Sunday, 30 March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Vicky Ratnani & Vidhu Mittal Teach Us How To Go Veggie With Panache

This book review first appeared in Mail Today on Sunday, March 30. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers. Go to Page 29 after clicking on


By Vidhu Mittal
Lustre Press/Roli Books; price not stated

By Vicky Ratnani
Collins; price not stated
Vicky Ratnani and Vidhu Mittal
rescue vegetarian cookery from
 the taint of being commonplace

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I STILL can't forget the wine dinner many moons ago, when my favourite chef, Bill Marchetti, came out of the kitchen and asked me out of the blue: "Are you sick or something, mate?" Taken aback, I asked, "Why?" He answered with a deadpan expression, "Why else would you ask for a vegetarian dish?" Without waiting for my reply, he asked the waiter to plonk the non-vegetarian option in front of me. Before I could protest, Marchetti steamed off to the kitchen and the waiter moved on to other guests.
Chefs have traditionally treated vegetables with disdain, leaving to cookbook writers, a class they hold in utmost contempt, the challenging task of sexing up vegetarian cuisine. In recent years, as a result of the exertions of gifted chefs such as the Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi, Michelin three-starred Alain Passard and the Italian-born UK television celebrity Aldo Zilli, vegetarian cookery has achieved the exalted status it has always deserved. Luckily for home cooks in the country, a new generation of cookbook writers have moved away from the past's aloo-gobhi-paneer routine to lift the glam quotient of vegetarian food. The days of vegetables being good only as steamed or grilled accompaniments to meats are well and truly over.
Vicky Ratnani, whom many of us know as a television chef, but who is more famous among his peers as the one who introduced Mumbai to polenta, has taken the leap of faith, which no other member of his fraternity has dared to do, to transport us to commonplace veggie bazaars and discover how even the humblest root can be transformed into a treat. He has shown, for instance, that yam (ratalu) can replace potatoes in the Swiss roesti and taste as good with a tomato and zucchini relish.
Ratnani's day job is being the corporate chef of the fine-dining restaurant Aurus in Mumbai. You realise why he's there when you get exposed to his breadth of vision in his colourful cookbook. He loves playing with ingredients (and yes, there's a method to his randomness), combining charred corn, broccoli and plum in a salad pumped up with the Middle Eastern sumac and zaatar, tagine spice mix and feta cheese. He makes Nashik radish slaw or cucumber and tendli (ivy gourd) carpaccio with equal ease. And he adds a new taste dimension to the familiar pumpkin soup by pepping it up with Madras curry powder and sambhar masala.
His chickpea and almond croquettes make you want to eat the page in which they appear. His vegetarian take on polpette (Italian meatballs) with potatoes and soy granules, or sweet potato wafers with amla aioli, plantain (kachche kele) braised with Thai spices, green chilli and raw mango risotto, hing-roasted pumpkin, or stir-fried yellow squash spaghetti with parmesan and ginger (a dream alternative to regular carbs-laden spaghetti), all tell one story: you can use veggies as creatively as you'd like to.
Vidhu Mittal doesn't have the luxury of taking off on flights of the imagination. Being a cookbook writer (this is her second, after Pure & Simple: Homemade Indian Vegetarian Cuisine), she cannot lose sight of the creative limitations of her constituency of homemakers and hobby cooks. A celebrity chef can take the liberty of challenging the ingenuity of his readers, but Mittal also works her way around everyday dishes to make them exciting. She lifts the moong dal by adding zucchini and cherry tomatoes, she lends a desi flavour to her cauliflower au gratin by adding fresh coriander leaves, peanuts and green chillies, and she turns around the Chinese speciality, lettuce wraps, by using three home-style chutneys: tangy and sweet, peanut, and sweet and sour.
Mittal has her share of fusion frolic too. Her Sheetal Macrajma Bahaar, for instance, is a chilled macaroni salad with kidney beans, orange and a medley of sauces. I'll remember the book, though, for the Pasta Chaat Salad, "a crispy melange of fettucine, fried potatoes and bell peppers tossed in a hot and sweet dressing". Rest in peace, Tarla Dalal, your legacy of pumping excitement into home cooking is in safe hands.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Tonino Completes Decade Under Chef Suman Sharma; Cafe Tonino Brand Next on Owner Parmeet Sawhney's Agenda

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
On Friday, March 28, celebrated its tenth
anniversary with a party that featured its
signature delicacies on an evening that
had turned cool after a sudden shower

THERE ARE some restaurants that deserve to be around, that never go out of fashion even if they advance in age. Tonino is one of them. It's not what we call a top-of-mind restaurant, a conversation starter like the Indian Accent or Chez Nini, but it's a hardy perennial, which never ceases to surprise you each time you visit it. I am happy to report Tonino has turned 10 at the same Andheria More location where it started in 2004. And its owners, Parmeet and Simran Sawhney, is ready to roll out a Cafe Tonino chain nationally to make the restaurant's most popular dishes available across India at what he calls "economical price points".
It was in 2004 that I first Parmeet Sawhney, his sister Simar Duggal, who was a ramp scorcher and a regular on the front pages of HT City, which I used to edit, and Chef Suman Sharma, whom I had known because of his association with the Indian Culinary Forum from its formative days, at a picture-perfect restaurant that looked exactly like a trattoria you'd find in the Italian countryside. It was before the appearance of malls and that part of Delhi was still very much the cow country.
The spot where I spent an unforgettable afternoon that sunny day in 2004 was formerly an Indian restaurant and banqueting space called Pyramids. Parmeet and Simar's family owned the space, which the serial restaurateur Sanjay Khullar, formerly of the ITC Maurya, used to run. Their father, Jaspal Sawhney, an Old Cottonian, presides over a business conglomerate named Eagle Group, which was launched after Partition, and among the many businesses he owns, the Plaza cinema was the one that made me very curious.
Sawhney Senior had bought Plaza cinema from Sohrab Modi, the man known as India's Cecil De Mille, in 1963-64 after the actor-director-producer's big-budget project, Jhansi Ki Rani, bombed. In my childhood, I had spent many a morning watching animated movies produced by Sovexportfilm in the days when Indira Gandhi's romance with the Soviet Union was at its peak; in my callow youth, I would spend many a stolen moment watching Malayalam films with horrendous desi semi-porn clips spliced in (in those days of innocence, even exposed thunder thighs were a turn-on!) or act superior and spend an afternoon trying to make sense of an European entry for the film festival's competition section.
All these memories came back to me as I came back to me as Parmeet, Simar and I gorged on the food that Chef Sharma, who recently won the National Tourism Award 2012-13 for Best Chef, kept dishing up in rapid succession. I especially remember the pizza. It was the first time I had thin-crust pizza and I just loved it. And I also discovered insalata caprese, the ageless Italian salad with lettuce, tomatoes and mozzarella. In the course of the conversation, I learnt that Parmeet had made his F&B foray in 1995 with the Pyramids restaurant at Roshanara Road, near the historic club where the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was born. His love for food and beverage must be programmed in his genes. Plaza, after all, was famous once upon a time for its cold coffee!
Today, ten years later, I spent a good 15 minutes talking to Parmeet and asked him a question I should have asked 10 years ago. Why is the restaurant called Tonino?  Parmeet, whose leather business first brought him in contact with Italy and its cuisine, said the restaurant is named after Tonino Generale, a restaurateur from Napoli, whom he had befriended 15-16 years ago at a place named Garlasco in Pavia to the north of Italy.  Tonino, the man, is an acclaimed chef back home because he keeps winning pizza-making championships and it is under him that Chef Sharma, who's been the long-time general secretary of the Indian Culinary Forum, has perfected his skills.
"Italy seems to be my lucky country," Parmeet said. Building television and radio stations is among Parmeet's many business and it brings him in touch with businessmen and designers in Milan. With the help of these friends and business associates, Parmeet has ensured that Chef Sharma get to go at regular intervals to hone his skills and study new dishes at restaurants across Italy -- "restaurants where no one gets access." In the last ten years, as a result, Tonino's menu has kept evolving to reflect Chef Sharma's travels to Italy.
I asked Parmeet what happened to Piccadelhi, an innovative food court that he had opened at Plaza around the same time as Tonino (a little after Eatopia at the India Habitat Centre). He said he had to shut it after its operator, Rahul Bhatia, who was a tour operator and restaurateur before he launched IndiGo, scripted his remarkable success story and had no mind space for the project. Well, you gain some, you lose some. Tonino's consistent success has definitely been a gain for Parmeet and Simran.

