Thursday, 29 May 2014

Get Ready to Welcome Indigo Deli at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, But What Happened to Indigo?

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
Mumbai's star restaurateur,
Rahul Akerkar, has not had the
smoothest of starts in Delhi,
but he's hoping to make up
for lost time and keep his
staff morale intact by launching
Indigo Deli at the Ambience
Mall, Vasant Kunj

IT'S A PITY most people assume that Indigo Deli, which is formally opening tomorrow (May 30) at the Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, is Indigo Delhi. If Mumbai's star restaurateur, Rahul Akerkar, had the freedom to act according to his Delhi expansion plan, he was to launch Indigo, the restaurant that's won every award and accolade possible, sometime in mid-January.
He was to make a grand opening at the urban renewal project, an arts and entertainment space that was to have transformed what used to be an open drain opposite the Hyatt Regency, in the shadow of Netaji Nagar. And he was to roll out Indigo Deli, starting with the second floor of Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, in the space formerly occupied by Zambar, only after Indigo settled down as "a 'back-to-basics' address that will serve up eclectic modern European fare, coupled with an expansive bar and a private dining section". Indigo Deli will be next door to Pizza Express, which is the next high-profile opening to watch out for at Ambience Mall.
But for some mysterious reason, the area, which was blessed by the Sheila Dikshit government and is being developed by the father-and-son duo of Sanjeev and Samegh Batra, has been in suspended animation ever since Dikshit got a drubbing in the Delhi Assembly election, even though Delhi Metro has been constructing buildings next door at a frenetic pace. Was the previous government's showcase project not a priority for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dispensation that followed? If that were the case, why did Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung not push it after the fall of AAP? No one is ready to share the real story.
"You know how officials work," was Sanjeev Batra's first response when I asked him about the delayed project. "But we will be up and running in a month," he added. Batra has been the man behind such significant heritage rejuvenation-cum-restaurant development projects at Mehrauli such as Olive Bar & Kitchen and The Kila, where blueFROG has re-opened, though after giving up the associated cafe and restaurant spaces.
Batra said that when it became clear the urban renewal project wasn't taking off according to the time-table they were working on, Akerkar came to him and shared his desire to launch Indigo Deli before Indigo. He had hired staff for Indigo and they had been trained in Mumbai, but they had no restaurant in sight, which was clearly a dispiriting prospect. He had to do something to retain his staff, which was why he fast-forwarded Indigo Deli, which is best known for its salads, burgers, sandwiches and ice-creams, and of course, its delicatessen.
"I feel a tinge of sadness, but when Indigo finally opens opposite the Hyatt Regency, the grandness of the setting and the cuisine that has given the restaurant its share of international acclaim will have their desired effect," Batra said, striking a hopeful note. For the sake of the city, we wish him luck! Delhi deserves an Indigo, as much as it can do with an Indigo Deli. Neighbouring Mistral's Mayank Tiwari has serious competition on his hands and even Chili's may experience some loss of lustre.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Marks & Spencer Selects Sula's Jewel of Nasik Trio As First Indian Wines On Its Portfolio

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

JUST A couple of days back, Sameer Sain, Managing Partner of the Indian and South-East Asian private equity fund, Everstone Capital, was quoted by The Times of India waxing ecstatic about Sula Vineyards Founder-CEO, Rajeev Samant, after exiting Nashik Vintners, the wine brand's parent company, with Rs 114 crore on an investment of Rs 37 crore made in August 2007.
"Nashik Vintners and brand Sula under Rajeev Samant's leadership has seen unprecedented success over the last several years," Sain said. Sula's revenue vaulted by more than 500 per cent over the last few years, even as the company maintained healthy operating profits. Sain also reminded the newspapers readers that Sula's distribution footprint now covers over 400 cities spanning across 23 states in the country.
Add Britain's top retailer, Marks & Spencer, to this formidable footprint and Samant has a good reason to pop open a bubbly. M&S has decided to sell Sula's three Jewel of Nasik wines -- Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel Rose and Tempranillo Shiraz -- priced at £6.99 a bottle and sporting a colourful label at 250 stores across the UK. It's a significant milestone for the company, which straddles 70 per cent of the country's wine market and exports its products to 25 countries, and for the country, because it gives Indian wine an enviable international platform that can only lift its reputation across the world. The UK, incidentally, is Sula's biggest market outside India.
Interestingly, the Marks & Spencer announcement came days after Samant presented a candid assessment of the country's wine market, balancing the opportunities with the Himalayan challenges, at the Eighth International Symposium organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine in Florence on May 15-18.
And of course, it's raining good news for Samant, with the Nashik Vintners now being valued at Rs 700 crore, after the Belgian family office Verlinvest, Anil Ambani's Reliance Capital and VisVires India Wineries have jointly acquired Rs 275 crore stake in the company. According to The Times of India, Reliance Capital and VisVires India Wineries -- the latter owned by Singapore- based Ravi Vishwanatan -- will now hold a 29 per cent stake in the company. Verlinvest, a Belgian family office belonging to the founders of beer giant Anheuser Busch InBev, will increase its stake to 23 per cent.
Commenting on the Marks & Spencer decision, Samant could not hide his excitement. “It is a proud day for us and for Indian wines and reflects the broader surge in the acceptance of our wines in this most competitive market," he said in a media statement. "Nasik, the region that we founded, is on its way to becoming a world-renowned wine region," he added.
Emma Dawson, Marks & Spencer’s Wine Buyer, joined the celebrations by stating: "We are very excited about offering customers our very first Indian wines. We’ve created these wines to be suitable to drink as an aperitif or in styles that match well with Indian food." Well, it's time for all Indian wine lovers to raise a toast to the country's wine leader.

