Saturday, 1 April 2017

Trident & The Oberoi Gurgaon Open New Entrance Gate; DLF Stretches Approach Road to Cyber Hub to Nudge Past 500m Limit in Liquor Ban Order. Ill-Advised Move, Says Industry.

With the Supreme Court not relenting on its
judgment banning the sale and service of liquor
within 500m of national and state highways, the
days ahead will see the Delhi and Haryana excise
departments embroiled in arguments over the
interpretation of the 500m rule with the affected
hotels and restaurants. 

  • No liquor sales allowed in the five NH-48 hotels -- The Oberoi Gurgaon, Trident Gurgaon, Westin, Crowne Plaza Today and The Leela Ambience -- and the Cyber Hub, Sohna Road and Sector-29 Market till a committee to be appointed by the Haryana Excise Department is able to earmark which of the hotels and restaurants are within the 500m Lakshman Rekha. It will include, I am told, representatives from the Department of Town Planning and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
  • The ban also spurred the Delhi Excise Department to ask ITC Maurya, Taj Palace, Hyatt Regency New Delhi, The Suryaa, Radisson Blu Plaza Mahipalpur, and the New Delhi Aerocity hotels to suspend their liquor sales. Restaurants in New Friends Colony, Friends Club and the iconic Indian Accent have also been barred from selling alcohol.
  • Representatives of the industry say the "ill-advised judgment" will not only deny thousands their daily livelihood, but also send wrong signals out to the world, which India cannot afford because of its already very low international tourist arrival count.
  • In a show of industry unity, Vikram Oberoi, President, Hotel Association of India, and Managing Director and CEO, EIH Limited, will address a media conference at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, along with representatives of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) and the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI).


The Trident Gurgaon and The Oberoi Gurgaon
shut down their main entrance gates and posted
security personnel on the pedestrian path skirting
the combined boundary wall with placards
pointing to the re-designated entrance at the
back -- the old staff entrance.  
WHAT THE learned judges of the Supreme Court had hoped would be a body blow to drunken driving on the national and state highways may just turn out to be the trigger for our collective talent for jugaad to find innovative ways to circumvent their order against the sale and service of liquor within 500m of national and state highways (and slip roads emanating out of them).Trident Gurgaon and The Oberoi Gurgaon, which are uncomfortably close to the National Highway No. 48 (formerly No. 8), have shut their regular entrance gates and turned their staff gate into their new joint entrance (the additional drive is less than five minutes). Likewise, DLF has extended the approach road to the Cyber Hub. The action may be following the letter of the Supreme Court judgment, but it may not hold ground when the final word on the most contentious part of the verdict is out.
Did the three honourable judges -- Chief Justice J.S. Kehar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud (the author of the judgment) and Justice L. Nagewara Rao, who not only have impeccable credentials and blemish-free track records, but are also non-political and forward looking -- use the expression "as the crow flies" or "motorable distance"?
Rahul Singh, owner of The Beer Cafe chain of beer bars, and General Secretary, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), who's the hotel and restaurant community's go-to person on legal matters, insists that "motorable distance" is the expression used. Using this argument, Singh maintained that the Cyber Hub restaurants are outside the purview of the judgment because they are located at a "motorable distance" of a kilometre and half away from NH-48. This became possible overnight because the turn that people normally would take to enter Cyber City has been blocked, leaving us with no alternative other than taking the U-turn farther away.
As the Delhi and Haryana excise departments went on an overdrive asking all hotel and restaurant operators in the immediate vicinity of the national and state highways to stop serving liquor from today (April 1), they were not very forthcoming about the interpretation of the judgment they would follow. But why should people go to such lengths to "legally" circumvent the Supreme Court's order? It is because the learned judges, while justifiably attacking the menace of drunken driving, have unwittingly hit at the hotel and restaurant business, whose patrons normally wouldn't include truckers, where it hurts the most.
  • The learned judges have made the playing field for the hospitality sector uneven by giving hotels and restaurants beyond the 500m barrier an unfair advantage. By stripping hotels within the 500m limit their right to serve alcoholic beverages, the judges unwittingly cast a shadow on their rooms business (for an international corporate traveller, moving into a hotel that doesn't serve alcohol is the equivalent of being asked to go to Saudi Arabia) and also the booming business of marriages, where liquor flows generously in the pre- and post-nuptial functions.
  • For restaurants, it means the end of the road, for it's an established fact that any restaurant that is not a part of a fast food chain, starts attracting footfalls only after it gets a liquor licence. Worse, all the affected restaurants in Delhi and Haryana have just completed paying for their annual licence renewals, which they assumed would be protected after the arguments articulated by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in their favour in the run-up to the judgment.
  • The learned judges have ignored one of the original intentions behind building the national and state highways, an idea dear to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. These were to be the arteries of a New India that were to spur the development of the hospitality sector, one of the biggest employers of people and generators of revenues for the national and state exchequers.
  • The learned judges have not taken into account the reasonably logical argument that drunken driving has less to do with the availability of liquor on the national and state highways, than with the poor enforcement of the laws. The Centre and the state governments have to answer for how much they have (or haven't) invested in making our highways safe. Why have they not created a strong network of well-equipped, well-connected highway patrol units with the power to take action against drunk driving and other violations of the traffic laws on the highways?
Banning the sale of liquor on the highways is the easy way out -- and there's an easy way of circumventing it, as people have shown in Gurgaon and Goa. In Goa, the owners of highway vends are just moving into the nearby villages to dodge the 500m rule. It's not physically possible for hotels and restaurants to relocate with such ease. They have to suffer in silence.