Friday, 28 March 2014

DINING OUT: The Many Kitchens of Delhi Make For A Dehlavi Treat at the Sheraton in Saket


WHAT: Dehlavi Buffet
WHERE: Baywatch, Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, Saket
WHEN: Up to March 30 (dinner only)
DIAL: 011-42661122

The Sarai ki Biryani, one of the go-to items
 on the Dehlavi buffet at Baywatch, is inspired
 by the food served at the city's historic sarais
to pilgrims and traders bound for distant lands
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN PEOPLE express surprise over Delhi's rise as the country's foodie capital, I wonder why.
The Capital has been blessed by a constant stream of settlers from around the world who have had a salutary influence on our constantly evolving palate -- from the Afghans and Turks belonging to the era when Delhi existed in settlements that flowered and faded away with dynasties in the area that now sprawls from Mehrauli to Shahpur Jat, to the Mughals, who developed their own composite culture and cuisine, and left behind an indelible mark on our heritage, and the Kayasthas, Banias, Anglo-Indians, Bengalis and Punjabis, who came at different points of time to serve the empires that ruled India from this imperial city or refugees escaping the Partition Holocaust.
Post-Independence, the Bengali migrants who settled in the EPDP Colony (now famous as Chittaranjan Park) created an ecosystem of sweet shops and street-side kiosks hawking delicacies from back home; Tamil settlers have made the city fall in love with idli-dosai-vada and filter coffee; political refugees and medical tourists from Afghanistan have created a market for Afghani restaurants, which stand out in the anonymous lanes of Hauz Rani next door to Saket; Europeans working outside embassies or doing business in the city have been providing patronage to trend-setting restaurants such as Diva, Tres and Chez Nini; and West Asian students are finding gastronomical solace at places such as Kunafa, which has the best baklava this side of Damascus, and the Select Citywalk doner kebab restaurant, Al Turka.
It is difficult for any restaurant to offer this vast repertoire in one buffet experience, but the Sheraton New Delhi Hotel at Saket has achieved it to an extent in its Dehlavi promotion, which will be on at Baywatch (dinner only) till March 31. It draws on the menu the hotel has been laying out at banquets -- at one marriage, 40 Dehlavi main course specialities were on offer, the result of two years of research into the cuisine. And by limiting the Dehlavi promotion's geography to the Walled City, Vipul Gupta, the young chef behind it, restricts the menu to a manageable mix of Mughlai, Kayastha, Rajasthani and Punjabi Khatri specialities.
Still, I would've loved to see the inclusion of some Anglo-Indian dishes -- after all, the nautch parties of the colourful Maratha nobleman Bara Hindu Rao, the flamboyant White Mughal and Delhi's Commissioner William Fraser and the Anglo-Indian mercenary, Colonel James Skinner, were as famous for their food as for their entertainment. I would have also loved to see Bengali mishti among the desserts (though the soft and syrupy jalebas are a treat for the senses!) as a tribute to Annapurna Sweets, which was opened in 1929 opposite the Fountain in Chandni Chowk by a Bengali family from Lahore.
This minor quibble aside, I was happy to see that the Sheraton kitchen had moved away from the predictable bedmi-aloo-plus-nihari routine, though the flip side of it is that there's little in the Dehlavi line-up for the vegetarians, except for the Bhatiyaron ki Daal, which benefits greatly from the chhaunk (tempering) of browned garlic and red chilli paste, and Kathal ka Korma.
My favourites were the melt-in-the-mouth, juicy gilafi seekh; shrimp goolar kebabs, which were of the size of playing marbles and exploded in the mouth, releasing a flood of flavours (unusually, these goolars aren't the standard round shaami kebab equivalents with figs inside); the aromatic shabdegh with mutton nalli (shanks), pasanda (escalopes) and a delicately spicy kofta -- an innovative combination of flavours and textures; and mahi badami kofte, my personal high point of the evening, because the dumplings of rohu (the South Asian carp) had slivers of almonds -- a memorable interplay of textures -- and came in a mustard-flavoured light gravy. These are gentle expressions of the creative impulses that keep talented chefs much sought after. At the end of the day, it's all about balance. The more you have it, the better the food gets.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Restaurant Keep 40-60% of Service Charge Collection! Are They Being Fair to Their Staff?

A shorter version of this article appeared this morning in my bi-monthly column, Fortune Cookie, in Mail Today. Here's the link to the column:

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

FACEBOOK discussions have now become my most important source of news and I'll tell you why. Just the other day, I initiated a chat, which snowballed into a debate, and I got to know that restaurants keep 50-60 per cent of the service charge they collect from you. This fact, and it has serious implications for the quality of service you get, was confirmed by two restaurant consultants who participated in the discussion, and I found it really cheap of restaurants not to disclose it.
Restaurants keep 40-60 per cent of service
 charge collections, which are ostensibly for
 the staff, to pay for breakages of expensive
glassware and even for such basic benefits as
night pick-ups and drops for employees
The discussion was triggered by a U.S. survey, which has reported that an overwhelming majority of guests at full-service restaurants no longer leave behind a 20 per cent tip / gratuity / service charge, a long-time industry norm. Only 23 per cent of the survey respondents said they fork out 20 per cent and above; 29 per cent stick to 10-19 per cent; 35 per cent pay less than 10 per cent; and a surprising 11 per cent admitted to parting with no money, which I find a little hard to believe in the light of the number of horror stories I have heard about waiters in America being plain nasty with customers in case they forget to pay!
Such reports are coming out almost daily in the U.S. because hospitality industry compensation issues have gathered importance following union actions last year for a 'living wage' across America's super-sized fast-food sector. In India, no one I know has studied the issue, which has serious implications on the quality of the service we get. To get the local picture right, I turned to Raminder Bakshi, my go-to person for information on the restaurant sector.
Bakshi said two models of service charge distribution are in place in restaurants. One is the 50:50 model, where the employer keeps 50 per cent for employee pick-ups and drops (which I thought was the statutory obligation of employers towards their women staff and employees working on the night shift) and breakages in the kitchen and front of the house (restaurants owners I spoke to insist they don't factor these in while determining menu prices). The other model is 40 per cent for the management (to be spent on "staff welfare"!), 40 per cent for the staff and 20 per cent for the safety net for breakages.
I called up another of my favourite sounding boards, Atul Kapur, Managing Director of WG Hospitality, which is the company that operates the Q'BA chain of restaurants. "Breakages are an issue in restaurants and by taking a part of the service charge collection, we not only ensure that the staff behaves responsibly, but also cover our costs," Kapur said, adding that the percentage that is held back varies from one establishment to the other. Kapur agreed this practice benefited the business more than the customers, but he was quick to point out that in the absence of it, restaurants would start cushioning themselves from breakages by passing on the burden to their guests.
In most restaurants, all employees, from the toilet attendant to the dishwasher and the maitre d', get a percentage of the pickings determined by the 'service points' they accumulate over the month. This doesn't help the customer because the points system essentially rewards waiters who 'upsell', or talk their guests into buying more expensive dishes or alcoholic beverages. It also doesn't help the restaurant managements because it leads to avoidable heartburn down the line, for no one is happy with what he or she gets at the end of the month. And then there's the eternal question: Shouldn't employers be investing in the happiness of their staff to get the best service out of them, rather than making them pay for their night pick-ups and drops?
Five-star hotels generally don't levy a service charge, though some do it for banquets. It was The Oberoi Group that first initiated this practice, despite union resistance, because, as the chain's corporate chef, Soumya Goswami, puts it, "When you come to a five-star hotel, you expect the best service. How can we charge you for it?"
Restaurant chains backed by major PE funds have taken the middle path of paying each employee a fixed service charge, irrespective of the monthly collection, which the management then keeps entirely for itself. That may save them the hassle of dealing with employee heartburn, but customers have to keep coughing up the 10 per cent service charge. My pitch is that we go back to the days when tipping was discretionary. Only then will restaurants fulfil their statutory obligations, and their staff will go the extra mile to ensure a memorable experience each time we go for one. There's nothing like the prospect of a good tip to motivate restaurant staff to make the customer really feel like a king.

Hotelier and Art Investment Guru Kapil Chopra to Open Gallery at Lado Sarai's Art Mile

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

KAPIL CHOPRA, President, The Oberoi Group, who heads the luxury hotel chain's operations in India, is all set to open artdistrict XIII. It is the newest gallery on the 'art mile' in the gentrified south-west Delhi village of Lado Sarai and, as you'd expect a venture by Chopra to do, it will open with a solo show by the talented Australian artist, Paul Davies, who gives houses a distinctive personality
Kapil Chopra, seen with Yubvan Bothisathuvar,
winner of the Emerging Artist of the Year Award
2013, is opening artdistict XIII at the gentrified
south-west Delhi village, Lado Sarai. Image:
Courtesy of blog
in his paintings.
"The number 13 signifies my desire to overturn the notion that it is unlucky. After all, we are opening at a time galleries we know are closing," Chopra said to me in a phone interview. "I know it's not unlucky. My daughter's birth date is the 13th and she's the dearest person in my life," he added.
The gallery, though, is being launched on April 12 (it's Baisakhi eve) in a neighbourhood studded with serious players in the art business, notably, Latitude 28, Gallery Threshold, Art Motif and Studio 320. "It is going to be a cutting-edge gallery, but in the not-for-profit space," Chopra said, explaining his vision for the gallery. "Whatever we earn, we will invest back into art and developing institutions."
I have known Chopra in his many avatars, from the days when he was the front office manager of the late lamented Grand Hyatt at Vasant Kunj, and admired his enthralling rise and brilliant time management skills. A product of the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development (OCLD), without doubt the finest learning institution in the hospitality sector, Chopra first attracted notice when he spearheaded the Presidential Suite project at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mansingh Road, when Abhijit Mukherji was the general manager (he's now Executive Director, Hotel Operations,  of the Taj Group).
Kapil then charted out a new path for Gurgaon, which had just one weather-beaten hotel in 2004, by opening The Trident and went on to give shape to the daring vision of East India Hotels Chairman and Chief Executive, Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, by building The Oberoi next door, creating a luxury enclave and winning just about any award that was to be won. His rise to the top was a foregone conclusion, but he surprised all of us five or six years ago by revealing a different side of his -- that of the art connoisseur.
Hoteliers, as far as I can tell, see art as mere real estate for walls. Very few of them are as passionate about art and the business of promoting young artists as Jyotsna Suri of The Lalit and Priya Paul of The Park. In 2008, Chopra launched his blog, Indian Art Review (, and instantly drew the world's attention to his acute understanding of the business of art. He would bet, for instance, on the edgy duo, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, much before they became international stars. He would predict the highs and lows of the art market much before the world would get wiser about the trends.
I still remember reading his brilliant analysis of how India's contemporary art market, which was then in a state of euphoria over the emerging stars led by the powerhouse Subodh Gupta, was being artificially heated up by a bunch of fly-by-night operators, struck me as the kind of writing that one doesn't get to see in the dwindling number of pages devoted to art in our mainstream dailies and magazines. Chopra's sharp insights were like a life boat in a sea of fuzzy writing. I suspect, though, that he drew a lot of his insights from his good friends, Peter Nagy of Nature Morte art gallery, the launchpad of some of the finest contemporary artists, and adman-art collector-blogger Swapan Seth.
Three of them teamed up and launched in 2010 to give young artists, the median age being 30, an online marketplace to put up their work and sell directly to buyers for less than Rs 99,000 per work, without parting with fat commissions. Today, more than 1,000 artists have sold their work on this online marketplace.
In 2012, Chopra unveiled the Emerging Artist of the Year Award, where the top prize goes to a young talent selected from among 2,500-plus contenders spread over nationally. The winner gets a Rs 10 lakh award, the bulk of the money going into subsidising his or her three-month stint with the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence Programme. Chopra can with justification claim to be the country's leading incubator of artistic talent and also the publisher of a bright and hip online art and lifestyle magazine and TV channel, The Wall, which helps this young generation make sense of the world they are about to navigate and provides seasoned collectors the tip-offs they need to broadbase their repertoire.
Having raised art in the esteem of the new generation, a gallery with his distinctive stamp was clearly the way forward for Chopra. Interestingly, just a couple of months, while writing on ways to engage the elusive buyers, Kapil commented in his blog: "Galleries who build on an old order, family and the story of 'I have been around two decades', need to wake up and smell the coffee. The game has always been to sell to a couple of museums, attend some art fairs and sell some art to old collectors. That won’t sustain them or their artists. They need to work on their marketing, have a better online presence, engage with collectors and be active." Well, he has set the benchmarks for himself, but I see him raising the bar. Kapil always sees himself as his biggest competition.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Italian Tops Home Delivery Food Choices; Pizza Hut, Yo! China & Nirula's Hot Favourites in Survey