DINING OUT: Sunday Brunch Gets A New Twist at Chez Nini

This review first appeared in Mail Today on May 23, 2013.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers


WHAT: Sunday Brunch @ Chez Nini
WHERE: 79 & 80, Meher Chand Market, Fourth Avenue Road, Lodi Colony
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Rs 2,500+++ (unlimited cocktails from the menu);
Rs 2,000+++ (without cocktails) per person
CALL: +91- 9650257451

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Chez Nini's first floor, with its
display of ink sketches
of backs of people's heads,
is where the Sunday brunch
is served. (Below) Each
item, like the fish burger,
is cooked a la minute
and served at your table.
Images: Azra Sadr

NOT MANY chefs around the world get invited to serve a meal at James Beard House, New York's gastronomic pilgrimage at the town house that once belonged to the man who defined American Cookery. Nira Singh of Chez Nini just recently earned her entry into that exclusive club and immediately on her return, in an inspired move, unveiled a Sunday brunch that may just re-write the rules of the institution as it has transmogrified in Delhi.
We have gotten used to a brunch design that deifies excess. Just about everything a hotel or a restaurant has to offer is laid out on buffet counters for guests to dig in, with endless accompanying pours of bubbly and martinis, and the dishes keep getting replenished as they get consumed. That's quite industrial, though no one minds, because all of us believe we are getting our money's worth.
By going against the paisa vasool mindset, Chez Nini's Sunday brunch has shown how this institution was supposed to have evolved. Each guest gets to order one dish at a time from the special menu, which in effect means you can have an endless a la carte meal delivered at your table. There's an abundance of sangrias and smoothies, spiked with dates and honey, to keep everyone pleasantly high in between orders, and the pianist, Sahil Vasudeva, despite his Devdas looks and overnight stubble, plays just the kind of tunes that would get you to tap your feet and drum your table.
Your mind blanks out and you wonder why the neighbouring Lodi Colony appears to be in a state of slumber from the window beside your table. Shouldn't the occupants of the World War II-vintage apartments, which house government functionaries of all kinds, wake up and smell the Blue Tokai coffee from Coorg roasted exclusively for Chez Nini?
That's exactly the tantalising aroma that will greet you as you enter the first floor of the restaurant after a rather steep yet rejuvenating climb. The warm and welcoming fragrance of freshly baked breads and tarts will compete with it for your attention.
You can hear your stomach rumbling in anticipation, and as soon as your red wine sangria gives you an early afternoon alcohol rush, ask for the Watermelon Salad, drenched with citrus vinaigrette and loaded with creamy feta and grated hazelnuts to deliver a multi-textured sensation, then move on the French Onion Soup that comes with a blob of Himalayan gouda sitting on a crispy toast, and call for the Soft Poached Eggs served on a bed of sauteed spinach, bay leaf foam and crispy onion. The portions are generous, so share and show you care.
With your hunger temporarily assuaged but not your curiosity, your next step should be to order the Eggs Benedict that come sitting on gluten-free brioche, generously lashed with hollandaise and accompanied by seared slices of pork belly (divine!). Go for the Rosemary Pumpkin Pasta Au Gratin, which is a tribute to the umami powers of parmesan. Have the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Escalope with waffles, peppercorn sauce and buttermilk gravy. Or settle from my favourite: Fish Burger served on a multi-grain sourdough bun with okra fries, tartare sauce and salsa verde. Each offering comes with a twist, on wooden platters that arrive in diverse shapes, cooked a la minute and served at carefully calibrated intervals. I was surprised by the precision with which food was being served to a full house, giving hunger or impatience not even a sneaking chance to get the better of conversations. The sangria, of course, played a part in turning time into a bullet train.
Then comes the cherry on the topping. And the dilemma. Do we have the Caramel Popcorn and Berry Sundae or the Fruit Gazpacho? Order both and share. Don't miss either, and you must not go without your mandatory shot of Blue Tokai espresso. Did someone say Sunday brunch offerings have become predictable? Not at Chez Nini, for sure!

FORTUNE COOKIE: One Man's Journey Into The Secrets of Amritsar's Iconic Dhabas

A shorter version of this column appeared in the May 22, 2014, edition of Mail TodayCopyright: Mail Today Newspapers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN you ask Yashbir Sharma about the secret of the consistently unbeatable taste of Amritsar's dhaba cuisine, he'll tell that it's the water blessed by the gurus. I can't think of a more logical explanation, having marvelled at the simple yet flavourful dishes I have had in Amritsar, from the historic Kesar Da Dhaba and Ram Lubhiyan aam papad-wallah outside DAV School, Lawrence Road, to Surjit Food Plaza and Makhan's Fish Corner.
He has been a freelance sports journalist and magazine editor, the president of the Delhi Chess Association and secretary of the Delhi Billiards and Snooker Association, but today, Sharma has made it his life's mission to eat at every dhaba in Punjab. And he has been tirelessly collecting the recipes for the iconic dishes that have acquired a committed following around the world. Some years back, Sharma had self-published The Food Trail of Punjab, which got rave reviews for the wealth of information it brought to the table, and I was certain he would have publishers flocking to him for subsequent titles.
I guess, like the dhabawallahs he writes about, Sharma is too self-effacing to catch the attention of fancy publishing houses, but thankfully, he continues to write and publish. So now we have his latest, The Dhabas of Amritsar, which, like its predecessor, makes up for its lack of production values and matter-of-fact writing style with the many secrets it unravels.
Yashbir Sharma (below), who started his writing
career in 1972 with book on chess maestro
Bobby Fischer, has been collecting recipes
of iconic Punjabi eateries such as
Amritsar's Kesar da Dhaba (above).