  • The fate of the Gurgaon hotels on the National Highway 48 -- The Oberoi, Trident, Westin, Crowne Plaza Today and The Leela Ambience -- hangs entirely on the yardstick -- "as the crow flies" versus "motorable distance" -- that the Haryana Excise Department will eventually use to interpret and implement the judgment.
  • Restaurants and bars on Sohna Road and some in the Sector-29 Market, which was fast growing into Gurgaon's microbrewery hub, are in trouble, the former because they are bang on the highway, and the latter, because of the PWD road leading up to the market from the national highway.
  • Sector-29 Market, which is owned by the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), can be saved only if the Haryana government, taking a leaf out of the Chandigarh administration, converts the connecting road into a district road, which make it outside the purview of the Supreme Court order. But is it too late for such an action?
  • The ban will of course affect the highway liquor vends the most. Ironically, the owner of a chain of these vends, Neeraj Sachdeva's Lakeforest Wines, most recently paid Rs 65 crore to the state government in an open bid for the exclusive right to sell alcoholic beverages in Gurgaon. Sachdeva must be ruing the day he made the bid.
  • Immediately across the border, the party seems to be over for the New Delhi Aerocity hotels. Measured from the national highway, these hotels, which have barely overcome the 'security clearance' surprise sprung upon them by the Delhi Police after they were ready to open a couple of years back, insist they are more than 500m away.
  • The Delhi Excise Department, though, is measuring the distance of these hotels from the service road that emanates from the highway. In the days ahead, one can foresee the excise department and the affected restaurants and hotels having lengthy arguments over the interpretation of the Supreme Court's order.
  • ITC Maurya, Taj Palace, Hyatt Regency New Delhi, The Suryaa, Radisson Blu Plaza Mahipalpur, and the New Delhi Aerocity hotels have been asked to suspend their liquor sales. Restaurants in New Friends Colony, Friends Club and the iconic Indian Accent have also been barred from selling alcohol.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Tonight, Don't Miss Worldwide Celebration of French Gastronomy -- 14 Delhi-NCR Restaurants Are a Part of It

Visiting Michelin-starred French chef Akrame Benallal with his counterparts from
the 14 Delhi-NCR restaurants participating in the worldwide Gout France dinner
being served by 2,000 chefs across 150 countries in five continents.
IN A WORLD where divisive politics rules the news, imagine people following discrete religions, speaking different languages and having varied skin tones united by the adhesive power of food. Tonight, 2.000 chefs across 150 nations in five continents will serve a French dinner at their restaurants in a one-of-its-kind celebration of a country that is synonymous with gastronomy and haute cuisine.
The Ambassador of France in India, Alexandre
(right), welcomes Michelin-starred chef 
Akrame Benallal (Restaurant Akrame, Paris), 
who's in New Delhi to curate the Gout France
dinner at the Embassy of France tonight. 

One keeps hearing that French cuisine doesn't have much of a following on our side of the world, yet India is No. 3 on the crowded world list of Gout France, or Good France, which is the name of the initiative being steered by the French Foreign Ministry with the legendary Michelin multi-starred chef Alain Ducasse since 2015. As many as 66 restaurants, including 14 in Delhi-NCR, are participating in Gout France this year, only after getting the seal of approval from an international committee of chefs. "The common point of this event," in the words of Ducasse, "is generosity, sharing and the love of what is beautiful and tastes good. It will be a delightful interlude and an opportunity to celebrate French cuisine worldwide."
French gastronomy, incidentally, is on the UNESCO list of the intangible heritage of the world and Gout France draws its inspiration from Auguste Escoffier, who launched the Dîners d’Épicure (Epicurean Dinners) initiative – the same menu, the same day, in several world cities and aimed at as many diners as possible – in 1912.
In Delhi-NCR, too, each of the participating restaurants, which include Le Bistro Du Parc, Qla, Olive Bar & Kitchen, Pluck at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity and Nostalgia at The Imperial, will serve a French menu tonight. And one of the lucky diners will be eligible for a trip for two to France being sponsored by the French tourism development agency, Atout France (for contest detail, go to Zomato).
The high point of the event, which sees 150 French embassies around the world pitching in, is a dinner being curated by 35-year-old Akrame Benallal, chef-owner of the Michelin two-starred Restaurant Akrame in Paris, who spent yesterday (March 20) afternoon with the chefs from the participating restaurants. A protege of Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria, whom he calls "the Rolling Stones of the kitchen", Chef Akrame, who likens his menus to fashion collections, opened his restaurant in 2011, got his first Michelin star within six months (a rare occurrence!). Today, he owns a fine-dining restaurant each in Paris and Hong Kong (which also has a Michelin star), two bistros in Paris, and a wine and cheese bar, also in Paris.
The Ambassador of France in India, Alexandre Ziegler, who's from Sauternes, home to the world's finest dessert wines in Bordeaux, and who owes his Germanic name to his Swiss great-grandfather who moved to Paris a century ago, clarified that French cuisine is not only haute cuisine. "People tend to believe that French cuisine is very expensive and quite complicated, but gastronomy can also be a daily life experience," Ziegler said. "My best culinary experiences have been in my grandmother's home, village cafes and bistros. You can travel across France only to discover its gastronomy."
Ziegler reminded me that France is the world's No. 1 tourist destination -- 86 million people visited the country in 2016 -- and the number of Indian visitors went up to 500,000 last year, representing a growth of 45 per cent over the last two years. More and more Indian visitors to France are showing a "growing interest" in "new experiences" -- and these include gastronomy and wine tourism.
Tourism, Ziegler said, is an essential component of people-to-people exchanges that bring nations closer to each other. "Partnerships between nations are not made only by diplomats signing MoUs," the ambassador added and shared three important bits of statistics:

  • More than 3.5 lakh Indian nationals are employed by French companies operating in India.
  • There's been a 20 per cent increase in the number of Indian students going to France for higher studies.
  • Around 250,000 French tourists visited India last year and whereas in the earlier years, 80 per cent of them would limit their itinerary to Rajasthan, today, they are exploring destinations in South India, especially Hampi, and old cities such as Varanasi.
Gout France may be a one-night affair, but it underlines one salient feature of the emerging world civilisation -- food brings people closer in a discordant universe.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Kejriwal Out, Sabina In: AD Singh's Second SBOW in 11 Months Launches Sandwich Sensation

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AD and Sabina Singh at the
soft opening of the second
Soda Bottle Opener Wala
(SBOW) at Khan Market
on Wednesday.
A YEAR AGO, no one could have imagined that an Irani cafe would take the city by storm, but AD Singh's Soda Bottle Opener Wala (SBOW) at the Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, set a new gold standard for Delhi-NCR when it had a 20-to-30-minute waiting daily in the eight-odd months it was without a liquor licence. A queue at a restaurant without 'real' liquid nourishment? Nope, it doesn't happen in Delhi-NCR. Well, it did -- at SBOW.
At a time when the sons of the owner of Mumbai's most celebrated Irani/Parsi restaurant, Britannia at Ballard Estate, are debating whether they should shut it after their 90-year-old father, Boman Kohinoor, hangs up his boots, SBOW breathed new life into a Mumbai institution that was dying out. That too, of all places, in Gurgaon, in whose long history dating back to the time when it was given away to Guru Dronacharya as a token of respect by his most worthy students, the Pandavas, the Parsis or the Iranis have been conspicuous by their absence.
It was with great anticipation therefore that we attended the 'soft' opening of Delhi-NCR's second SBOW at Khan Market, where an old favourite of restaurant of mine, Ginger Moon, used to serve some really good Chinese food -- good enough to make me want to keep going back to it. The evening had all the elements of an AD Singh party -- after all, he's the Richard Branson of Indian restaurateurs.
It had the right celebrity quotient -- media baroness Kalli Purie, fashion designers Rohit Bal, Leena Singh and Ashish Soni, and the evergreen Chetan Seth and Manya Patil, to name a few of the notables -- and just the dose of oomph that the doctor would order to light up an evening: a sprinkling of gori chicks and Dwayne Bravo, who had come to unwind with some of his teammates on the eve of India-West Indies ODI. And they were being served well by the inimitable team of Mohit Balachandran (a.k.a. Chowder Singh of the blogging world), who kept plying me with his version of the LIIT (naughtily named Babaji Ka Thullu!), Nikhil Alung, and the light of the SBOW kitchen, 20-something Anahita Dhondy, who won the Best Newcomer of the Year title at the Delhi Gourmet Club's Top Chef Awards.
The show-stopper, though, was what I have named Sabina's Sandwich. A simple boiled egg sandwich has never tasted better. And this one's going to put the famous Kejriwal Sandwich of Mumbai's Willingdon Club out of business. As Vikram Doctor, the food chronicler of the Economic Times, informed us a couple of years ago, the Kejriwal Sandwich owes its existence to a colourful man named Devi Prasad Kejriwal, who was the brother of gaming entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal's grandfather.
The absolutely stunning decor of SBOW,
Khan Market. complements its
well-established culinary reputation.

Coming from a conservative Marwari family, the older Kejriwal was forbidden to eat eggs, but he loved them, and he ensured he got them made the way he wanted them at his three favourite haunts: Willingdon Club, Cricket Club of India, and Kobe's, the sizzlers restaurant. The original sandwich, now also served at Theobroma, Mumbai's celebrated cafe-patisserie, consisted of cheese on toast, topped with a fried egg and sprinkled with chopped green chillies.
What, then, is Sabina's Sandwich? It is an invention of the life of AD Singh's world, his designer wife Sabina, that can make for a Sunday treat your children will love. It consists of two slices of bread, not toasted but lightly fried in oil and butter so that they are crunchy outside and soft within, with a thin layer each of butter and cheese spread to hold together the slices of hard boiled eggs and diced green chillies, their seeds removed to reduce their pungency but retain their flavour. You can add raw onion rings for an added crunch and dust the sandwiches with red chilli powder for extra bite. You need such soul food after a night fuelled by Babaji Ka Thullu.
I don't know what they call the sandwich on the menu, but the next time I am at SBOW, I'll ask for a Sabina and not a Kejriwal!

Friday, 17 October 2014

One Gurgaon Restaurant Sells More Wine Than All of Millennnium City's Five-Star Hotels Put Together