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

MAMA MIA, North India is
Rohit Chadda, Co-Founder and Managing Director,, says the survey results reflect the
cosmopolitan food choices of the website's
youth market-driven demographic 
saying 'bye, bye' to Chinese and going 'bhai, bhai' with Italian. Sounds impossible? You may have thought Indian and Chinese are the hottest favourites of the North Indian dining market, but 44.8 per cent of those who order home-delivered meals through, a Rocket Internet-incubated website operating in 40 countries across four continents, prefer Italian over Chinese, Punjabi and fast food.
Surprisingly, though, Chinese has a 27.6 per cent following, but Punjabi has slipped to as low as 6.2 per cent. The survey report doesn't give the percentage for fast food, but if you do the math, it ranks a healthy third with 21.4 per cent.
That seems highly likely in the light of the fact that Nirula's is the restaurant franchise that ranks third in popularity among users after Pizza Hut (whose thin crust and cheesy pizzas top the list of favourites) and Yo! China, a chain of popular Chinese restaurants with a strong takeaway business promoted by Ashish Kapur, Ajay Saini and Joydeep Singh.
Finding the survey results a bit hard to stomach, for they flew in the face of conventional wisdom, I called up Rohit Chadda, the young co-founder and managing director of He was quick to point that 60 per cent of 50,000-60,000 unique visitors that the website belong to the 25-35 age group, and an equal percentage of them are from Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore. He did not divulge the actual number of orders placed by these visitors to the website.
"Our survey results reflect the cosmopolitan nature of the taste buds of our demographic, which is essentially the youth market in the three big metros," Chadda said. Pizzas are most popular, he added, because they are "faster to deliver and easier to eat". Yo! China's Yo Boxes are also "very popular" because they are "very affordable" and offer "very good quality". The demographic clearly seeks out both affordability and quality.
With a sizeable segment of urban India, especially the young, living away from home, the takeaway and home delivery market is booming. Chadda said that whereas organised food retail grew by 20-25 per cent in 2012, the takeaway and home delivery segment rose by 40 per cent. He estimated that the segment has grown to become a Rs 1,000-crore business nationally and is poised to expand to up to Rs 6,000 crore by 2017.
"The takeaway and home delivery model offers convenience to customers because the food comes cheaper and 5-6 per cent higher margins to restaurant chains because of the reduced overhead costs," Chadda said. Unsurprisingly, significant players in the industry such as Anjan Chatterjee's Speciality Restaurants (the holding company of Mainland China) and Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal-promoted Lite Bite Foods are driving their takeaway and home delivery business. Even an established brand such as Kabir Advani's Berco's is popularising a hybrid growth model -- smaller restaurants with 40-50 covers and a sharp focus on home delivery. For long, we have been accustomed to a 'ghar bhijwa dena' relationship with our friendly neighbourhood kirana store. Restaurants are now getting to hear these familiar words and it's music to their ears.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

McDonald's Taps Out-of-Home Breakfast Market As It Becomes Footfall Driver for Standalone Restaurants

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

FOR THE second year in succession, McDonald's celebrated National Breakfast Day, which is its own invention, on Monday, March 24, by handing out thousands of McMuffins gratis to early-bird customers at designated outlets. The five in Delhi-NCR even test-marketed the idea of an all-day breakfast served from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., taking a leaf out of similar packages now offered by five-star hotels to the cater to the requirements of the many body clocks of world-travelling international patrons.
Out-of-home breakfast may seem to be an idea that is alien to India (why would anyone want to have breakfast at a McDonald's when you can dig aloo parantha or dosai at home?), but as the demographics of our cities change, the trend seems to be catching on.
A McDonald's Breakfast Favourite:
Sausage Egg McMufffin. The QSR
chain can draw solace from the
success of the breakfast offerings
of standalone restaurants
Actually, it is not as foreign to our culture as it may seem at first glance. The breakfast offerings of Saravana Bhavan, Murugan's Idli and MTR are established favourites; the crispy stuffed paranthas of Murthal dhabas continue to attract Delhiites by the carload at breakfast time; the popularity of jalebi-and-hot creamy milk treats at places as varied as Jodhpur, Lucknow and Varanasi shows no signs of diminishing; and Purani Dilli's bedmi-aloo is worth a trip to Chandni Chowk, especially on a Sunday.
McDonald's is simply tapping into this market, and if the following at home of its Egg and Chicken Sausage McMuffin and pancakes bathed in molten butter and maple syrup is any indication (though my personal favourite is the McEgg Burger, which I recommend strongly to all!), then it must be succeeding. Restaurateurs offering breakfast share the fast-food chain's confidence in this segment of the organised restaurant market, or what its spokesman, Rajesh Maini, calls the "massification of breakfast".
The All American Diner at Habitat World took the lead about 15 years ago by introducing a breakfast offering. Today, according to Old World Hospitality's F&B Director Rakesh Anand, as many as 175-200 people daily have the Diner's breakfast between 7 and 11 a.m., and the number goes up to 250-300 a day for the weekend breakfast (in the summer months) or brunch (in the winter) buffet laid out on the lawns.
Most of the people opting for the weekday breakfast option are Lodi Garden walkers; Habitat World has 58 guest rooms, but not more than 15-20 of the guests come down for breakfast, for most of them prefer to have it served in the comfort of their room. The rest of the breakfast guests are residents of Golf Links next door, students unwinding after all-nighters and professionals working in offices in the neighbourhood. Anand, in fact, claims that it was the Diner that popularised the idea of breakfast meetings.
Families and specialised groups, such as those devoted to cycling or to burning Harley Davidson rubber, dominate the weekend turnout. The only flip side of the business, Anand points out, is that "breakfast is the most difficult service in terms of human behaviour". Apparently, if you are doing breakfast shift, you get to know all about people getting up from the wrong side of the bed. "That explains why for breakfast shift we only have cheerful, non-intrusive staff who are sensitive to guest feelings," adds Anand.
At Smoke House Deli, Khan Market, whose breakfast menu matches that of the All American Diner in both variety and quality, the morning turnout can be split into two time bands: 25-30, mostly expats on their way to work, between 8:15 and 9-9:30, and another 20-25, mostly desi, opt for a "lazy breakfast" between 9:30 and 11.
Sharing this information, Sid Mathur, F&B Director of Impresario Hospitality & Entertainment, the company that owns Smoke House Deli, said the out-of-home breakfast market has been growing for three reasons: "A lot of people, especially young professionals living away from their families, don't have full-time help at home; people's tastes have changed -- they're moving away from paranthas; and young double-income couples are increasingly finding it more convenient to eat out."
Well, paranthas are no longer hot in this market segment. At Smoke House Deli, Eggs Benedict is the reigning favourite. McDonald's, then, has a good reason to be confident about the future of the Egg and Sausage McMuffin.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Dude Food Rewrites Rules of Business by Delivering High Satisfaction at Friendly Prices

