Le Meridien, New Delhi, got it right when she said: "In life, Plan B always works better."

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Oz Calling: Indian Tourists Rate Australia World's No. 1 Foodie Destination

This story first appeared on Page 23 of Mail Today dated January 23, 2013. To see the original, log on to
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
INDIANS who have been to Australia rank the country's as the world's No. 1 destination for food and wine, above France and Italy. This remarkable finding has been brought to light by a 15-nation  Consumer Demand Research Project conducted by Tourism Australia. The ranking given to Australia's food and wine by Indian travellers is the same as that of their peers, significantly, from France, as those from the USA, UK, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Come February, Tourism Australia will
launch a worldwide campaign to woo
foodies with experiences such as dinners
Sound of Silence dinners at Ayers Rock
Overall, Australia ranked No. 2 in the survey and, interestingly, No. 6 among people who had not visited Australia. The No. 1 ranking given by Indians to Australia has come as a pleasant surprise for another reason as well -- India has just edged out Germany to become Australia's 10th largest tourism source market, so the perceptions of its outbound travellers carry the weight of numbers. Even in the social media, India, with five million fans, ranks No. 4 on Tourism Australia's Facebook page and No. 3 in terms of engagement.
These rankings matter to Tourism Australia because the theme of its 2014 promotional campaign, to be launched worldwide in February, is Restaurant Australia. It is being designed to promote the diversity and depth of the country's internationally acclaimed culinary experiences. And the 15-nation survey has revealed that 'good food, wine, local cuisine and produce' are the third most important reason, after 'safety and security' and 'value for money', for outbound travellers to visit a destination. For a country with iconic restaurants such as Tetsuya (Tetsuya Wakuda), Attica (Ben Shewry) and Quay (Peter Gilmore), and expat chefs of the stature of David Thompson (Nahm) and Brett Graham (The Ledbury), this must be heart-warming news.
"The Indian perception of Australia
as the world's leading foodie
destination owes a lot to the
success of MasterChef Australia,"
says Nishant Kashikar, Country
Manager, Tourism Australia
Sharing the survey findings with this writer, Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager-India, Tourism Australia, said the Indian perception of Australia as a foodie destination owes a lot to the success of the reality television series MasterChef Australia in India. "MasterChef Australia, moreover, is all about multi-cultural Australia. That is what Australia is all about," Kashikar said.
To emphasise this point, Kashikar pointed to the success Down Under of the Indian restaurants Aki's and Zaffran, both in Sydney. Vikrant Kapoor of Zaffran, in fact, is a regular on Tourism Australia commercials to promote the destination. Buoyed by the Indian response to Aussie food and wine offerings, Kashikar proposes to promote Australia's exciting culinary trails through some of the country's most scenic spots.
"Could it be walking the produce trail of Kangaroo Island or washing down freshly shucked oysters with a glass of Coles Bay bubbles in Tasmania? Buying a bucket of prawns from the Fremantle fish markets or bar-hopping from rooftop to rooftop above Melbourne's laneways? Sipping a cocktail at Bondi Beach or a craft beer in Cairns, or learning how to make bread from plant seeds on a Top End bush tucker tour?" asks a Restaurant Australia promotional book, laying out just some of the options to make world-travelled tourists shed their been-there-done-that reluctance to go back Down Under for yet another vacation.
"These are the best times for us," says Kashikar. The number of Indian visitors to Australia rose by 11 per cent to touch 170,000 in the year ending Septmber 2013. The leisure segment grew at a higher rate (16 per cent), which Kashikar attributes mainly to the addition of Air-India's Delhi-Melbourne-Sydney daily Dreamliner flight. So did the per-person spend (23 per cent). An Indian tourist, on average, spends 11 nights in Australia and ends up forking out AUD5,000 (Rs 275,000) per visit.
All this makes Outbound India a very important source market for Tourism Australia. Come February, this market will be wooed by Tourism Australia by the many tastes and flavours that define the country's food and wine culture.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Chefs, F&B Managers Rejoice! Revenue Share of F&B Rises Steadily as Room Revenues Show A Slide: Survey