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN Ashish Kapur launched Yo! China with his business partners Ajay Saini and Joydeep Singh in 2003, I trashed their maiden outlet at a Gurgaon mall in Hindustan Times. Eleven years, many successes and some failures later, Ashish is richer, leaner and his passport is thick with visas of all the countries he and his wife Meghana have travelled as his restaurant business keeps growing. And I am where I am, tapping away on my computer, but nothing I have said or written had prepared me for the success of The Wine Company at the Cyber Hub in Gurgaon.
Meghana and Ashish Kapur strike
a pose at The Wine Company
during the launch of the online food
Image: Courtesy of Ajay Gautam
I met Ashish at the launch of Meghana (she, by the way, is named after the Bangladesh river by her father, who received the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery in the 1971 War) and her business partner Elisha's must-visit online food store,, and we had several pours of my favourite white, D'Arenberg's Broken Fishplate Chardonnay, followed by the incredibly smooth Oak Cask Malbec from the Mendoza Valley wine house Trapiche, and finally a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley (Rutherford) label, Frank Family Vineyards, which is owned by the Hollywood veteran and one-time Walt Disney Studio President, Richard Frank, whose son Darryl is now co-president of DreamWorks Television.
With such conversation-engine wines, plus the company of celebrated food critic Marryam Reshii, Ashish young wine diva, Kriti Malhotra, and food experience designer Chhavi Jatvani, and a couple of out-of-the-menu dishes prepared by The Wine Company's 27-year-old chef, Abhinav Sharma (I just loved his mushroom risotto and duck confit), it was not surprising that time just flew by. That gave me enough time to absorb the facts. The Wine Company, which I knew dishes out more pizzas daily than the California Pizza Kitchen, has sold more wine than all the five-star hotels of Gurgaon put together. And it has sold more bottles of Fratelli's Sette, my favourite Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, than any other restaurant in India. This is what industry sources I trust have told me.
This is the drinking culture that wine clubs and wine importers had set out to create, but were not able to do as successfully as The Wine Company. I asked Ashish how he managed to do it and he said he was able to successfully remove the "intimidation barrier" by first making wine affordable (The Wine Company, I am sure, sells more of the celebrated Super Tuscan, Tignanello, than any other restaurant in the country simply by pricing it, unlike five-star hotels, at sub-Rs 15,000) and then freeing the experience from the intellectual callisthenics associated with wine snobbery. And the beauty of it is that it's a replicable model.
Ironically, The Wine Company location went to Ashish after AD Singh, because of some vaastu considerations, turned it down for Soda Bottle Opener Wala. Not that SBOP has done badly, but the iffy vaastu seems to have served The Wine Company well. So, finally, we have a venue where young people can just enjoy wine without bothering about the aromas and the notes, and without burning a hole in the pocket. Unsurprisingly, it is teeming with guests even on Tuesdays, which are traditionally bad days for the restaurant business. Ashish says he works very hard for "prestige and profit" -- he has been able to get both in good measure from The Wine Company.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

I Have Moved from Blogger to My Own Dotcom

I cannot ever thank you enough for the overwhelming response that you, my readers, have given me and the faith you have placed in me. I have now moved from my present perch to my own new address, namely,, and I welcome you to click on it to keep finding out what's happening in the world of hotels and restaurants. I add something new almost every day. You'll also find all my old articles in the archives of my website, which will now be like the book of life. Keep support me with your page views. I love it!!!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Gaggan Shows India's Centurion Club How To Do 'All Things Unimaginable to Indian Cuisine'

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
YOU KNOW a great chef when you see him at work. He makes even the most complicated operation seem like Cooking 101.
Most chefs of the stature of Gaggan Anand -- one-time acolyte of the Spanish maestro Ferran Adria and the lead chef/co-owner of the world's highest-rated Indian restaurant, Gaggan of Bangkok (Asia's No. 3 and the world No. 17) -- do not venture into an unfamiliar kitchen to feed 30 world-travelled, potentially hyper-critical diners, all carrying the most precious, and prestigious, strip of anodised titanium -- the American Express Centurion Card.
Not many hours after the dinner, Gaggan Anand
put up a cookery demonstration for journos. You
can see him assembling his Matcha Ice-Cream
Sandwich with his 23-year-old associate, Sergi
Palacin Martinez from the Basque country.
On Thursday, September 4, Gaggan turned ITC Maurya New Delhi's Executive Club dining room, which is essentially used for breakfasts and cocktail hours, into a show kitchen that provided these 30 diners a ringside view of the effort and imagination he invests in his art. From hand-crafted, 180-euro tableware custom-made for him in Spain to wooden sake cups from Japan with his name carved on them, to sleek liquid nitrogen dispensers and mini portable frozen teppanyaki counters, Gaggan and his team -- one Indian, two Spaniards, one Frenchman and two Thai nationals -- have come armed for eight consecutive meals to show India's high and mighty what the genius from New Alipore with the flying ponytail and shaggy beard means when he says it is his dream to do "everything unimaginable with Indian food". All team members were required to pack their clothes and personal toiletries into their carry-on bags, all within the seven-kilo allowance, because there were 260 kilos of ingredients to be lugged.
The highlights of Gaggan's evening of dreams were the 'Indian foie gras' with bheja (goat's brain) mousse, the faux steak tartare for vegetarians with liquid nitrogen-chilled baigan bharta, 'false egg yolk' and vacuum fried onions, the sponge-like deconstructed dhokla served with coriander chutney foam and coconut ice-cream, which made hotelier Ranjan Bhattacharya (Country Inn & Suites) comment in jest that Gaggan would put Haldiram's out of business, and the 4G version of the Kheema Pav with minced lamb curry mousse at the centre of two dehydrated buns.
Even the 'Bird's Nest' is a work of inventive art made with what Bengalis call jhoori bhaja (fried potato shavings), chutney and 'egg' created out of a potato mousse sphere. And the idea of eating with one's nose blew my mind. Gaggan's Poor Man's Porridge (jasmine rice ice-cream and pistachio gel served with almond and rose 'glass') actually tastes different when you eat it with your nostrils blocked. Reason? You don't get to breathe the rose-flavoured room freshener that is sprayed when the ice-cream is sprayed. What you breathe does make a difference to what you taste.
In Gaggan's repertoire, technique is not allowed to transform taste -- jhoori bhaja tastes just like it should, as does the aloo chokha that fills in for the 'Indian foie gras' for vegetarians. Form, likewise, doesn't intervene in the interplay of flavours, so the gunpowder (or milagai podi in Tamil) expresses itself with all its fierceness, and the curry leaf powder adds its zest, when put in the company of poached fish (basa, unfortunately!), Basmati rice porridge (actually, a curd rice, or thair sadam, mousse) and tamarind sugar.
The same authenticity of flavours is evident in Gaggan's Down to Earth 'soup' -- asparagus, morels, mushrooms and artichokes with 62 degrees C egg yolk (if it's 63 degrees, it gets runny -- that's molecular gastronomy for you) and truffle chilli air. And in his Khichdi, or risotto made with nine-year-old rice, forest mushrooms, morels and fresh truffles with a hint of chilli (Gaggan's only concession to carb cravings), the distinctive presence of each ingredient plays on your senses and gets your neurons on overdrive.
The lamb chops were the only disappointment -- they seem to have come straight out of Bukhara and Gaggan, with an honesty and a complete absence of arrogance that we have come to associate with star chefs, promised to take up the matter with the hotel and not repeat the error again. We were too overwhelmed by the evening to really care about the lamb. Gaggan is a magician. He has you in his spell -- each course came with a story, which he narrated with a dose of his impish humour before the dish was served, and was an experience in itself. And he wowed the guests by personally serving each one of them. He's not only the master of the back of the house, but also an efficient manager of the front end.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gaggan Anand Sets Out to Reinvent the Cuba Libre at his 11-Course Theatre of Molecular Gastronomy for Centurion Card Holders