Dude Food at Satya Niketan, across the road
from Delhi University's South Campus, presents
a model for other aspiring restaurant operators
to follow: quality food, low rental and
uncomplicated yet warm decor.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHERE in Delhi do you get a lamb burger with 300gm of minced lamb in the form of two plump patties, smoked bacon strips and fried eggs included, for the princely sum of Rs 185? Or a Chicago-style, 9-inch deep pan pizza with a crust of meaty bolognaise for the equally royal sum of Rs 275?
Dude Food is re-writing the rules of the restaurant business in Delhi-NCR. Yes, you can now eat quality food without leaving behind an arm and a leg at the establishment serving it. And the owner of the restaurant, Food and Nightlife magazine's founder-editor Sumit Goyal, unabashedly promises you "high fat and high calories", and an experience that'll make you say at the end of it: "Loot liya restaurant ko!"
You'll definitely get that feeling when you have Dude Food's Fried Mars, batter-fried Mars bars inspired by Scottish street food, with ice-cream for Rs 145, or Candied Bacon Ice-Cream for Rs 195, or piping-hot Churros with ice-cream and a generous helping of chocolate sauce for Rs 95. Here you have great-tasting and somewhat unusual food served at unbelievable prices.
This restaurant, the newest big hit in the city, is on a road named after a five-term, 19th-century Mexican president and liberal reformer, Benito Juarez, who fought French occupation and overthrew monarchy in his country to establish a republic that has held together all these years. It's an unusual name for a road separating Delhi University's South Campus and Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan, from the residential colonies of Shanti Niketan, Anand Niketan and Satya Niketan.
Dude Food is at Satya Niketan, the former jhuggi-jhompri, or 'JJ', colony that has gentrified over the years, thanks to rental income provided by students from other states. Its bustling market, dominated by the imposing facade of the Chanakya IAS Academy, studded with little restaurants and takeaways, is a telling tribute of this transformation. This unpretentious neighbourhood on the city's southern fringes has been nurturing the aspirations of Young India; now, it's feeding it!
It is this market that sustains Dude Food, which, between 11 and 5:30, transforms magically into a college dorm with students sitting all over, yelling to each other to be heard above the din, breaking into an impromptu song when a guy starts strumming his guitar. Like Kurt Cobain, the smell of "teen spirit" is all over at Dude Food -- not the cheap deodorant that got Nirvana's front man to write those memorable lines, but the unbridled spirit of Youngistan.
The Dude Pizza memorably recreates a Chicago
deep-pan pizza with generous layers of cheese
and a meaty bolognaise sauce
Once the classes get over, grown-ups drive in from all over to have the restaurant's unusual delicacies, such as Pigs in the Blanket (smoked bacon-wrapped sausages, a favourite of expats who drop in on Sundays; Rs 195), Drunken Chicken (16 wings marinated and finished in Old Monk; Rs 295), classic French fries or fried chicken chunks served with six different kinds of dips and toppings (Rs 125 to Rs 175), and the Garbage Plate consisting of macaroni with tomato and cream sauce, shredded chicken, sausage strips and lamb bolognaise, French fries, fried egg and chicken burger, all for Rs 345. You can have this meal fit for a giant in your night clothes, after giving your week's laundry at the laundromat next door, which charges Rs 20 a kilo.
Goyal is working to a plan, along with his consultants Arun Trikha and Ramindar Bakshi, who have mastered the science of rolling out low-cost, high-return restaurants. Central to Goyal's plan is a high success rate in locating low-rental locations and a minimal investment on decor (but he plans to change the graffiti on his wall, the most striking aspect of Dude Food's look, every three months, so that the restaurant looks new at the start of each quarter). He's paying Rs 1 lakh per month for his 712-sq-foot restaurant, which has 40 covers and a kitchen that services 200 KOTs on average a day.
Unsuprisingly, Goyal has earmarked Rs 40 lakh (capital and operational expenditure included) per restaurant and he's confident that after he opens five, the profits generated by them will "enable us to start a new restaurant every six months". With the APC being Rs 200-250, the restaurant makes Rs 40,000-50,000 a day, which means Goyal can recover his rental payout in two to three days. And he expects to shore up his earnings by Rs 20,000 a day by tapping into the takeaway market.
Goyal says it makes eminent sense to "open a business model and not a restaurant". Without doubt, he's passionate about food -- he got Bakshi to do 135 trial runs before finalising Dude Food's menu of 20-25 pizzas -- but he doesn't let it come in the way of letting his business sense dictate his commercial decisions.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Sula Opens China Account as Sales in UK, Germany & Sri Lanka Head North; Expected Listing on World Airline A First

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Rajeev Samant, Founder-CEO,
Sula Vineyards, is in the enviable
position of steering a brand that
is in demand internationally
CHINESE products may be flooding the Indian market, but there's one Indian brand that has just planted the Tricolour on Chinese soil. Earlier in the week, the first shipment of Sula wines reached Guangzhou (the city formerly known as Shanghai), marking the entry of the country's top-selling wine brand into the world's largest red wine-consuming market.
Sula's distributor in China is Justwine, which is also the country's biggest buyer of Chateau Lafite, the Bordeaux First Growth wine owned by members of the Rothschild family since the 19th century. Interestingly, Justwine's COO is an Indian, Vikas Gupta, who referred to Sula in glowing terms in a press statement issued in May.
"Chinese customers and local wine critics loved the Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz immensely," Gupta had said, "and they could not believe that Sula is just a 13-year-old winery with such brilliant quality. We are proud to introduce Sula Vineyards to this market and are certain that a unique brand will be appreciated." Justwine's portfolio has more than 1,000 top international labels.
Outlining Sula's international forays, Cecilia Oldine, Global Brand Ambassador and Head of International Sales, Sula Vineyards, said in an interview with me in New Delhi that there's been a sudden burst of interest in the brand in the international market. "We used to sell 3,000 cases a year to Germany," Oldine said, "but now we export 1,000 cases a month. We get an inquiry or an order almost daily."
Oldine shared that the world's largest luxury travel retail operator, DFS, has added Sula to its wine and spirits lineup at its store located in the departure lounge of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. "We share counter space with Dom," Oldine proudly said, adding, without elaborating, that Sula wines were very close to being served on the flights of a leading international airline. That would clearly be a first for an Indian wine.
Sula is expected to complete this financial year with a production figure of 650,000 nine-litre cases (or 7.8 million bottles) of wine daily, a rising percentage of which is being exported to more than 20 countries. Since 2013, Sula has sold 400 cases each of its Nasika Sauvignon Blanc, which is fast turning out to be its most popular wine internationally, and Zinfandel in the UK market through Direct Wines, the world's largest direct-to-customers wine sales website. Amazon UK is another international sales platform for Sula's expanding portfolio.
Sri Lanka is another market Sula is betting on. Oldine attributes Sula's rising sales to the growing interest of international tourists visiting the island nation. "World travellers invariably wish to have a local wine when they are on a vacation," she said. "And India is the wine-producing country that is closest to Sri Lanka." If geographical proximity helps Sula in Sri Lanka, in the Middle East, it's the support the brand gets from Indian F&B decision-makers, who, unlike their counterparts back home, are big backers of wines from their mother country.
Oldine said consistent quality has been responsible for driving Sula's sales up north, which explains why the company, in recent years, has been ramping up its capacity by one million litres a year. Wine tastings (1,600 of them in 2013-14) and winery tours (Sula has hosted 170,000 visitors in this financial year) have also ensured Sula's pole position, besides making wine tourism one of the company's key business verticals. "Each person who visits our winery or attends a tasting becomes our informal brand ambassador," says Oldine. Unsurprisingly, Sula's problem is that of plenty, which is an enviable position to be in.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

mmmM: Smoking Hot Chargrilled Burgers on Smoke House Deli's Hauz Khas Village Menu