The slim volume is studded with recipes you'd want to replicate at home: from Golden Temple's Kadha Parshad, which has never ceased to amaze me with its divine aromas, to the Sarson da Saag and Malai Kofta of Bharawan da Dhaba, which was founded by Diwan Chand Vij in 1912 and has now metamorphosed into a sprawling restaurant under the management of his grandson, Subhash Vij.
His elder brother, Jitender Vij, also makes an appearance with sons Vivek and Niraj, the trio behind the breakaway Bade Bhai Ka Brothers' Dhaba, which has been a hit since it opened in 2001, especially because of its sarson da saag and missi roti. Sharma, though, chooses to share the recipe of the restaurant's equally famous kadhi pakora. Another family, that of the Mehras of Kesar Da Dhaba at Chowk Passian, also get their due in the book and Ramesh Mehra, the fourth-generation owner of the eatery established by Lala Kesar Mal in 1916, lets Sharma into the secret of the chini da parantha.
The only cooking medium used in the recipes is desi ghee, which was being unfairly demonised till nutritionists rose up in its defence, and there's a complete absence of any layers of full-fat cream and butter. These dishes leave a permanent mark on our epicurious memory because of their uncomplicated taste. Delhi's Punjabi restaurants have done immense disservice to the cuisine of our most vibrant state.
The high point is the recipe for Amritsari Kulcha (along with those of the accompanying chholey and chutney), which was shared with Sharma by another favourite of the holy city, Ranjit Avenue's Kulcha Land. It completely demystifies Amritsar's signature bread and will make you want to prepare it at home on a Sunday (please don't try to replace the desi ghee!) Heed this advice when you make Shri Krishna Mishtan Bhandar's silver varq-wrapped Besan de Laddoo, which the shop's star halwai, Shyam, has been rolling out for 40 years. For a kilo of besan (chickpea flour), the recipe requires 750gm each of desi ghee and sugar! To balance this ghee attack, you could have Amritsari Fish, the way it is made at Makhan's, or Beera's Chicken, grilled over charcoal after minimal marination.
To be able to dig Amritsar's street food in its entirety, Sharma insists you take the overnight Golden Temple Mail from Delhi so that you can start your culinary hunt as soon as you land at 6 a.m. For, there's more to Amritsar than the obvious big names.
One such timeless institution is Dharam Pal Chholey Wale, which is run by D.S. Sethi at Namak Mandi from the 5ftx2ft stall that his grandfather occupied a century ago. Here, for the princely sum of Rs 5, you can get a plate of chholey, whose secret masala (now retailed as DPS Chana Masala) is prepared every morning by Sethi and his sons and relatives at his palatial house near the famous Ahuja Lassi Wala. Hira di Hatti is the other unmissable chholey-bhaturewallah. The chholey at this little-known eatery comes with a hefty chunk of soft fried paneer, steaming bhaturas, gal-gal (Kumaon lemon) achar, onions and chutney.
Thanks to Sharma, you now don't need to go to Amritsar to savour its flavours. What you'll miss, though, when you follow his recipes, is the blessed water, which continues to transform everyday food into extraordinary experiences.

WITH the imminent arrival of Burger King, which is being rolled out by Pan India Food Solutions (a.k.a. Blue Foods), a major player in the food court business, the country now has a slew of successful quick service restaurant (QSR) chains, from established names such as McDonald's, Domino's, Subway and KFC to newcomers Pita Pit, Quiznos, Fat Boy's and Au Bon Pain. Can we now expect a comparable home-grown chain, rooted in the vast variety of Indian food, emerge as a potential game-changer?
I see that happening with Tikka Town, which is slowly but surely spreading its wings. Tikka Town started in 2008 on an inauspicious note -- its first outlet at Shalimar Bagh had to be aborted -- but it now has eight outlets in Delhi, Gurgaon, Pune and Lavasa. Its stated purpose is to take the menu of one of my all-time favourite restaurants, Chor Bizarre, to the masses, which seemed to me to be very ambitious at first. That may be why it has been taking its time to grow, which is the hallmark of any Old World Hospitality venture (I guess because it is headed by Rohit Khattar, who's a perfectionist!), but a senior Tikka Town executive assured me that "we have put our foot on the accelerator".
That's heartening news, for Tikka Town has been able to show that an Indian food chain in the QSR segment is not only feasible, but also scalable operationally. With 62 items on the menu, it gives us as many choices as we would care to have -- from chicken biryani to rajma-chawal, to tandoori platters (do try the mutton seekh kebab or kakori kebab platters) that come with dal makhni and laccha paranthas. And it has surprises galore. My favourites in this category are the Afghani Soya Chaamp, which leaves Wah Ji Wah's signature product behind by a mile; the sumptuous Jodhpuri Parantha stuffed with spinach and onions; the Pocket Paranthas, which are kathis reinvented for the QSR format; and the forgotten Punjabi winter dessert, gud churi made with jaggery. Can we finally say goodbye to burgers, even if they come with zing -- or bling!

Michael Swamy's slim volume
scores with its recipes but not
with its wine pairing suggestions
EVER SINCE the government allowed wine imports in 2000, gastronomes around the world have been debating the logic of pairing Indian food with wine. I remember the sentiment that was common in those early days of our courtship with wine: "Oh, you can only have Coke or lassi with Indian food." The tide of opinion started changing course once Indian restaurants in Britain started pairing their menus with wines and influential UK writers, notably Fiona Beckett and Charles Metcalf, started matching Indian food and wine. The world of epicures finally came round the view that all Indian dishes are not scalding hot like the vindaloo that the Bangladeshi restaurants serve across Britain and that there are great matches waiting to be discovered.
Michael Swamy, a gifted chef and TV personality, has taken a significant first step by putting together the Easy Guide to Pairing Indian Food and Wine (Om Books), sponsored by Nine Hills, Pernod Ricard India's wine label. My grouse against the slim volume is that it follows the flawed rationale of "when in doubt about Indian food and wine pairing, take out a Chenin Blanc or Shiraz Rose". How can a book dedicated to matching Indian food and wine, for instance, not have Riesling or Gewurtztraminer as options? I am sure Swamy, if he's not hemmed by the limited portfolio of a wine sponsor, will do better the next time.

AN IMPORTED cheese crisis has struck fine-dining restaurants and the villain is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, which is yet another example of a well-intentioned move backfiring because of the ignorance, real or feigned, of mandarins drafting our laws. The new rules, which the authority is mandated to implement, state that all cheeses imported into the country have to be made with pasteurised milk! Hello, but we have been eating cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Chevre and everybody's favourite, Parmigiano Reggiano, which have forever been made with raw milk, and not fallen sick. Why have the authorities woken up suddenly to the threat of raw milk cheeses? Did someone say the law's an ass?

