Delhi is, according to those who track such matters, the restaurant capital of the country. There is plenty of choice in every cuisine, including such seemingly obscure ones like Nepalese and Naga. Not only are there restaurants serving Japanese food, there are Japanese nationals who make and sell futomaki rolls and Japanese-style sweets out of tiny holes in the wall. There are Italian-owned trattoria, French-owned patisseries and Austrian-owned bakeries selling just a small range of speciality products. Though Delhi’s own speciality is undoubtedly tandoori food, there is every cusine available, from afghan and Burmese to modern European and Latin American.
Japan on your plate
At the spectacular, eye-popping end of the spectrum is the city’s new show-piece, Megu at the Leela Palace New Delhi. Merely calling it a Japanese restaurant is akin to calling champagne a drink. Megu is a brand that encapsulates the best in Japan, and is showcased to the world in a few locations—there are only four other branches of Megu all over the world. Artistry is paramount, both in the food as well as the artifacts and the tableware. Thus, the colourful private dining room has what appears to be silk wall panelling. Then you are told that they are formed out of silk kimonos; that too, antique ones. The crystal Buddha in the central dome of the main dining space is positioned under a bell that is a prototype of the one in the Nara temple in Japan. What works best in Megu is the sheer range of dishes. From the nouvelle Wagyu Carpaccio and salmon tartar with Ossetra Caviar to vegetarian offerings that have been created by the hugely talented Chef Achal Aggarwal. When you enter this restaurant, you experience Japan.
Italian from New York
Leela palace New Delhi has two internationally renowned restaurants in it, the second being Le Cirque. Another New York brand, this embodies the cuisines of France and Italy. In the few months since its inception, this outpost of the famous New York restaurant has become the playing field of the city’s rich and famous. There are multiple seating options – near the show kitchen, in a private dining room, the main dining area or a side room set with tables for two, each one more grand than the last. It is interesting to see how brands morph as they travel. Le Cirque in New Delhi serves Italian food, and in that, it is the exact counterpart of the French food in the New York outpost: both have more to do with the signature style of Le Cirque than with the cuisine of either France or Italy. Take for instance the Bollinger risotto for which a bottle of Bollinger champagne is opened specifically for making the risotto, along with scampi, Osetra Caviar, mascarpone and roasted lime. You take a spoonful of risotto and combine it with one or more of the accompaniments, each yielding a different taste profile. It is identifiably a Le Cirque creation, the continent of its origin being incidental to the house style.
Chef Gresham Fernandes of smoke house room has taken to studying art. Not that he is planning to change jobs any time soon. His motivation is to see how the great artists of the world created a canvas. He wants his plates to be artistically presented so that they look as good as they taste. What makes the restaurant such a big deal is it’s almost totally degustation menu: a la carte is very much in the background. From the Gathering of Mushrooms that includes eight different types of mushrooms artfully arranged on a plate with two dips – garlic aioli and prune chutney – to seared scallop with Coconut and passion Fruit egg with Tapioca and Curried apple, each dish is a play of several tastes and textures put together by a master craftsman. smoke house room is part of a larger complex that includes a club, a bar and a barbecue terrace. The brainchild of maverick restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani, it exudes boho chic and has become a de rigueur stop for the swish set. The reason is not far to seek. Though the menu is creative and stylish, it is not pretentious at all. Rather, it has a touch of irreverence to it
a complete restaurant is one where the food and the mood match each other exactly. In the old days, red lanterns symbolised Chinese restaurants. Today’s restaurateurs have to have more tricks up their sleeves. Daniell’s Tavern, the existing Indian restaurant in Imperial hotel, has been re-launched, giving it a totally new identity. Uncle and nephew William and Thomas Daniell were both water colourists who visited certain parts of India during the period 1786-1791. Imperial Hotel has an important collection of colonial art, of which one of the most vital parts are the water colours from these regions. Daniell’s Tavern recreates the Daniells’ journey through the regions of Lucknow, Kolkata, Madras (as Chennai used to be known) and Coorg. It is a rather unusual spin on an Indian restaurant menu that it is woven around a series of lithographs and water colours, but that is indeed what drives the cuisine of this unique restaurant. It is not the easiest thing in the world to achieve what Daniell’s Tavern has set out to do. after all, the skills – and ingredients – that are required for cooking Lucknavi food are redundant in the case of Tamil Nadu’s cuisine and so on, which is why this feat is seldom attempted.
Flavours from the North
One kind of restaurant that is in short supply in Delhi is good old North Indian food. of recent years the idea of a North Indian restaurant had been considered clichéd. Simultaneously, the collective palate of the average customer in Delhi craved more novel options, so that it was unusual to see new North Indian restaurants open. Modern Indian yes, coastal Indian, most certainly, but suddenly North Indian had become the poor relative of Delhi’s dining scene. It is beginning to limp back to normal at last, and the best of the newly penned lot is spice art, in Rohini, hardly the traditional venue for great restaurants. The smart space in golden brown and ebony with metal pierced screens is the setting for the food of Amritsar, Kashmir and Lucknow. It is the only hotel restaurant in the capital that does Amritsari kulchas – somewhat like parathas, only far more faky. Served with Amritsari chhole, you will be hard pressed to believe that you are not in the neighbourhood of the golden Temple in Amritsar. Ditto for the Beetroot Roghan Josh – it is a challenge finding a version so authentic outside the Kashmir Valley. And did we mention their excellent rendition of chaat? It is already the most ordered dish on this menu.
Oriental with a twist
My Humble House is a concept that was conceived in Singapore and brought to Delhi. Like its Indian counterpart that is a mix and match of east and west, modern Chinese too uses ingredients and cooking methods from the Far east and the western world combined. Since its inception a few years ago, My Humble House has seen a stream of chefs all of who have left their impression on the cuisine. The newest chef, Joe Chua, has an individualistic way of interpreting the menu. His ingredients may come from all over the world, but his cooking methods are uniquely Chinese. Thus, this rather glamorous dining spot that overlooks the green belt of the city is the perfect vehicle for food that is a blend of the best of two worlds. While much of the menu includes favourites from the Singapore flagship, there are a few dishes whose popularity goes on and on. Chief among them are Wasabi prawns whose principal ingredient is not Chinese at all but Japanese! Chef Chua’s own imprint includes the tantalising Cheese and Bacon Fried rice. Leave all your expectations of a typically Chinese meal at the door of this uber stylish restaurant, have an aperitif on the terrace and get down to some serious clay-pot soup followed up by lobster with a whisper light sauce with a hint of five spice powder and have yourself a treat.
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