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

YOU can't really fall in love with a burger until it's smoking hot! We have many restaurants that serve good burgers, classic burgers, experimental burgers, but it's hard to find a burger with a charcoal-grilled patty infused with a smokiness that alerts your palate to the possibility of something good coming its way. It's a smokiness that can't be replicated on a regular grill, but with Weber getting popular, it is possible now for chefs to grill and smoke up a patty at the same time, which is exactly what Sid Mathur and Shamsul Wahid have done at Smoke House Deli (SHD), Hauz Khas Village.
The Benedictor is the star of the mmmBurger
Festival. You must have it, but only after
skipping breakfast!
The SHD at Hauz Khas Village is located where Suresh Kalmadi's Bistro restaurants used to be, within shouting distance from the madrasa that the enlightened Firuz Shah Tughlaq established in 1352 and the lake (hauz) that Alauddin Khilji, who ruled from 1296 to 1316, built to supply water to the residents of the city that's been known since then as Siri. It's not enough to have history as your neighbour. Mathur, a burger fanatic who's also the food and beverage head of SHD's holding company, Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, and Wahid, the group's executive chef, know this too well to let go of any opportunity to upgrade the restaurant's menu. And their latest brainwave is the mmmBurger Festival, which has been getting rave user reviews in foodie groups such as the Delhi Gourmet Club.
The menu's smoking hot burger is the Benedictor (Rs 410), which is a brilliant, albeit calorie-intense, take on Eggs Benedict -- charcoal-grilled tenderloin patty, strips of turkey pastrami, peppered fried egg and hollandaise. You can taste the difference the all-pervasive smokiness makes to the taste profile of the burger patty. My other favourite is the naughtily named Lucy's Juicy (Rs 340), which is essentially the Jucy Lucy (the missing 'i' in the name of the original burger is deliberate) with a char-grilled lamb patty. As you'd expect from a burger inspired by the Jucy Lucy, the patty has a layer of cheese inside, but it doesn't rush out in a scalding mass.
The only exception in the menu is the Country-Style Fried Chicken Burger (Rs 360) with peri-peri glaze and cheese melt. I just loved it, though it isn't a char-grilled burger. It may have left a lasting impression because our notion of fried chicken is being increasingly influenced by KFC's growing presence. Such was its novelty that the Smoked Chicken N Tequila Burger (Rs 360) with green chillies, tomato relish and beet jelly just sank into the Black Hole of my memory.
Bravehearts highly recommend the Baconator (Rs 450), a power-packed combo of char-grilled tenderloin patty, oak-smoked bacon and bacon-flavoured mayonnaise (baconnaise), but you can either have the Benedictor or the Baconator, or one-half of each! There are more burgers on the menu, but the one that left me unmoved was the Coal Smoked Chicken Leg Burger (Rs 380) with cream cheese, saffron curry and the short, broad and dark maroon reshampatti chilli. There's also a lonely vegetarian burger, which makes the intentions of the moving spirits of the festival quite clear: this is a celebration of char-grilled meats and is only for card-carrying carnivores.
It may be worth your while to visit Hauz Khas Village and partake of these char-grilled beauties. You may find it hard to go beyond the Benedictor or the Baconator, so drop in with your friends and share your burgers to get a taste of the many flavours, textures and tastes. When you're at the mmmBurger Festival, sharing is more than caring -- it's being able to get the best out of the most.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Punjab Grill's Gurpreet Singh Gehdu Says Chak De and Reinvents the Indian Bar Menu

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I BECAME an admirer of Gurpreet Singh Gehdu after I sampled his Winter Menu some months back at Punjab Grill, Select Citywalk, Saket, in the highly entertaining company of Rohit Aggarwal of Lite Bite Foods (LBF). That was before Aggarwal disappeared into Mumbai's cavernous new T2 terminal to set up one food outlet after another and then vamoozed off to Bhutan, via Darjeeling and Sikkim, with his motorbike buddies.
So, I got tempted when Sonali Priy Kapoor, LBF's marketing communications head, reminded me about the launch of the restaurant's Chakhna (Tasting) Menu this past Friday. I was initially in two minds about going for it because I wanted to sample the Gua Baos being served at the opening of i-kandy on the same night at Pullman Central Park Gurgaon, but Sonali's power of persuasion prevailed over my reluctance. I thank Sonali for it. I got one more opportunity to eat out of the hands of the incredibly talented Mr Gehdu and also spend a delightful evening in the company of Vivek Vaid (Tiger's Gyaan), Avininder Singh (Foodie Surdie), Maneesh Srivastava (former HR professional, photographer and blogger at Mystic Foodie Mantra) and Gurpreet Singh Tikku.
The incredibly talented Gurpreet Singh Gehdu at
work at the Punjab Grill kitchen. (Below) The
quartet of vodka-laced flavoured chuskis is a
part of the Saket restaurant's Chakhna menu.

My faith in Gehdu, who was with Old World Hospitality before he moved on to LBF, was reinforced by the ingenious way in which he raised the commonplace matthi into the realm of the sublime by serving a platter with a fondue, where he added Old Monk rum in place of the white wine and kirsch (cherry brandy), which are used traditionally in the Swiss favourite. The other accompaniment was a mildly hot imli (tamarind) chutney. The combination was brilliant because of the ease with which it transformed an everyday experience into a novelty.
The accompanying drinks had a similar magical effect on me. I couldn't decide, in fact, which one was better -- the Rasbhari Margarita (the au naturel cape gooseberry sorbet, I thought, was an idea that needed to be popularised at once), or the Gannewali Margarita (the sugarcane juice in this drink was tempered with mint, black salt, ginger and lemon juice).
Giving them heady competition were the vodka-laced chuski in different flavours, though I can't say I was as enthused by the Old Monk RimZim. The cocktail may have revived memories of RimZim, the popular 'masala cola' that Coke recently brought out of the cold storage after canning it following the acquisition of Ramesh Chauhan's Parle Agro portfolio in 1993, but it lacked character. I still prefer my Old Monk with either honey and warm water, or Coke and soda in equal measure.
My favourites of the evening were the Sunny Side Up Tuk Tuk in a Khameeri Roti (a kheema patty crowned by a fried egg, sunny side up, in a khameeri roti packet), melt-in-the-mouth Amritsari Machchhi served innovatively with crunchy old-fashioned potato chips, addictive Tandoori Kukkad Wings and imli chutney, and the unforgettable Tawa Chicken Keema with Fryums (the fry-and-eat tube-shaped snack items produced by the TTK Group). It was like a marriage procession of many textures and tastes brought together by the brilliance of an adventurous chef who pushes his creative boundaries without diluting the innate strengths of timeless recipes. Without doubt, Gehdu has raised the bar for Indian bar food and given birth to a new genre of Indian tapas.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Leading Delhi-NCR Chefs Welcome Grown-Up Meat Products from Indo-Australian Venture