Luxury Hotel Company Kempinski Eyes Expansion in Mumbai, Kolkata and Kerala

Kempinski Hotels Chief Operating
Officer Duncan O'Rourke addressed
journalists at the Kempinski
Ambience Hotel in Delhi on May 21
This story first appeared in Mail Today in the edition dated May 23, 2014. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE world's oldest operator of luxury hotels, Kempinski, is in talks with potential partners for opening a property each in Mumbai and Kolkata, and a resort in Kerala.
Sharing this information with the hospitality industry media at the 117-year-old international chain's first address in India, Delhi's Kempinski Ambience Hotel, Chief Operating Officer Duncan O'Rourke said the new hotels and the resort should be up and running within two to four years of the partnership agreements being signed.
Kempinski's President for the Middle East and Africa, Ulrich Eckhardt, clarified that the chain (or "collection", as they would like to call it) would not have more than four or five addresses in India, in sync with its "luxury is limited" corporate philosophy. O'Rourke added: "London has four Four Seasons hotels, so which one is the luxury hotel? Ours is the only international hotel company that caps its growth." At present, Kempinski manages and/or owns 73 hotels; the number will go up to "88 in 12 months and 112 in the near future".
O'Rourke pointed out that Kempinski (2012 revenue: 1.1 billion euros), whose portfolio includes some of the world's landmark addresses, such as the Atlantic in Hamburg and the Villa Rothschild restaurant, is neither a "cookie cutter company", nor a "supermarket of different brands". He was alluding to the practice of hotel companies to enter a market with a bouquet of brands catering to different market segments. Kempinski operates only in the luxury market.
Originally a German brand, Kempinski is owned by the Thai royal family and its corporate headquarters is in Geneva. For a long time, it operated in India in partnership with The Leela group and, expectedly, O'Rourke was asked why did the marriage come to an end. "India is very important for us, therefore we wanted to come in on our own once our contract with The Leela came to an end," he said.
The question became doubly relevant because of the presence of real estate and mall developer Raj Singh Gehlot, Chairman, Ambience Group, who has two hotels in Delhi-NCR, one in partnership with Kempinski and the other with The Leela in Gurgaon. He assured the journalists present that neither of the two former partners prevented him from entering into an alliance with the other.
Gehlot added that he had two plots to offer -- one at Gurgaon's Sector 82 and the other, a 150-acre stretch of land earmarked for a resort, in Udaipur. "I would be happy to offer the plots to both Kempinski and The Leela," he said. The Kempinski growth story in India, it appears, has only just begun to unfold.

Monday, 19 May 2014

QUICK BYTES: DLF to Turn Building Next to Cyber Hub Into Virtual Gaming Hub & Live Comedy Zone

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Cyber Hub is all sold out. Seeing the success of the country's first food mall, however, DLF has kicked off an ambitious plan to convert the ground floor of the neighbouring Building 8 in the DLF Cyber City into the Delhi-NCR's most vibrant entertainment destination. It will have three major attractions:
* An eight-lane bowling alley promoted by Underdoggs Sports Bar & Grill, which has acquired a dedicated following ever since it opened at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, some years back.
Mumbai's hugely success live comedy venture is
coming to DLF Cyber City's busy Building No. 8
* Delhi-NCR's first virtual cricket hotspot, Smaash, which has had a great innings thus far at the Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai. Its famed cricket arena allows you to select the bowler you'd want to face, set the difficulty level and actually have a cricket legend 'bowl' at you in a simulated stadium. If you're not into cricket, you could check out the F1 experience or relive your fantasies at the video games arcade that promises to take some of us back to our college days, when the one at the Chanakya theatre would draw us like flies to a magnet. The old Chanakya, incidentally, will soon return as a DLF multiplex and restaurant complex.
* Another first for Delhi-NCR would be a space dedicated to live comedy acts, brought by another Mumbai success story, Canvas Laugh Factory, which is unrelated to the Laugh Factory chain of comedy clubs in the US. The Horseshoe Entertainment & Hospitality subsidiary will have an amphitheatre with an attached restaurant and bar, because people are going to feel both hungry and thirsty after laughing their lungs out.
Of course, the Cyber Hub will see a slew of openings in the days ahead, starting with the Gurgaon favourite, Cafe Delhi Heights, followed by Amici; Benihana; Zorawar Kalra's Farzi Cafe; Boston-headquartered bakery franchise Au Bon Pain, which is being operated in India by the RPG subsidiary, Spencer's Retail; the burger-and-hot-dog place Smokey's; and Fat Boy's: The Burger Bar, the first Indian outlet of the 'build-your-burger' chain with a substantial following in Malaysia and Singapore.
That's quite an eclectic mix. Will the new additions ensure higher footfalls to the popular food and beverage destination? By the looks of it, the Cyber Hub success story, despite gas supply snafus and parking woes, shows no signs of cooling down.

Former La Tagliatella CEO Takes Charge of Hakkasan and Yauatcha
MANY of us will remember Snehal Kulshreshtha's highly visible efforts to promote the doomed Italian restaurant, La Tagliatella. Owned by AmRest Holdings SE, the largest restaurant operator of chains such as Starbucks, Applebee, KFC and Burger King in Central and Eastern Europe, La Tagliatella opened with an ambitious €2 million-(Rs 16 crore at the current exchange rate)-per-outlet investment by AmRest, but despite being my personal favourite, it performed disastrously at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj. I don't know how it did at Indiranagar, Bangalore, but obviously it did not do well enough, making AmRest withdraw from the venture and give up its plans to bring Italian fine-dining to India.
Snehal Kulshreshtha (centre, in striped T-shirt),
with Gaurav Malik (to his right), La Tagliatella's
training manager, in the happier days of the
Italian fine-dining restaurant
Kulshreshtha, a product of the Oberoi School of Hotel Management (now known as the Oberoi Centre for Leadership Development), is back at the helm, this time of KA Hospitality, the company that runs Hakkasan and Yauatcha, and has launched its own brand, the Italian restaurant Otto Infinito. Named after the ancient Egyptian concept of 'vital essence' sustained by food and drink, KA Hospitality is headed by Kishor Bajaj, founder of the Badasaab Group, which is in the business of bespoke clothing and corporate attire, and Kulshreshtha is its newly appointed CEO.
Interestingly, Kulshreshtha had gone to the KA Hospitality corporate leadership to get funding for La Tagliatella after AmRest's exit. He came back with a job offer and the immediate mandate to get Otto Infinito the traction that it badly needs. I wish Kulshreshtha good luck. He's a competent and committed hospitality professional, and he deserves a chance to show his mettle.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Delhi's Most Sought-After Dhaba Owner Sweety Singh Lays Out A Treat at Five-Star Dhaba