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A CULINARY team representing four nationalities -- Indian, Thai, Spanish and French -- is working overtime at the ITC Maurya even as I write this post to put together the first-ever Progressive Indian feast being curated by the inimitable Gaggan Anand in his mother country.
Gaggan Anand is all set to unveil
India's gastronomic event of the
year on September 4 in New Delhi.
The 11-course meal, priced at Rs 15,000 per person for owners of the American Express Centurion card, will feature items that are not on the menu of Gaggan's eponymous Bangkok restaurant ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the world. These are being created especially for the two-city (Dellhi and Mumbai), eight-dinner event, facilitated by Mangal Desai and Nachiket Shetye's Cellar Door Kitchen. Among them will be a drink that Gaggan proudly calls the Indi Libre. An exciting take-off from the Cuba Libre, the concoction consists of the famous rum that Gaggan appropriately describes as "Rocky Mohan's Old Monk", ginger, kala namak and Thums Up (a far better choice, I believe, than the standard, sweeter Coke).
I met Gaggan at the hotel's 28th Floor Executive Lounge, where he'll present the four back to back dinners starting from Thursday, September 4. A bundle of positive energy sporting his trademark unkempt ponytail, Gaggan talked excitedly about the 250 kilos of ingredients that he and his team had carried with them from Bangkok to New Delhi. These include fresh yuzu and wasabi and one of Japan's best sake from Tokyo, fresh coconut milk extracted out of burnt Thai coconut from Bangkok, and white asparagus from Chiang Mai. For his genre-defining white chocolate paani poori, he contacted Cocoberry's Asian region head and got her to source for him the world's best white chocolate shells. And he has also brought along his dehydrator, his liquid nitrogen mixing bowls and a host of other gizmos from his kitchen, apart from customised Gaggan-endorsed sake cups made in Japan.
Foie gras was the only favourite ingredient of his that Gaggan could not get. "But why has the government issued a blanket ban on foie gras?" he asked -- and added: "Not all foie gras is extracted out of force-fed geese. I get my supplies from the Spanish ethical farmer, Eduardo Sousa, who produces the world's best foie gras without force-feeding his birds." At Gaggan's restaurant, no farmed fish is allowed and 70 per cent of the fresh ingredients used are organically grown.
Gaggan's 11-course meal will be more or less carb-free, so there'll be no "naan breads", he warned, though a truffle oil risotto will take care of carb cravings of the guests. Among Gaggan's exclusive creations for this series of meals is a drink he has named Yos (Japanese for 'drunk') Samurai -- it comprises an exclusive sake, umezu (pickled plum 'vinegar') and fresh juice of a yuzu, the tart citrus fruit that physically looks like a small grapefruit. Coconut lassi is the other one, but the matcha (green tea) ice-cream sandwiches with a topping of freshly grated wasabi are designed to take the privileged diners by surprise.
For Dalal, who first met Gaggan two years ago when both were in Copehagen for an internship at Rene Redzepi's Noma restaurant, and Shetye, it's the first big step towards "taking Indian cuisine to the world". Of course, they had their moments of fun (and creative tension) -- "our WhatsApp exchanges, if not R-rated, are certainly Not Safe For Work!" Dalal said with a chuckle -- but they were surprised by the spontaneous interest in the event. "We didn't have to scream and shout that Gaggan is coming," Shetye said about the response to the sold-out event. "I am surprised by the buying power of Delhi," Gaggan added.
Unsurprisingly, Dalal and Shetye are planning four pop-up events next year. Gaggan has already mentally mapped out his next outing in India -- a picnic brunch at a Himalayan resort with freshly sourced local ingredients (you can't get any cooler than that!). With such electric excitement in the air, it was hard to let Gaggan get back to work. He returned to the kitchen with one worry hanging over his head. Would all his guests arrive sharp at 8? Forewarned about Delhi's habit of being always fashionably late, he said with a degree of finality: "Those who come late will have to start at the course that is being served." Consider yourself cautioned.