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Le Carne Cuts is wholly owned by Primo Foods,
which is backed by one of the country's leading
meat exporters, Moin Akhtar Qureshi. Its
Master Butcher, Sigi Maletzki, has previously
been associated with Top Cut, Australia's
quality meat producer, and its East Asian
subsidiary, Tender Plus.
IT WAS Tanveer Kwatra, the extremely creative Executive Chef of Pullman Central Park Gurgaon in whose passion I see shades of Bill Marchetti, who first volunteered to take me to the Le Carne Cuts production facility in Manesar, the upcoming industrial suburb of India's 'Millennium City', Gurgaon. He said he knew the Le Carne Cuts Master Butcher Sigi Maletzki from his days in Melbourne, Australia, and showcased sausages from the company on the popular Sunday brunch menu of Sen5es. Maletzki, whose wife Gilly is the Head of Sales at Le Carne Cuts, previously had a long stint with Australia's quality meat producer, Top Cut, and its East Asian subsidiary, Tender Plus.
The conversation came back to me a couple of days back, when I visited Aahar 2014, India's premier food show at Pragati Maidan, and met the gregarious Tarsillo Natalone, the owner of Flavors, who was effusive in his praise for the chicken pepperoni that he had sourced from Le Carne Cuts for his pizzas. It was finally the busy restaurant consultant, Ramindar Bakshi, who put me in touch with Bharat Singh, a former executive at the independent private equity advisory firm, Campbell Lutyens, and now one of the five directors of Primo Foods Private Limited, the holding company of Le Carne Cuts.
Primo Foods is a privately held Indo-Australian joint venture company led by Moin Akhtar Qureshi, one of the country's leading meat exporters and President of the Doon School Old Boys Society. The company's Australian directors are Marvin Fayman, Joshua Fayman and David Joshua Grajzman. It was incorporated on January 18, 2013, and its production facility, an out-of-work garment-manufacturing factory, is studded with state-of-the-art German and Australian machinery.
Bharat and I connected at the busy Hall No. 10 at Pragati Maidan, he took me to the Le Carne Cuts stall, and then started what I can only describe as a meat feast. Tanveer was around and so was Andrew Parsons, Executive Chef at the Official Residence, High Commission of Canada. What struck me instantly was that I was having sausages that actually tasted and felt like meat in the mouth and not like some rubbery, synthetic mock meat.
My favourite was the juicy pork kransky, a sausage that's hugely popular in Australia -- mildly hot and best eaten in a roll with rustic mustard. Giving it competition were the chicken chorizo sausages, which my boys polished off in a matter of minutes; lamb kabana, which are modelled after the Polish sausages made with pork drawn from pigs fed on potatoes; and the pork krakauer, sausages made from cuts of lean pork, seasoned with pepper, allspice, coriander and garlic, and packed into large casings. The winner, though, was the birchwood-smoked whole chicken, which you can simply microwave and add to your Caesar's salad, or just have by itself. I preferred the second option -- the chicken was too wholesome to need any sexing up.
Finally, we have grown-up meat products in our city. Let us fall in love with them -- like I have. You can get them at Modern Bazaar outlets and at the Japanese store, Yamatoya, in Humayanpur, in the neighbourhood of Safdarjung Enclave.

QBA Quartet Opens The China House With Chic Decor & Smart Menu in Tenth Anniversary Year

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IF YOU were to ask me where one gets the best khow suey in Delhi, I would, without a moment's thought, say The China House. And no, it's not the hugely popular Chinese restaurant at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. It is Delhi-NCR's newest Chinese restaurant in that sleepy part of the Connaught Place Outer Circle (K-Block) where the old celebrities York's and Ginza wallow in obscurity, and the rather forlorn Gidney Club, second home to the city's Anglo-Indian community since the 1930s, holds on to memories of livelier days.
In this footnote of New Delhi's history, Atul Kapur (you haven't live in Delhi if you are not his friend!) and the three other, below-the-radar, men behind QBA's phenomenal success have opened The China House to replace their original venture, @Live by QBA, which lasted longer than most other watering holes  in the city. The China House will immediately strike you because of its charmingly different decor of Thai umbrellas hanging from the high ceiling and beaten-metal orchids (also from Thailand) embellishing the walls. It is stylish without being in your face. The menu, too, doesn't pretend to be anything more than being Chinese tweaked to sit well on Delhi's idiosyncratic palate, but like the decor, it leaves you with surprises and a nice feeling after a meal.
Atul had invited me to have a meal at The China House. It was to be a double celebration because QBA is nearing its tenth anniversary. What a crowded ten years it has been! It started with a pitched legal battle between the QBA quartet and the NDMC, which eventually led to the law being amended to make it mandatory for all Connaught Place buildings below 15m to install fire-fighting equipment, a requirement they had previously been exempted from.
The China House has just opened at K-Block,
Outer  Circle, Connaught Place -- a welcome
addition to the revived dining scene of
the Grand Old Lady of New Delhi.
It was therefore reassuring to see the quietly effective and genial duo of Sunil Tickoo, CEO of the restaurant's holding company, and Feroze Ali, the F&B manager, joining Atul to receive me. QBA, for me, is incomplete without these two gentlemen, whom I met on my first day at the restaurant, when it had just opened its door. They are the faces of continuity in a business where employees are as fickle in their loyalties as the customers who patronise the city's restaurants.
A 14,000-sq-foot beauty with one of the sunniest terraces in the city commanding a view to die for, QBA today caters to 15,000 diners a month, which is quite an achievement in a city where restaurants are beset by fluctuating fortunes. Consistency has been QBA's calling card; its formula of complementing a menu studded with popular items with good, in-sync-with-the-mood music and tempting lunch-time buffet deals has also worked in its favour.
Of the QBA quartet's two other ventures, nU.Delhi by QBA at Malcha Marg is seeing challenging days, despite having the best live band in the city, and Spice at the Garden of Five Senses, Said-ul-Ajab, was wisely shut down after it became apparent to everybody that the brilliant idea of creating a shopping and dining experience in one of the city's prettiest green spots, just wasn't working.
Let me share my experience at The China House. My feeling is that it will find many takers, if marketed properly, for its dim sum (the seven-spice chicken dumpling left an indelible impression on my palate) and its meals in a bowl, which are winners all the way. I mentioned the khow suey, which reminded me of the best-selling item on the menu of The Kitchen at Khan Market, but
I must also add that I just loved the soba noodles with prawns in XO sauce, sticky rice with lamb cooked in chilli bean sauce, and udon noodles with chicken oriental. You give customers a major sense of getting a good deal when you offer such substantial meals in a bowl. And yes, you must dig the caramel custard (an old QBA favourite), though I must say The China House date pancakes and ice-cream aren't as unexciting as they are in other restaurants.
The menu offers not only depth and variety, but also competitive pricing, mostly within the Rs 250 to Rs 550 range. It only needs to have a more substantial dim sum menu so that the restaurant starts attracting people who are feeling peckish, but are not in the mood for a full meal. Being a shopping destination, Connaught Place has a lot of such people who look for places where they can quell their hunger pangs after a buying binge. The only thing working against The China House is its location. It's far removed from the Metro stations and there's nothing happening in that part of CP to draw diners. What it can do is up-sell the fact that it has the most accommodating parking lot in the whole of Connaught Place. That should get it lunchtime crowds.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Proud To Be Indian Yet Refusing To Be Stodgy

This is my bi-monthly column, Fortune Cookie, which appeared in the edition of Mail Today dated Thursday, March 13, 2004. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