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN: On till 1 June 2014
WHERE: Dhaba at The Claridges, Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi
TIMINGS: 7:00 TO 11.30 P.M. (Dinner Only)
HOW MUCH: Rs 2,600 (non-veg) and Rs 1,800 (veg) plus taxes per person. Alcohol extra.
For reservations, please contact: +91 11 39555082/5083.
Or email:

HARJINDER SINGH owes his fame to Manjit Gill, the doyen of Indian chefs, and his trade name 'Sweety' to the impish humour of Gautam Anand, one of the leading lights of ITC Hotels, but his distinctive cooking style is the gift of his God-given talent to extract swaad (umami) without smothering preparations with tomato puree, full-fat cream and butter, the standard taste enhancers employed by restaurants claiming to offer "authentic" pre-Partition Punjabi cuisine.
Dhabas work on tight margins, Sweety Singh explained in Punjabi, his bushy beard as animated as his bright eyes, so they cannot afford to use any of the aforementioned enemies of the arteries. We were at Dhaba at The Claridges, where Sweety Singh was serving me a meal I won't forget in a hurry -- what struck me was the simplicity and the freedom from full-fat cream. The hotel's executive chef, Neeraj Tyagi, the man who's singularly responsible for the dramatic turnaround of Sevilla, agreed with me.
Harjinder 'Sweety' Singh of Kake
di Hatti Punjabi Khana has a
God- gifted talent for cooking
no-fuss dhaba food
The food has to be fresh and cooked without fuss, Sweety said, when I asked him about the style he had inherited from his father, Santokh Singh, who started by selling Maa Ki Dal and Mutton Curry (Kadhi and Baigan Bharta on the strictly vegetarian Tuesdays) from the back of a bicycle in 1956. It is this addictive simplicity that had impressed Gill, who's the corporate chef of ITC Hotels, back in 1995. That was when Gill had his first meal at Sweety's Kake Di Hatti Punjabi Khana at Tikona Market on Asaf Ali Road in the shadow of Delite Cinema.
It was Gill who gave Sweety his first break -- a dhaba food festival in 1998 at the Park Sheraton in challenging Chennai. Since then, there's been no looking back. If Harjinder Singh could succeed in Chennai, the rest of the country was his oyster. He became the ambassador of Punjabi street cuisine across the south and was gifted the persona of Sweety Singh by Gautam Anand when he was general manager of the Kakatiya Sheraton (ITC Kakatiya).
Today, Sweety Singh has a thick folder of testimonials from ITC hotels, but his food festivals have many other claimants, not the least of them being The Claridges. And he can savour the day when he shocked his teachers by saying he was dropping out of school to join his father at their family dhaba. "I kept failing in English and I wasn't good in the other subjects as well," he reminisced, as I struggled to decide whether the Nalli Meat Saag De Naal (Rs 1,295) was the stand-out dish, or the Kukkad Dahi Wala (Rs 1,295). I had to agree with Sweety that he took the right decision at the right time.
Among my many favourites are Sweety's juicy
Macchi Di Seekhan, or sole fish seekh kebabs,
which are an entirely welcome way of eating fish
Starting with the Macchi Di Seekhan (juicy sole seekh kebabs; Rs 1,195), the minimalism of the Jeere De Naal Tandoori Kukkad (Rs 995 for a half portion) and the happy marriage of textures and flavours in the Chukandar de Kebab (Rs 745), Sweety kept us asking for more, and more! Apart from the two gravy dishes already salivated upon, he insisted we have his flavourful Amritsari Meat Tari Wala (Rs 1,295), Sarson da Saag, which transforms into something other-worldly with a blob of white butter (Rs 845), and Malai Wale Tinde (Rs 845), which makes even the humble vegetable taste special. Then came the absolutely delectable Chukandar da Halwa (Rs 395), which is my dream dish of the year, and Kesari Kheer (Rs 395) -- words fail me as I try hard to describe my feelings at the end of this gastronomic experience.
Sweety Singh is a sweet man with a gifted hand. He's also a humble man. He credits his cooking skills entirely to his father. "When his eyesight was failing because of health issues," Sweety remembers, "he could tell the cooks how much masala to add just by smelling the vapours coming out of the dishes being prepared." Some talents are heaven-sent. Cooking is one of them.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Leela's Patriarch May Be No More, But His Vision Will Continue To Guide His Hotel Chain