Monday, 1 September 2014

An Indian Revolutionary's Curry That Our Vegetarian PM Couldn't Savour in Japan

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

BEING VEGETARIAN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won't get to savour one popular Japanese dish that continues to be celebrated as the everlasting legacy of an Indian revolutionary who prepared the ground for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. Indo Karii, or chicken curry served with rice and pickled vegetables, is the name of the dish and it is still the best-seller at Shinjoku Nakamuraya, the Tokyo restaurant where the riveting story that started with a bomb attack on a British
A studio picture shot in Tokyo of
Rash Behari Bose and his Japanese
wife, Soma Toshiko, whose parents
owned Nakamuraya, a famous
bakery in Shinjoku, where the
fugitive revolutionary introduced
the Japanese to 'real' Indian
chicken curry
viceroy ended in its invention.
Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945), whose memory survives in the name of an important arterial road in Kolkata, was the head clerk at the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun when he came in contact with leaders of revolutionary groups active in Bengal and Punjab. Inspired by them, he participated in the conspiracy that resulted in a bomb being hurled at Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, the British viceroy responsible for the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, on December 23, 1912.
The viceroy escaped with minor bruises and Bose's role in the conspiracy was never established by the British Raj police (Bose, to cover his tracks, is said to have even organised a public meeting in Dehra Dun condemning the attack!), although three revolutionaries named in the bombing -- Basant Kumar Biswas, Master Amir Chand and Avadh Behari -- were hanged to death. Bose's involvement with revolutionary groups eventually came to the knowledge British intelligence agencies, leaving him with no option but to flee the country.
Bose landed in Japan in 1916. It wasn't the best thing to do, for World War I was on and Japan had allied itself with Britain, but he found a powerful supporter in the ultra-nationalist politician, Toyama Mitsuru, who belonged to the secretive Genyosha society. The Bangladeshi Tagore scholar, Probir Bikash Sarkar, who first brought to light the connection between Bose and Indo Karii, shared the story in an interview with The Sunday Guardian newspaper last year. (
The Japanese police were on Bose's trail, but they were wary of raiding the house of a politician as influential as Toyama, though they were certain that he had provided shelter to the fugitive revolutionary in his home. Toyama eventually asked his good friend, Soma Aizo, and his wife Kokkou, who owned a popular bakery named Nakamuraya in the Shinjoku entertainment district, to hide Bose in an attic in their home above the store. It was Toyama again who prevailed over the couple to get their daughter, Soma Toshiko, to marry Bose.
Toshiko succumbed to tuberculosis in 1925, leaving behind a son, who later died fighting the Americans in Okinawa, and a daughter, who inherited the store but stayed away from the limelight. The Indian son-in-law did not wish to be a freeloader, so, even as he continued with his espousal of the cause of his home country's independence, he suggested to his in-laws that he would start selling chicken curry, cooked with authentic Indian spices and not English curry powder, with rice.
Before Bose came on the scene, the Japanese, as the Indian-Canadian cookbook writer and blogger (Curry Twist), Smita Chandra, cooked curry the British way: "meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, and the mixture simmered slowly". ( Bose did it the way he had had it at home and he would make it a point to taste the curry before it went to his patrons. His creation was an instant hit and Bose even partnered with Japanese farmers to grow long-grained rice and chickens needed for it.
Japanese newspapers of his time were full of stories about 'Bose of Nakamuraya' and his curry, which they christened "the taste of love and revolution". Bose established the Indian Independence League, convinced the Japanese to allow Indian POWs to form the Indian National Army and paved the way for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose taking charge of the rebel force. His comrade was the engineer Aiyappan Pillai Madhavan Nair (1905-1990), fondly remembered as Nair-san in Japan, who served as Netaji's valet. After World War II, Nair went on to establish Japan's first Indian restaurant at Ginza in Tokyo.
The restaurant, which opened its door in 1949, continues to be famous (as we learn from the Tokyo edition of Time Out magazine) for "its 'Murugi Lunch', a hearty meal that includes mashed potato, boiled cabbage and a curry that's been simmered down along with a leg of chicken (which contains meat so soft that it practically falls off the bone the moment you pick it up) for an incredible seven hours". The magazine goes on to say: "You'll probably want to tuck in as soon as arrives at your table, however, the recommended way to enjoy this fantastic meal is to grab a spoon and mix everything -- which includes a portion of turmeric-flavoured rice made with Iwate prefecture rice -- together." (
Bose, ironically, was sidelined by the Japanese war-time leadership in favour of Netaji and he died, like his wife, from tuberculosis in 1945. Two days later, his home was reduced to rubble in bombing by the Allied forces. He may have been forgotten in his home country, but his chicken curry remains alive in the popular imagination of his adopted home. It is served at Shinjoku Nakamuraya -- and it is present on every supermarket shelf in the form of packed ready-to-eat meals.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

An Ode to the Unputdownable Hainanese Chicken Rice at K3's Singapore Street Food Fest

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN the JW Marriott became the first five-star hotel to open at the New Delhi Aerocity, we were wondering how it would make money, especially because it had opened with just half of its rooms, the other half awaiting clearance security clearance from the Delhi Police.
Fortunately for it, in a market where weddings are getting bigger by the minute, the hotel got some big banqueting assignments and its F&B team emerged with its reputation intact in this baptism
Hainanese Chicken Rice stood out among
the Singapore street food preparations on
 offer at K3, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity.
by fire. And it was able to buttress its reputation with the quality of the buffet at its all-day restaurant -- K3. Executive Chef Girish Krishnan achieved it with the help of his two stars -- the Italian Chef Daniele Trivero and the Malaysian Dilliwallah Thomas Wee (who, sadly, has left K3 to oversee the high sea kitchens of an offshore oil exploration company) -- and the front-of-the-house team led by the mild-mannered Tarun Bhatia with his ever-smiling dynamo, K3's Restaurant Manager Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla. Its only weak spot is its Indian kitchen, which is badly in need of a new direction.
K3's strength is the flexibility of its design, which enables it to organise specialised food festivals, like the one showcasing Singapore's street treats, which concludes today (Sunday, August 31). Some time back, K3 hosted a Bohri food promotion, which I missed because I wasn't in the city (and it got very good reviews too), so I made sure I didn't miss the Singapore street food festival. What drew me to it was the fact that it was being curated by John Chye of the Singapore Marriott Hotel and that the young chef is from Penang. You can't get two better good food destinations than Penang and Singapore, and Chef Chye's spread draws on the best of both worlds.
The Singapore spread is quite extensive, yet there wasn't one dish, from the popiah (fresh spring rolls) to the braised aubergine, that fell below my expectations. If you're a carnivore, you can make a meal out of the seafood laksa, braised duck with tofu skin in soy sauce, fish in spiced tamarind gravy and, my favourite, Hainanese Chicken Rice. You can judge the real worth of a Singaporean chef, in my view, by his or her ability to dish up the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice. Chef Chye cleared my test with distinction.
His Hainanese Chicken Rice is a study in fine balance. The slivers of chicken, which are icy white because the whole chicken is dipped into icy water after it has been steeped in bone stock, are served with a helping of rice cooked in the same broth in which the chicken is steeped, pieces of cucumber dipped in chicken broth, and a hot dipping sauce made with minced chillies and garlic, topped up with soy. The dip breathes life into the slivers of silken chicken and rice cooked in broth tastes like something special. It take a bad chef to complicate this dish; an expert hand knows how much of human intervention is needed to let the ingredients and cooking methods speak for themselves.
The guardians of K3 must make the Hainanese Chicken Rice a lasting feature of their Sunday spread. That would be a befitting tribute to the talents of Chef Chye.