F&B revenues become more
important as hotels battle
competition to repay debts.
Picture: Courtesy of Monkey Bar
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THERE'S a quote attributed to one of the venerable hoteliers of the country -- I think it was Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi -- who is believed to have said that hotels are in the business of selling rooms and little else. Well, it doesn't seem so any longer.
The FHRAI Indian Hotels Survey 2012-13, released in New Delhi on Monday, January 20, reveals that the contribution of rooms to the average total kitty of hotels has steadily dropped from 60.5 per cent to 52.2 per cent in the five years between 2008-09 and 2012-13. In the same period, the share of food and beverages (F&B) has risen from 25.6 per cent to 29 per cent, and if you add banqueting (mainly marriages) and conferences, the contribution of F&B goes up from 34.4 per cent to 41.2 per cent.
The report also says that the net average income from rooms has seen a 4 per cent decline in these five years, which was not unexpected in view of the steady increase in the supply of rooms.
The India office of the world's most respected hospitality industry consultancy, HVS, conducted the questionnaire-based survey for the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI). In December 2013, HVS sent out questionnaires to 2,505 hotels in the country's seven primary and 13 secondary hospitality industry markets; 1,450 responded.
The report, explaining why this shift is taking place, is emphatic about the growth in the share of F&B revenue to continue. "Going forward, as the competition further increases in the market with the entry of new supply, we expect F&B revenues to continue to contribute a large portion of gross revenues as they are not solely driven by occupancies," the report states.
"Additionally," it continues, "the burgeoning middle class and its propensity to spend will continue to augment demand for F&B across cities in India. With hotels focusing on the banquets and conferences segment in off-season months to beat seasonality, this department is also anticipated to increase its contribution to the total revenue pie." F&B, incidentally, is a major part of the banqueting and conference offering of any hotel.
The good news coming out of the survey is that demand has kept pace with supply, but the bad news is that the average rate is slipping. The supply of rooms has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.8 per cent and the demand at 17.3 per cent from 2008-09 to 2012-13.
Clearly, the growth in demand has been healthy, but the other side of the story is that "hotels are dropping average rates to attract customers in the face of increased supply". Basing itself on this data, HVS points to the emergence of a new customer mindset, which is more sensitive to the price than loyal to a hotel or brand. "As operators battle increasing departmental costs and owners struggle with debt service payments," the report says, "hotel companies need to reconsider their rate strategies."
Delhi appears to be the exception, though. Though the average occupancy has dropped from 64.8 per cent (2008-9) to 57.1 per cent (2012-13), which is below the national average of 60.4 per cent, the average room rate (ARR) has been mounting bulging from Rs 6,087 to Rs 7,455. Mumbai, on the contrary, has seen the ARR slide from Rs 6,822 to Rs 5,791. The only market with an ARR higher than Delhi's is Gurgaon, but its average of Rs 7,776 (2012-13) is lower than Rs 8,122, which it reported in the previous year.
Gurgaon, clearly, is feeling the heat of competition, so will Delhi's party be over once the Aerocity hotels open one after another this year? Mumbai, incidentally, recorded an average occupancy of 71.5 per cent in 2012-13, the highest in the country along with Kochi. Is the city's low ARR responsible for its high occupancy figure? We will crunch the numbers a little harder and talk to senior executives and analysts to answer these questions. We will also extract more information from the survey and beef up our reports with analyses, so look out for our series on the 'State of the Hospitality Industry'.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

As He Re-Engineers The Wine Company's Menu, Chef Saby Shares Fabrica's Business Plans

