Covid has turned the world upside down. It seems to have upset our hospitality industry, bringing many restaurants to closure. But, look more closely. Have restaurants really gone for a toss or have the rules undergone a change? I have been out of Delhi from the time the lockdown started, and had returned for a couple of weeks. During that time, I ordered in on several occasions, wanting to help the industry of which I am a part, however tangentially. This is what I found.
A mere virus, however noxious, is never going to destroy our power of jugaad. Maybe the Government still has to come up with a helping hand, but landlords of individual restaurants, owners of malls and real estate barons all have lent a helping hand to their tenants. Five months on, most restaurants have done the math: a few have closed down; others are planning to open shortly (at the time of writing this in mid-August) and still others have re-opened and, despite tough laws (no alcohol, fewer customers thanks to social distancing norms and shorter hours of operation) still get customers. It is early days yet, and the number of customers is only going to grow, but meanwhile, home-delivery is where the action is currently at.
Varun Tuli of Noshi (9810023349) saw the writing as it appeared on the wall and lost no time in re-jigging the brand by sprucing up the packaging boxes with magnetic locks and bright colours. Frozen mochi that comes with its own ice-pad and a menu that caters to every taste, from desi Chinese delights like chilli chicken to delicate dimsum that, incredibly, stayed moist without losing their shape or becoming soggy, even after what I am assuming must be an hour’s bike ride.
Tuli has upped his packaging to the extent that it is, because he has gauged that for the next year, it will be his calling card, in much the same way that his restaurant interiors used to be, previously. He is also the pioneer of the Zoom party, where upto 200 people across 50 homes are sent the same food at the same time, across addresses. Then, the host, who has paid the bill, declares the party open and everyone tucks into the food and any liquid refreshment they may have at home, on Zoom!
Gurmeher Sethi of Ziu (9958677731) only went into delivery mode after studying the availability of ingredients and how they react to temperatures in the wok. He has had to marginally alter the cooking process to make sure that the food is that same that used to arrive at your table in his restaurants within seconds of leaving the wok. He works on a new menu every few days, taking into account vegetables like morning glory and banana blossom that are available for anything from three days to a week. He spares no effort: even his green curry bursts with pea aubergines and flavours that have obviously not come from a packet and his phad thai is piquant with the odd shard of raw mango or the umami crunch of a piece of juicy shrimp.
Nalini Moti Sadhu of Matamaal and son Hans Sadhu of Kanz Muhul, two joined-at-the-hip ventures of the family, sent us food one day (I hadn’t ordered but Nalini knows how much I love matsch and dum oluv). Hans slipped in a few well-sealed packets of spices that are commonly used in Kashmiri food, including one of whole aromatics (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, bayleaves) with single-use portions of the powdered spices, for making rogan josh, that I cannot wait to try out. The Matamaal food, the spices and the breads that accompanied them, especially the roath, are highly recommended. Roath is a slightly sweet, thick bread that is sent to friends on celebratory occasions. Call 9599966378
Pirates of the Grill have re-worked a few of their most popular dishes. Killer butter chicken: sour (tomatoes), sweet (cream), smoky (charcoal) and spicy (green chillies). Chicken tikkas were creamy and had a luxurious mouth-feel. Even the dal makhni had grains that burst on your palate. Extraordinary renditions of popular choices. Gurugram 9311601628 and Vasant Kunj 7428085102.
When no less a brand than The Oberoi Gurgaon gets into delivery mode, you know the game is inexorably changing. The menu I was sent featured Tangra Chilli Chicken, Kerala Fish Curry and Amritsari Chole, all of which I ordered. I have to say that their Healthy Eats section sounds the most interesting, particularly Cauliflower Rice. The young executive who delivered the food to my doorstep was fully equipped with mask, face shield and gloves. Everybody who came to the door in the last ten days has worn a mask; some have worn gloves as well.
At the other end of the scale are home cooks who, with an assistant or two, whip up simple, tasty, imaginative meals that replicate home food, so you can make one dish of the day at home and supplement it with a couple of preparations from, say, Assam or Orissa, depending where you live. Mayur Vihar has a former restaurateur, Utpala Mukherjee (9811157989), who cooks a few specials every week in addition to a dozen dishes on prior order. I tried her Lal Saag’er Chingri Maach and Malabar Chicken Curry. Each dish serves two persons, and has taste without a drop of excess oil. Everything, including the delivery, was within Rs 1,000.