There's nothing in-your-face 'South
Indian' in the look of the new Zambar
at the DLF Cyber Hub, and the menu
too is deliciously unpredictable.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DELHI/NCR'S Indian restaurants, even after successive waves of liberalisation, have had a limpet-like tradition of looking like a half-witted Bollywood set designer's bad dream.
Oily furniture, formica-topped tables, slouchy waiters in fancy-dress costumes, Brian Silas's repetitive renditions of Hindi movie classics on piano (or worse, live ghazals!) and boudoir art -- these were (and still are) the staples of the ambience of Indian restaurants. Such was the seeming permanence of this dolorous decor, that when the late lamented Corbett opened at The Claridges, recreating the game park theme accompanied by a menu that ventured beyond the obvious, and Park Balluchi at the Hauz Khas Village deer park capitalised on its wow setting by serving kebabs on mock swords with burning charcoal, we let out a collective sigh of relief.
It turned to be a short-lived escape from the dead weight of predictability, though, for Corbett got replaced by the Mediterranean restaurant, Sevilla, and Park Balluchi became a haven for discount-devouring tour groups. Indian restaurants went back to their cocoon of complacency as the city flirted with newer tastes and more titillating flavours. At last, there's a glimmer of hope. Three recent openings, all at the DLF Cyber Hub in Gurgaon (bordering the country's IT/BPO hub), have shown the way forward for Indian restaurant decor.
The wacky decor of Dhaba by Claridges, also at
the DLF Cyber Hub (and DLF Place, Saket),
prepares you for masterpieces such as the
vodka tharras and the best butter chicken
in Delhi/NCR
A venture of Olive Bar & Kitchen's promoter, AD Singh, steered by Mohit Balachandran (Mr Chowder Singh of the blogging world), Soda Bottle Openerwala was the first off the block with a quirky decor borrowing heavily from the unintentionally funny notices on the walls of Mumbai's Irani restaurants. Even the glass tops of its old-fashioned tables are balanced, imaginatively, by the railway station chai glasses and the LED screen at the bar, which awaits a licence, enhances the visual narrative by playing rushes of Hindi film classics and of acts by Parsi stand-up comics.
At Zambar, filmmaker-turned-chef Arun Kumar's ode to the gifted home cooks and famous tea shops of the south, backed by the corporate muscle of Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal's Lite Bite Foods, the minimalist decor doesn't have anything in-your-face, or stereotypically South Indian. Yet the art on the wall are digitally embellished prints of old South Indian film posters (you can't miss a Rajnikanth or a Sivaji Ganesan); the music, A.R. Rahman's chart-topping Tamil numbers; and the menu has happy surprises such as Prawn Rasam, the addictive Cauliflower Bezule (fried cauliflower florets coated in spices and rice flour batter), mutton mince balls (kola urundu), Kerala tea shop chilli chicken, and the unbeatable squid rings with seafood filling.
Unsurprisingly, Zambar has been drawing full houses ever since it opened a couple of weeks back. It's still impossible to find a table at Soda Bottle without waiting -- people just want to have their Mutton Berry Pulao, the juicy fried chicken (Marghi Na Farcha) and Bheeda Par Eeda (fried eggs on spicy okra) again, and again, and yet again. And it's not any different for Dhaba by Claridges, the new capital of the Republic of Youngistan, promoted by Sanjeev Nanda, its wacky menu laid out by Ravi Saxena, Corporate Chef of The Claridges Hotels and Resorts.
Dhaba by Claridges takes the hotel's hugely popular restaurant, famous for its Balti Meat, out of the stuffy five-star environment, and funkifies (I don't know if there's such a word!) the highway dining experience. The ambience is playful, the signs on the wall have that irreverential quality that has made Comedy Nights by Kapil the current rage, and innovations such as vodka cocktails (nicknamed tharras) served in quarters (pau-a bottles) and the humble baigan bharta arriving in a beaten-metal canister, are all drawing trendy young people to this restaurant in droves.
These restaurants are rewriting the rules of how purveyors of Indian cuisine must look without playing around with the basics. The butter chicken at Dhaba by Claridges is the best, in my view, in Delhi/NCR, and people in the know insist that Soda Bottle's Berry Pulao is better than what you get at Britannia in Mumbai. We are in for good times.

VODKA, in our imagination, may be irrevocably associated with the escape it offered to people weighed down by communist drudgery in the erstwhile Soviet Union, but it is Poland that possesses the oldest written record of the drink dating back to 1405. And it is home to some of the world's most acclaimed vodkas, notably the Wyborowa, whose bottle was designed by the celebrated Canadian-American architect, Frank Gehri.
So, I spent an afternoon with Charles Gibb, President of Belvedere, the vodka brand instantly recognisable for the image of Poland's presidential palace (Palac Belwederski or Belweder Palace, Warsaw) that it carries on its slender bottle, quizzing him about what sets Polish vodka apart from its competition. A Polish vodka, like Scotch, has to be produced from Polish rye or potatoes (Belvedere is made from a rye named Dankowski, which has quite a distinguished heritage and is famously associated with another notable Polish vodka, Sobieski). The water has to be drawn from a natural source at the distillery -- Belvedere's formula requires its water, sourced from an artesian well, to be purified 11 times, so that, in Gibb's words, "it provides a completely blank canvas for the expression of rye".
Polish vodka makers cannot also use additives such as glycerine and citric acid -- and this came as a revelation to me -- that the industry routinely uses to add a hint of flavour to what is erroneously supposed to be a tasteless product. "The idea of a neutral-tasting vodka is the American definition of the drink," exclaimed Gibb, a Scotsman who's married to an Australian and lives in New York. "You must be able to taste the Belvedere in your drink." (Look out for a more detailed interview with Gibb will appear on this blog very soon.)

CELEBRATED patissier Pierre Herme's visit to the city, courtesy of the India Today Conclave, has triggered off a spirited debate, started by the man himself, on the difference between a macaroon and a macron. Well, it's simple -- macron is French and macaroon is English. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first recorded usage of the English word,  macaroon, dates back to 1611. And Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, which was first published in 1861, has a recipe for making a macaroon. Both the words are derived from the Italian maccarone or maccherone, and they mean the same thing: meringue-like cookies made with egg white, almond paste, ground almonds or coconut, and sugar with a crisp crust and soft interior with a filling at the centre.
The confusion, I believe, has been caused by the picture accompanying the Wikipedia entry for macaroons -- it's of a coconut macaroon, which was a best-seller on the Wenger's menu and looks very different from the standard image of the confection. It was L'Opera that changed our mental image of a macaroon and more recently, Breads & More has outdone the French patisserie. Now, did you know that the bakers of the Tamil Nadu town of Thoothukudi (or Tuticorin) have an old tradition of making macaroons with egg white, cashew and sugar? You'll love the ones from Shanti Bakery, which has been making macaroons since 1964.

EACH bottle of Belvedere, or for that matter any vodka produced in Poland, carries the acronym POLMOS. Its expanded form is 'Polish Monopoly of Spirits'. The expression harks back to the time when all vodka in this East European country, then behind the Iron Curtain, used to be produced in state-owned distilleries. After the Polish people got rid of communism in 1989, the government started selling its distilleries to the highest bidders and Belvedere, produced at a place called Zyrardow, 45km from Warsaw, was picked up by Eddie Phillips, a serial entrepreneur and son of 'Dear Abby', America's most famous agony aunt. The brand has been owned since 2001 by the luxury conglomerate, LVMH.