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I WAS trying to shake off the dreariness of Delhi's weather the other day at my favourite Soda Bottle Openerwala (SBOW) at the DLF Cyber Hub in Gurgaon, when I ran into Megha Kohli, a young chef with the happiest face in the business. I had heard Megha had joined Fabrica, the new company floated by Sabyasachi 'Chef Saby' Gorai, so my newsman's antenna shot up when I saw Megha, her chef's whites showing signs of long hours in the kitchen, at the Cyber Hub.
And sure enough, I learnt that Saby had been signed up by Ashish Kapur to work on The Wine Company menu. That was music to my ears because I believe The Wine Company is a great idea -- where else can you get such decently priced wine in Delhi-NCR -- but its menu has obviously been drawn up by a person who has no clue about wines or wine pairing. You cannot have a wine-driven restaurant without a food menu to complement it. Being a good judge of market realities, Ashish seems to have figured it out soon enough and it shows in his decision to get Saby to rewrite the menu.
After leaving AD Singh, Sabyasachi
Gorai launched Fabrica with a plan to
to roll out concepts in five business
verticals. Image: Facebook
Meeting Megha and Saby's nephew, young chef Subhayan Das, outside SBOW seemed like some sort of a karmic connection at work, for the restaurant was the last project that Saby completed before quitting AD Singh's fast-expanding restaurant empire. It was a calculated risk on the part of Saby, who has found a niche for his unmistakable media persona on television (The Urban Cook on Zee Khana Khazana), but he's working according to a plan that straddles five verticals:
* Roll out middle-to-mass-market food concepts, from gourmet food carts to burger chains, in smaller cities such as Chandigarh Jaipur and Pune. Apart from these turnkey projects, Saby proposes to pursue restaurant consultancies, which he says will provide him "bread and butter" and the wherewithal to grow his business organically. His dream is to create a chain of gourmet stores with restaurants and lecture kitchens on the lines of Eataly, the brainchild of the Italian electronics retailer, Oscar Farinetti.
* Launch a culinary college to produce qualified chefs who will be trained to cater to the burgeoning restaurant industry and its increasingly international standards. Saby is in final stages of talks with a private university in Delhi-NCR and the project is likely to be bankrolled by the scion of an old business house with a growing interest in restaurant concepts. A top equipment maker is developing what promises to be the country's most modern catering college kitchen.
* Create a two-way employment exchange for chefs -- both Indians looking for better openings or jobs abroad and international chefs scouting for career breaks outside their countries. This is one vertical the country badly needs. I wish Saby pays attention to the critical area of training stewards as well!
* Sign up as brand ambassador of food and kitchen accessories brands. This is one good idea, for apart from Sanjeev Kapoor, Vikas Khanna, Ritu Dalmia and Saby (for the upscale German kitchen and household utilities brand, Miele), marketers rarely consider chefs as brand ambassadors in verticals where their world should be the law. If Saby succeeds, he'll give chef-shy food and kitchen appliances brands the courage to bank on chefs. Because Saby, unlike the other three, who became media personalities before they got brand ambassadorships, did not have a television show before he signed up with Miele.
* And last (this one is what I find is most exciting), create a range of 'sprinkle-ons', or cooked powders that you can adds to your food to get a curry kick, for a Japanese marketing agency. Imagine you are having a medium-done steak and you get the urge to sex it up with a balchao flavour, and all you need to do is pick up a sprinkler filled with balchao powder. Saby dreams of the day when these sprinkler would become as common as Tabasco and Capsico at homes and in restaurants.
Dreams have the power to drive you closer to reality. Saby should know this better than most of his other peers.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Chez Nini's Nira Singh to Lay Out a Dinner at America's Culinary Capital, James Beard House

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

CHEF-RESTAURATEUR Nira Singh of Chez Nini fame is all set to be the first Indian to prepare a James Beard House dinner. The brownstone townhouse in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City, where the man who transformed the American table lived and cooked for the TV shows that established his reputation as a tireless educator, typically hosts 200 dinners in a year by accomplished chefs from around the world.
Nira Singh with her favourite wines at Chez Nini,
Mehar Chand Market, Lodi Colony.
Picture by Subhash Arora
The dinners are priced at $130 per head for James Beard Foundation members and $170 for others, and to understand their far-reaching impact, you have only to order a tuna pizza at Korean-American chef Akira Back's signature restaurant at the JW Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity. Back owes his fame, as a brilliant purveyor of Japanese food with a Korean touch, to the big-eye tuna pizza that he had served at the James Beard House in 2008. He has since done dinners in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and is scheduled to lay out another on 8 February 2014, where the tuna pizza will make yet another appearance topped up with micro-shiso and truffles.
Getting to do a meal at James Beard House is not easy. A chef has to clear six tests before making the cut, which is to be expected when the calendar is studded with super chefs such as David Bouley and Marcus Samuelsson (in January) and in February, it has the likes of New York's white-hot new star, Bryce Shuman, and Peter Chang, the elusive genius who became famous after The New Yorker's Calvin Trillin discovered him. A computer engineer born and raised in Montreal, who survived a debilitating accident and relocated to Delhi to become the extraordinary chef whom everyone has an opinion on (increasingly positive!), Nira oozes perfection and passion; even her description of how she makes her Pork Belly Cubes taste like heaven has a sensual tingle to it. And now, she is in exalted  company.
Nira was to do her James Beard House gig in February, but she has postponed it to May because of her India Art Fair catering commitments. At a dinner with a group of friends (food critic par excellence Marryam Reshii, one of Delhi Gourmet Club's most aware members, Lavina Kharkwal, and Indian Food Freak's Pawan Soni), brought together by the encyclopaedic Subhash Arora, President, Delhi Wine Club, I ask Nira what she intended to do at James Beard House, she said she was planning to showcase her Indian adventure on the tables of her hallowed venue.
A firm believer in Indian ingredients (the only exception she makes is for chocolate), Nira surprised me by serving my double espresso (I needed it after that gastronomical tour de force) in a cutting chai glass! I am sure she'll have New York City eating out of her hand. Backing her is Susan Ungaro, the James Beard Foundation president who rescued the organisation from doom after her predecessor was indicted by the US Attorney General's office for fraud. "She has not only been encouraging, but also infused me with the courage to get adventurous," Nira said. Will Nira be able to cook up a storm in the core of the Big Apple? I am confident she will.