-- The Singapore Street Food Festival's Sunday Brunch is priced at Rs 2,500++ (without alcohol), Rs 3,000++ (with alcohol; no champagne) and Rs 4,200++ (with free-flowing champagne).

Saturday, 30 August 2014

THE NEWS BRIEFLY: Le Cirque's Star in Exit Mode; Vella Ramaswamy Heads Home; Vikramjit Roy Returns with Nian; and a Greek Skydeck

Mickey Bhoite is heading back
to Florence leaving his Royal
Enfield for the highest bidder
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DELHI'S five-star hotels are heading for a churn because of exits by familiar faces and entrances by new arrivals.
The big news is that Le Cirque's Abhay Singh 'Mickey' Bhoite is going back home to Italy, where he plans to settle down in Florence (closer to his collection of more than 60 venomous snakes, who are now in the custody of his mother). That'll be a big blow to The Leela Palace New Delhi (a little bird informs us that Bhoite's deputy, Federico Tucci, is exiting as well) because Le Cirque's reputation owes a lot to Bhoite's personality and style of cooking.
Royal Enfield enthusiasts, though, are waiting for the opportunity to bid for Bhoite's custom-made motorbike, which comes equipped with mind-blowing woofers. Bhoite and his young colleague, Vaibhav Roy, team up together with friends as often as they can and hit the highways. People who know the motorcycle (known as the Highway Queen) say it is in sparkling condition and Bhoite is reportedly asking for Rs 4 lakh for the beauty.
Vella Ramaswamy may not have burnt rubber on highways, but the Mauritian who grew up in Australia is the only expat general manager I know who has seen two hotels in Delhi-NCR come up under his guardianship from the bhoomi pujan to the first guest walking in.
As the opening general manager of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon (now known as The Leela Ambience Gurgaon), he got the hotel off the ground at a rather difficult time for the global economy and successfully established Spectra as one of Delhi-NCR's foremost restaurants. Then, as the founding father of the Kempinski Ambience Hotel Delhi, he turned its locational disadvantage on the head and took full advantage of the size of its banqueting area to make it the go-to destination for mega business providers in the MICE (Meetings Incentives Conventions Exhibitions) segment. The hotel is also a favourite of wedding planners and has seen many a Big Fat Bania Wedding take place with a no onion, no garlic vegetarian spread laid out for 1,000-plus guests.
Vella Ramaswamy gave Delhi-NCR
to hotels, but is now returning to
home city Melbourne
Puneet Singh is back in Delhi after
spending 20 years with Kempinski
Hotels in eight countries
Ramaswamy's time is up. The affable hotelier with a brilliant sense of humour is going home to Melbourne and he is in the process of handing over charge to a Delhiite, Puneet Singh, who is returning to his home city after putting in more than two decades with the Kempinski hotels in eight countries. After completing his hotel management studies in Germany, Singh got selected to Kempinski's four-year management training programme, which took him to Germany, the U.S. and Turkey. Thereafter, the polyglot roving hotelier, who's fluent in six languages, spent six years gaining F&B operations experience in culturally diverse markets, then held leadership positions at Kempinski hotels in China, Tanzania, UAE, Russia and Egypt, and even in the midst of all this movement, got his Executive MBA from the top-rated Reims Management School, France. Before his transfer to Delhi, Singh was the General Manager of the Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel at the Bahrain City Centre.
In other developments, Sevilla at The Claridges has been shut for its annual refurbishment; it is expected to open in October-end. I can't wait to see what Executive Chef Neeraj Tyagi and his deputy, Rajiv Sinha, have up their sleeves for the new Sevilla. Vikramjit Roy, who Delhiites remember from his days at Wasabi by Morimoto, is returning to the rooftop of ITC Maurya to open an 'Asian Cooking Studio' named Tian. The restaurant will replace My Humble House, which never came close to the popularity of Bali Hi. An IHM-Taratolla graduate, Roy opened Pan-Asian at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai about a year ago and became an instant superstar in a city that hadn't been exposed to his genre of fine dining.
And of course, The Leela Ambience Gurgaon is taking a leap of faith by turning its poolside into a 69-seater restaurant, Skydeck Lounge, with a Greek menu washed down by ouzo, the anise-flavoured aperitif, and retsina wines, which have a more than 2,000-year-old history. It is the first five-star hotel to tread into this unfamiliar territory. I hope it's not the only one taking this plunge.

