What do you get when you cross a bon vivant with a solitary translator of Ghalib’s poetry? You get maverick restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani. He has two sides to him. He is blessed with friends across the planet on one hand, yet on the other, he loves nothing better than to hole up in his study with volumes of Mirza Asadullah Ghalib’s poetry to uncover layers of meanings. It is these two facets that pull in opposite directions to make Amlani one of the country’s most prolific restaurateurs, with several brands that defy categorization. That is because his restaurants have a rare combination of vibe, great food and ambience.
The most recent among them is SmokeHouseRoom in Delhi. Conceptualized as a showcase for Chef Gresham Fernandes’ talent, Amlani could have gone the tried and tested way and set up a conventional restaurant with silk curtains and gold candelabra, but as anyone who knows him will testify, gold and silk leave him cold. Instead, the restaurant has a new-age look with no upholstery or fabric. It is just cold, bare white walls and furniture, softened with coloured lights that alter imperceptibly from time to time. With the quick realization of the translator’s mind, once Amlani figured out that the short form of Smoke House Room was SHRoom, he lost no time in making the connection between mushrooms and the décor.
No other restaurant in Delhi has a purely degustation menu, but once Amlani decided on creating a showcase for the prodigious talent of Chef Fernandes, a series of tasting menus was the only way forward. You can opt for a vegetarian menu, a non-vegetarian one and the full monty, with every type of meat from scallops to duck to tenderloin. Best of all, you can have each course – and there are nine in each menu – paired with wine. Not any old pairing, mind, but unexpected ones, like duck with Argentinian Malbec, Chilean Merlot or Italian Brunello rather than the standard (and unimaginative) Pinotage.
Gresham Fernandes has excelled himself with the menu. Every bit as playful as Amlani, his humour comes out in the combinations of the food in the dishes. Take seared scallop and passion fruit egg with curried apple and tapioca: the ‘egg’ is that only in appearance. The yolk is made with passion fruit pulp while the white is composed of coconut foam. It is painstaking putting together each component of the dishes on the menu, because even the vegetarian section is composed of several elements that take infinite time and trouble to create. In any other hand, it would have become an extremely pretentious dining option. Because of the irreverent touch of Messrs Amlani and Fernandes, it is a cheeky representation of molecular gastronomy and superior ingredients.