Most restaurants are just that: commercial establishments, where a manager escorts you to your seat and a disinterested waiter takes you through the menu. Real estate in the NCR being what it is, no individual with a flair for cooking can ever hope to open a restaurant. There are very few exceptions to this rule: Zaffiro is one. Rachana Desai has been in the home catering business for almost two decades. She has run a restaurant for half that time – first in Khan Market, then in Mehar Chand Market. Her present venture is a polished avatar of the earlier places, with the element of home cooking as pronounced as it has ever been. Next door is the non-fuss style shop, Zaza. Neither Zaffiro nor Zaza has an iota of pretentiousness – refreshing in this day and age.
The new venture is in the accessible Zamrudpur area, but do check up whether or not Rachana is there: Zaffiro is very much the labour of love of a larger than life character, and when she’s not around, you don’t get the same buzz. Rachana Desai, rather than Zaffiro, dominates the scene; her loyal band of followers order off the menu, asking her to tweak dishes to their individual taste and Rachana is only too happy to oblige.
The menu is vintage Zaffiro. The Greek Cheese Salad (Rs 275) consists of tomatoes, black olives, iceberg lettuce, juliennes of carrot, steamed beans and onion rings, studded with chunks of hung curd that really does taste like Greek cheese. It is a large portion (the expression value for money was invented here) and it’s guilt-free eating. The one factor that could do with improvement is the cut of the vegetables: every dish I ordered had sliced tomatoes in it, whereas properly speaking the salad should have had tomato chunks. It is as if the kitchen were taking as many short-cuts as possible.
Zaffiro’s cuisine can be described as home-style Mediterranean, but it is not confined to mere geographical borders. There are a number of interpretations of dishes that you’ll get nowhere else but here. One example is Imperial Chicken. This is served as a main course with a salad, steamed vegetables and grilled (not fried) potatoes. What I had was the Imperial Chicken Sandwich (Rs 250), in which shredded roast chicken, flavoured with ginger, is combined with mayonnaise and used as a filling for sandwiches made with whole-wheat bread along with sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Few other restaurants would care about their diners’ health, but nothing here is deep-fried or oily. Even the potato wedges that are usually fried are grilled here.
The signature dish in Zaffiro is the Pot Roast Lamb with Mint (Rs 450) which I am told is a favourite from Khan Market days. It is superbly tender and succulent and is one of the finest dishes on the menu. Thinly sliced and drizzled over with a flavourful sauce (that had, however, little mint in it), it is highly recommended.
The desserts are outstanding. Lemon Pie (Rs 120) is the most melt-in-the-mouth offering. A creamy lemon-flavoured whip is poured over a barely there crust. It is like eating air. Even the Arabian nut cake (Rs 120) is simple yet effective: a dense sponge with a mild taste of honey, topped with zillions of slivered almonds.
25-26 Community Centre, Zamrudpur
Tel: 41052525, 41042525, 9811134085
Open from 12 noon to 10 pm
Alcohol licence awaited; credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 1000