Westin Gurgaon is the new landmark hotel of Gurgaon, standing proud by the side of the expressway. Inside, the spaces are clean and contemporary. Right now, all that is open is Seasonal Tastes, a cutting edge all-day diner. The best part of the restaurant is the Lebanese spread on the buffet, which also features Indian and western, together with a tiny western selection.
It’s the Lebanese dishes that caught my fancy. The hummus had a tiny hint of lemon in it that tantalized my taste buds: everywhere else that I’ve had this quintessentially Middle Eastern cold starter, it has lacked any defining hint. Elsewhere on the Seasonal Tastes buffet, there was a roast lamb on a bed of pilaf, scattered about with dry fruits. Here at last was a genuine attempt to take Lebanese food places. I wanted to meet the star of the show, Chef Rimoun, but the first thing he had to say to me was to correct my terminology. He is not cooking Lebanese food, but Syrian food, he being from Syria. Safita, a coastal city, only 15 minutes away from Lebanon is his home and his cooking is derived from his mother and grandmother: traditional recipes, with only minimal styling.
Chef Rimoun, part of Syria’s Christian population (neighbours Lebanon and Jordan also have a Muslim and Christian population besides striking similarities in the cuisine) is not only intensely proud of the cuisine of his country, he is a complete purist who insists on obtaining traditional ingredients to cook his food. Dibs rumman (pomegranate molasses to you and me) is what imparts the subtly fruity, tangy flavour to much of this young chef’s cooking. He drove his executive chef mad trying to find lemon salt in India, before he agreed to make hummus. “In the Middle East, I would use much more. Here, I have to use less because of local acceptance.
Little does his executive chef know it, but he is about to go on another wild goose chase. Chef Rimoun is itching to expand his oeuvre and would like to make the Syrian signature salad, with rucola, parsley and za’tar leaves, in addition to chopped onions, tomatoes and sumac with a healthy dollop of olive oil. It’s the quintessential salad that is eaten in every home in the region with khubz bread. There’s only one hitch. Za’tar leaves are not available in Delhi, and Rimoun is not about to make the salad without them!