Born: February 9, 1922
Dead: May 17, 2014

I met the visionary behind The Leela chain of luxury hotels for the last time last year, after he had presided over a seamless succession for his two sons, Vivek and Dinesh Nair. He left an indelible impression on me as he outlined the group’s future plans and its imminent global foray. A shorter version of this report appeared in Mail Today.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AS CAPT. Chittarath Poovakkatt Krishnan Nair, founder and chairman emeritus of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, passes the baton on to his sons, Vivek and Dinesh, he’s confident that the hospitality group that has become synonymous with style and grandeur will go international “very soon”.
Captain C.P. Krishnan Nair, pioneering hotelier,
passed away at his home in Mumbai in the early
hours of May 17, 2014.
The 91-year-old hotel mogul sees the chain going global within the next five years, after eight new hotels carrying The Leela flag will be up and running across the country. Potential international partners from places such as Abu Dhabi and Doha have already evinced interest in tying up with The Leela.
Impeccably attired, with flawless skin, sharp eyes and sharper mind, oozing energy thanks to his daily morning walk and 20 minutes of basketball, the sunny patriarch let the gently paced conversation flit across a gamut of topics over lunch in the line of vision of the optical glass Buddha at The Leela Palace New Delhi’s signature restaurant, Megu. I wondered at that time what the secret of his wrinkle-less skin was, as I watched him savour his sake and sashimi, occasionally turning to Rajesh Namby, the hotel's resident manager who was then the F&B manager, giving him instructions about what to serve me next.
The patriarch shared his vision for the hotel chain, which he launched after earning his initial millions from the international textiles business, where he's famous as one of the pioneers of the internationally renowned hand-spun Bleeding Madras yarn and as an initiator of the All-India Handloom Board. As a member of the Handloom Board, Capt. Nair got to travel across Europe in the latter half of the 1950s, and it was then that he was overcome by the desire to launch a chain of luxury hotels on the lines of the fine addresses he had checked in at during his travels.
He realised his dream when he opened his first hotel, named after his wife like all his business ventures, in 1986, in the neighbourhood of Mumbai's Sahar International Airport, which was inaugurated in the 1981. That was a visionary move, at a time when land values in that part of Mumbai hadn't touched astronomical heights, and for Capt. Nair, it was his third major career move after the Indian Army, which he quit in 1951, and his entry into the textile business, culminating in the founding of Leela Lace in 1957.
Capt. Nair clearly was a man who could see the road ahead. “The future of Delhi is on the road to the Yamuna Expressway,” he said. At the other end of the Expressway, bang opposite the Taj Mahal, another luxury hotel carrying The Leela banner is coming up on a seven-acre plot. “I see it becoming the venue of dream weddings facing the Taj,” Capt. Nair said.
Agra, he added, was on its way to be dramatically transformed by the proposed international airport. “In future, international tourists will first go to Agra and then come to Delhi,” he added, pointing to the airport’s likely dramatic impact.
Will the airport ever take off? Capt. Nair was confident it would. “The young and dynamic civil aviation minister with his eye on the interests of his home state will ensure it happens,” he said. Capt. Nair was referring to the then minister, Ajit Singh, who has just lost his Lok Sabha seat, adding that he was very close to Chaudhary Charan Singh, the former minister’s father and a former prime minister.
The pioneering hotelier and the group’s top management had been facing questions about the humongous cost of building The Leela New Delhi. For Capt. Nair, coming to Delhi was a dream that was tripped the first time when his Rs 200-crore bid for Hudco Place in the early 1990s led to a protracted legal dispute that dragged on for 14 years and went up to the Supreme Court. The group, however, sailed through the bidding for the Chanakyapuri plot, despite stiff competition from a Dubai sheikh and a Singapore company.
“It was the making of the hotel that turned out to be more expensive because I wanted it to be more beautiful than anything ever built in India,” Capt. Nair said and went on to talk about The Leela Palace, Chennai, “the city’s grandest and only sea-facing palace hotel” on the southern stretch of the Adyar Beach on the arterial Mount Road. “You can literally have a wedding on the sea at this stunning hotel,” said the patriarch, his eyes lighting up as he spoke.
Capt. Nair may have cleared the way for his sons, but his vision, without doubt, will continue to steer The Leela as it looks beyond the country’s borders for its future growth. And it will continue to do so, despite his physical absence from this mortal world.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Rs 9-Lakh-A-Night Suite to Top Attractions at Jaipur's Refurbished Rajmahal Palace

This news report first appeared in the Mail Today dated 16 May 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A JAIPUR palace, which has had Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and Jackie Kennedy as house guests, and was previously managed by the Taj group of hotels, is all set to come back to life as a bespoke destination where the priciest suite will come with a price tag of Rs 9 lakh.
Sujan's Chief Executive Jaisal Singh (left)
and Diya Kumari of the Jaipur royal family
hold up the contract for the management
of the Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur,
which will reopen in November.
Rajmahal Palace is the sixth address to be added to the expanding portfolio of Sujan, which now operates five luxury hotels, camps and lodges, including one in Masai Mara, Kenya. Sujan's Chief Executive, Jaisal Singh, held out the promise of "experiential hospitality" and "personalised services" to the guests of this all-suite hotel set at the centre of magnificent lawns and with an organic kitchen garden of its own.
Singh has just signed a contract with Diya Kumari of the Jaipur royal family, who is also the BJP MLA from Sawai Madhopur, to manage the palace-hotel, which has been given a complete facelift by the accomplished designer, Adil Ahmad, creative director of Charbagh, GoodEarth.
"From the chandeliers to the wallpaper, Adil has redone and refurbished everything in the hotel," Singh said, adding that the palace, when it opens in November, will have 20 rooms and suites, including two royal apartments. One of the apartments, a two-bedroom set that was used by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they were house guests at the palace, will come with a Rs 9-lakh-a-night tag. The entry-level suite is being priced at Rs 20,000 a night.
Ahmad has drawn his inspiration for the ambitious re-design from The City Palace, the residence of the former royal family. The design elements include traditional royal motifs, family crests, soft pastels and old world art pieces. The bar, for instance, will be studded with the trophies won by Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and his son, Bhawani Singh, who were both avid polo players.
Pastel hues, royal motifs and period furniture
dominated the refurbished fine-dining
restaurant at Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur, which
has been redesigned by Adil Ahmad,
creative director, Charbagh, Good Earth.
Jaisal Singh said the hotel will be different (and more expensive) because of special touches, like each guest being assigned an ADC (which is how guest relations executives have been rechristened at Rajmahal Palace). "You won't find a regular lal maas out here, but the Jaipuri lal maas as cooked in the kitchens of the royal family," he said, referring to Rajasthan's most famous meat preparation. "Similarly, the fried cheese toast will be made just the way the royal family likes to have it. It will be like living in The City Palace," Singh added.
Built in 1729, two years after Jaipur was formally inaugurated, Rajmahal Palace became the residence of the British Resident Political Officer of Rajputana in 1821. It was Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, the celebrated ‘Jai’ more famous as the husband of Maharani Gayatri Devi, who turned it into his private residence in 1958, and a must-visit address for members of the international jet-set. The palace, described by Diya Kumari as "a precious piece of Jaipur's history", was converted into a hotel in 1979.
Will the palace once again be the sought-after destination of the world's rich and famous? That only time will tell.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

World Champion Pizza Acrobat Twirls & Serves His Signature Pizzas at Mumbai's JW Marriott

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Pasqualino Barbasso, the Sicilian pizzaiolo from Cammarata, may be the pizza world's 'twirling dervish', but he says he's as good as the 70-odd original pizzas in his repertoire, which is why he's so picky about his flour. Barbossa can be seen in action at the Mumbai JW Marriott's Lotus Cafe (9:30 p.m.) and Mezzo Mezzo (10:30 p.m.) daily till May 17.