Progressive Indian Cuisine's Foremost Exponent Gaggan Anand to Curate Rs 12,500-Per-Head Meals for India's Most Exclusive Club

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

GAGGAN ANAND was a little-known chef when he left India to take up a job at a restaurant named Red Bangkok in a city where he's now among its culinary superstars. On September 2, Kolkata-born Gaggan, whose eponymous restaurant in Bangkok is ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the
Gaggan Anand at work in the 'laboratory' of his
eponymous restaurant located in one of
Bangkok's upscale neighbourhoods.
world, will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport for his first professional assignment in Delhi, where he once fed Bill Clinton during his days as a junior chef at Orient Express. And he'll be laying out an 11-course tasting menu for India's most exclusive club -- the uber-wealthy people who possess the American Express Centurion Card.
"I will recreate the Gaggan experience as much as possible with the ingredients available in Delhi and Mumbai," the chef said on phone from Bangkok. On many occasions, Gaggan has said that it is dream to launch a restaurant in Mumbai. Will his Indian experience bring him closer to his dream? That's a question up for speculative answers.
No bank in the country has taken the entertainment of its key customers to this level. But then, the people who own the anodised titanium card, famously known as the Black Card, are in a league of their own. Amitabh Bachchan is the owner of one and so are members of the Bhartia, Burman, Godrej, Munjal and Oberoi families. The charge card comes with annual fee of Rs 2.5 lakh and a joining fee of Rs 2 lakh, with there's no spending limit globally. Unsurprisingly, a Centurion card holder bought a Bentley with the world's most hallowed piece of titanium.
Arriving with his team of chefs and sommeliers, the Master of Progressive Indian Cuisine, who's the only Indian to have interned under Ferran Adria at El Bulli, will curate eight meals, four at the ITC Maurya and the remaining four at the Four Seasons Mumbai. Each wine-paired meal, according to sources, has been priced at Rs 12,500 per person.
Cellar Door Kitchen, a platform for pop-up restaurant events founded by Mumbai-based culinary consultants (and creators of Citibank Restaurant Week India) Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye, is the organiser of this eight-day event, which promises to a set a new benchmark for food events across the country.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Restaurant Bigwigs Bet Big on Home Deliveries and Takeaways, Airport Retail and Promised Turnaround of Railway Stations

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Indian Restaurant Congress 2014, organised for the fourth successful year by Franchise India, opened at the Vivanta by Taj in Faridabad with the overarching theme of 'Think Global, Eat Local' and the inaugural speaker, Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman, drove home the point by stating how just one innovation -- the introduction of masala papad as a side dish -- drove the per outlet sales of Punjab Grill up by Rs 2 lakh a month in Delhi/NCR.
Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman gave
an insightful start to the Indian Restaurant
Congress 2014 with his analysis of the challenges
and future growth areas of the restaurant industry.
Innovation. Consistency. Localisation. These were the buzzwords that kept coming up in the presentations by the leaders of the industry as they looked into the crystal ball to predict the trends that would define their business in the years ahead.
Burman started his talk by listing the "continual challenges" -- higher-than-ever real estate, ingredient and personnel costs -- which have confronted the industry since the past year. Food inflation peaked at 20 per cent in November 2013 and energy cost went up on average by 11 per cent, Burman added. He listed four strategies to find a way around these challenges: smart menu engineering, efficient real estate use, smart hiring and tighter cost controls.
"We earn for the government, real estate owners and banks," Burman said on a light note, adding that taxes sliced off 20 per cent of the margins of a restaurant business, and rents as well as repayment of bank loans with interest accounted for another 30 per cent. What he mentioned in passing, though, is an even bigger challenge. Indians still do not eat out as much as their counterparts in south-east Asia, for instance. Though we eat out twice as much as we used to in the recent past -- eight times a month, compared with four in the past -- we are way behind the residents of Hong Kong (3.2 times a day) and Singaporeans (41 times a month).
In this tight market, how can restaurant operators make money? For Lite Bite Foods, which has become a benchmark-setter in the restaurant retail business, the future is in airport retail, which, according to Burman, offers more consistent footfalls and growth than malls or the high street. The company is now looking at food courts at next-generation railway stations, as visualised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the next big growth avenue. "More and more travellers are eating on the go," Burman pointed out.
Home deliveries and takeaways were the other growth drivers highlighted by speaker after speaker. Discussing the Yo China growth model, the 51-outlets-and-growing restaurant chain's CEO, Ashish Kapur, said that home deliveries and takeaways accounted for 40 per cent of its revenues, providing a cushion to the dine-in side of the business. A sound logic drives this mixed growth model: You're paying rent for the entire day, so why don't you make your most expensive asset sweat harder! "Maximise business, reduce transaction costs," Burman said, pointing to the obvious benefits of this mixed growth model.
K.S. Narayanan, CEO, Pan India Food Solutions, whose brands extend from Copper Chimney to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Spaghetti Kitchen, made a strong pitch for "constantly innovating in the way we cook, serve, deliver and communicate". He made three points that the industry can ignore only at its peril:
* Food is very local, very culturally driven (hence, the new buzz phrase, 'eat local').
* Taste is an important driver of consumer preferences (hence, the salience of consistency).
* Consumers are becoming critics (hence, the paramount importance of communications).
Everyone talks about consistency, but it's easier said than done. For a single restaurant, it may mean, as Saurabh Khanijo, the man behind the successful trio of Kylin, Kylin Premier and Sartoria, put it: "standardisation of recipes and regular audits" to ensure that the recipes are followed without deviation. Kapur at once gave the audience a reality check.
Consistency of the quality of food that is served at a restaurant depends entirely on the consistency of supplies and the consistent quality of ingredients, which are both big challenges. The supply chain, likewise, is dependent on the efficiency of the transport network and the consistency of temperature control, which are both logistical nightmares.
Kapur said that in an ideal world, it would make economic sense to prepare at a central commissary and transport the thousands of dim sum consumed daily at the many Yo China outlets in Delhi/NCR (all that these would then require is steaming or frying once orders are placed), but this enterprise would require a "chilled chain", which is a dream in our country as we still struggle to put a cold chain in place. In an imperfect world, it's not easy to be a restaurant operator, but the growth rates are too tempting for any entrepreneur to ignore.