WHEN Pasqualino Barbasso says he's a Bollywood star, he may be exaggerating slightly, but it is true that he appeared in the Suzuki Slingshot television commercial a couple of years before he wowed diners with his pizza acrobatics at Lotus Cafe, the all-day restaurant at the JW Marriott in Mumbai, a couple of days ago.
When Pasqualino Barbasso twirls his dough,
the world watches him with unmistakable awe
Two-time pizza acrobatics world champion, Barbasso spins faster than the front wheel of a motorcycle on top gear and whirls like a dervish who has just encountered God, but his pizzas make you ask for more as much as his gyrations with pizza dough. "My guests come to my restaurant expecting to have something more than pizzas, but unless I get my pizzas right, why would they want to come in the first place?" asked the good-natured pizzaiolo after I couldn't stop praising his Arrotolata.
The objects of my admiring gaze were the rolled-up pizzas with artichoke puree, artichokes and mozzarella as the base, topped up with bresaola (delicious air-dried aged beef, which originated in Valtellina, an Alpine valley in Lombardy), arugula (rocket) and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano.
We were at the JW Marriott's Mezzo Mezzo restaurant, with its gregarious, much-tattooed Italian Chef, Davide Cananzi, whom many of you will remember from his days at the Hyatt Regency and The Park in Kolkata. Married to an Indian and the ambassador for India of the worldwide organisation of Italian chefs, CIM, Cananzi, a Sardinian who grew up in Tuscany, wasn't stretching the truth when he said he had to sweat to get Barbasso to Mumbai -- "as the saying goes in Italy," he said, "I lost 70 shirts before the world champion chef agreed to come" (for his third visit to India).
Barbasso, seen wearing a white apron at the
far end of this screen shot, first came to India
in 2012 to shoot for a Suzuki Sling Shot
motorcycle television commercial
Barbasso is also very picky about the flour he uses, so Cananzi had to really sweat to locate the flour that would satisfy the world champion. "Each flour is different from the other, "and once you get the flour right, with the right proteins and the desirable degree of elasticity, making a good pizza becomes easy." The sign of a good pizza, Cananzi pointed out, is that even after it's been on the table for five or ten minutes, if you lift one slice up, it doesn't droop -- that's the first sign of a perfect crust. Cananzi, to prove his point, held up a slice of Sapori Di Bosco, which is another of Barbasso's signature pizzas topped up with Mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, porcini, pork sausage and pepperoni.
Cananzi's effort must have paid off, for pictures and videos of Barbasso's gravity-defying opening performance at Lotus Cafe on the night of May 9 are all over Facebook and Twitter. The hotel couldn't have asked for more copious user-generated publicity. Back at Mezzo Mezzo, Barbasso recounted how it took him a week of training followed by unrelenting practice for a year to become a champion pizza acrobat.
After he wore the crown in two successive world championships, Barbasso is in demand all over. His international tours, which took off with Beirut more than a decade ago, keep him away from home and his pizzeria Falco Azzurro (at Cammarata in central Sicily) one to three times a month. Rave reviews have ensured he now lives out of suitcases for the better part of each month. He arrived in Mumbai, for instance, after performances in Japan and from there, he will fly to Shanghai.
He may be an international star, but Barbasso has no doubts about one thing. He's as good as his last pizza, so he keep innovating  without getting too dramatic about it. I tasted the power of his simplicity in his Asparagi e Salmone pizza, a delicately balanced combination of asparagus puree, asparagus, mozzarella, smoked salmon and herbed ricotta cheese.
Barbasso has shown the world you can make memorable pizzas without using tomato puree, but first you've got to get your flour right. He's also leaving behind a legacy at Mezzo Mezzo, which, by the way, means half and half in Italian. He has created a Mezzo Mezzo pizza, one-half of which will have his favourite Indian dish, palak paneer, and the other half, shahi paneer, with mozzarella of course and speck (or strips of pork fat, in the non-vegetarian half).
My Mezzo Mezzo experience would've remained incomplete, had I left without Cananzi's famous tiramisu, which he served, in the old southern style, out of a large bowl. It is made with ingredients Italians have used traditionally to create this iconic dessert -- mascarpone, savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits, egg yolks, espresso and sugar. In this particular tiramisu, though, the most important ingredient is mother's love.
Cananzi's mother shared the recipe with him and she gets mighty upset if he attempts to tweak it even a bit. You can cut through the dessert, layer after layer, the mascarpone making way for the savoiardi core soaked in coffee, all combining to give you a heavenly experience. This is one recipe Cananzi refuses to share. So be it, as long as he's happy to keep serving it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Delhi's Finest Italian Restaurant is a Banker's Tribute to the Man Who Gave Italian Cuisine an Identity

This my fortnightly Fortune Cookie column, which appeared in Mail Today on May 8, 2014. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Artusi's talented and cheerful
executive chef, Romina Lugaresi
(left), strikes a pose with the
restaurant's promoter,
Gurpinder Balcon
THIS IS A story in many parts, which starts in the Cayman Islands, where an Italian banker meets an Indian from Calgary, Canada, also working in a financial institution, and the two fall in love and marry, travel around the world, nurturing their passion for good food, and finally land in Delhi to open what promises to be the city's finest classical Italian restaurant at Greater Kailash-II's M-Block Market.
The restaurant is named Artusi, an ode to a banker, Pellegrino Artusi, who wrote the first pan-Italian cookbook, La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), which has gone into numerous reprints since its publication in 1891 because of its mix of easy-to-do recipes collected from across Italy, peppered with amusing stories. The restaurant's name is a personal tribute of one banker, Oscar Balcon, whose romance with Gurpinder is the starting point of this story, to another.
In addition to the professional bond, Balcon also shares a common geography with the immortal Artusi. The Italian cookbook writer spent his life in Florence (and lived till he was 90 -- a glorious example of the power of good food), but he owned land in Emilia-Romagna, in Forlimpopli and Cesena, which is Balcon's original home (and that of the restaurant's executive chef, Romina Lugaresi). Emilia-Romagna is also Italy's centre of gastronomy -- this is where you'll find Parma, famous for its ham (prosciutto di Parma), cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), and also the world's largest pasta maker, Barilla; Modena, renowned for its syrupy balsamic vinegar; Bologna, the capital, which is synonymous with the most popular pasta dish, spaghetti bolognese, and tortellini.
Artusi's star offering is the
panna cotta layered with
caramelised almonds and figs
Artusi therefore is not just any other Italian restaurant. Its soul is that of the table of Emilia-Romagna. Even the hand-made decorative tableware and jars on the shelves, which you'd want to take home with you, are from the famous village of Deruta, which is 50km from Cesena. More importantly, there's passion written all over the restaurant -- from the sleek wood-and-stainless steel design of its bar (which starts as a cafe at 8 a.m. and turns into a watering hole after 4 p.m.) to the pasta room, the only one perhaps in India, where 14 different types of pasta are made by hand daily by Lugaresi's boys.
Talking about hand-made pastas, I must share the story that Balcon narrated to me about one of them. It is about the tubular strozzapreti, which, translated into English, means "choke" or "strangle the priest". Balcon said that Emilia-Romagna has produced an equal number of priests and communists because the Church, being a major landowner of the region, has never been popular in the region. The pasta, according to a popular story, had to be given by peasant families to the Church in lieu of rent for the land they tilled. And each time they gave the pasta to the priests, they wished they could strangle them with it (or that the priest would choke while eating it)!
Artusi faithfully presents this vibrant culinary heritage. On my first visit, I ordered the Emilia-Romagna tasting menu, which started with a platter of crescione (piadina flatbread stuffed with spinach in this instance) to balance the piled-up slivers of meats -- two-year-old Parma ham, coppa and a regular salami -- served with pickled vegetables.  Then came the invigorating broth, Cappelletti in Brodo (the cap-shaped pasta was stuffed with a two kinds of cheese and had a hint of nutmeg), followed by pappardelle (the flat pasta cooked to perfection) with a gamy minced guinea hen ragu, and finally, roughly chopped fillet of pork, grilled and served with artichokes, rucola, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The preparations are light and delicious, and the wine selection is intelligently organised, so you'll definitely find your favourite, and the panna cotta layered with caramelised almonds and figs will leave you with the urge to return soon for more.

Address: M 24, M-Block Market, Greater Kailash II, New Delhi
Reservations: 011 4906 6666
Artusi's Pellegrino wrote the first Italian
cookbook containing recipes drawn from
all regions of the new republic  
Lunch: 12:00 NOON TO 3:00 P.M.
Dinner: 6:30 TO 11:30 P.M.
Café Bar: 8:00 A.M. TO 4 P.M.
Cocktail Bar: 4:00 P.M. TO 1:00 A.M.
Average Meal for Two (without alcohol):
Lunch: Rs 3,000
Dinner: Rs 4,500
Parking: Easy throughout the day. Valet parking available.
Credit Cards: Accepted

IT WAS Ritu Dalmia's Diva and Nelson Wang's China Garden that gave Greater Kailash-II's M-Block Market its initial lift. Hao Shi Niann Niann followed, Goa's Souza Lobo shut shop,  old-timers Chungwa and Not Just Paranthas have chugged along, but now it has become the city's new restaurant magnet. Consider the restaurants that have opened in that market in the past two years: Rara Avis, Mini Mughal, Chocolateria San Churros, Uzuri, Amalfi, Sattviko, and now Artusi and Yeti: The Himalayan Kitchen. Each one of these restaurants has a distinctive menu, an upmarket look and feel, and a dedicated fan following. Can they now combine to promote the market as a foodie destination and steal the thunder of their Greater Kailash-I counterparts.

YANGDUP LAMA is my favourite bar magician. Like a smiling Buddha, he brings a whiff of his native Darjeeling when he speaks in his gentle tones; when he works, he's a picture of meditative concentration. And the surprising bit about Delhi's most in-demand bar consultant, who now has his own 'speakeasy', Cocktails & Dreams at Sector-15, Gurgaon, is that he imbibes alcohol only in taster's portion drops! He took this call early on in his professional life after figuring out that to be a good bartender, you have to stop drinking socially. And his advice to all his customers is that they must "drink to enjoy, not to abuse".
I have been waiting for the day this cocktail guru comes out with a book of recipes with his distinctive twist. He has finally done it with Gitanjali Chaturvedi, a Ph.D. from JNU who, in her own words, has "lived and worked in vodka-infused post-Soviet republics, in dry Afghanistan and in sub-Saharan Africa, which is a mix of the two". Cocktails & Dreams: The Ultimate Indian Cocktail Book (Wisdom Tree) is in a league of its own, because you'll never find a recipe for a Cognac & Chai or a Paan Supari Martini, or even a Masala Maar Ke in another cocktail shaker's book. Lama has the knack of knowing which Indian flavour will do well internationally and that is what makes this book special (apart from the loads of tips for the home bartender).
My personal favourite is the Paan Supari Martini because it uses the distinctive flavours of betel leaves, which lend a refreshingly enigmatic twist to any drink they are added to, or for that matter to the Paan Biryani served at Baluchi, The Lalit's Indian restaurant. By experimenting with these flavours, Yangdup isn't trying to be exotic, but is making our palate more receptive to a more creative approach to cocktails. His Sazerac Inspired by India, for instance, turns around the classical rye whiskey cocktail by using aniseed (saunf)-infused premium domestic stuff, replacing Peychaud's with orange bitters and adding rose syrup instead of the sugar cube. Aniseed, orange and rose -- that's a combination of flavours you'd expect from a Pierre Herme! Well, creative minds do think alike!

IT'S BEEN a fortnight since Pizza Hut, much to the bemusement of the Twitterverse, became the first international restaurant chain to add biryani to its menu. Birizza, which is what the biryani is called because it comes in a pan pizza dough purdah, has come to India a year after its launch in Sri Lanka. Now, Pizza Hut hopes to leverage the product, as the chain's country head, Sanjiv Razdan, explained to me, to go beyond the 100 million "relatively rich Indians" and reach out to the 300 million "urban Indians".
The Birizza launch announcement was greeted by social media denizens with more shock than awe, but I found it to be a welcome innovation. I loved cutting open the pizza dough top and eating it after dipping it into the accompanying makhni gravy "with a twist", and the biryani inside tasted good. Arjyo Banerjee, product innovation head of Yum Restaurants (Pizza Hut's parent company), said it had been inspired by the tawa biryani he used to eat in his student days at a restaurant that's no longer there at Dadar, Mumbai. From Kabul to Kerala, from Karachi to Kolkata, our part of the world is studded with biryanis, each significantly different from the other. The Birizza is a welcome addition to this sub-continental bouquet.