By Sourish Bhattacharyya
PRIYA PAUL and panache are soul sisters. Whatever she does, whether checking out the biryanis served around Charminar or conceiving new concept hotels, the guardian angel of The Park keeps setting new style benchmarks. On Saturday (August 31) evening, she invited the who’s who of Delhi to a dining experience that’ll be talked about for a long time.
How many of you have dined under a table? Well, that’s exactly what we did for two hours at The Park New Delhi's magically transformed banquet hall, eating canteen-style, without name tags demarcating our places on the tables. It was a communal eating experience of a designer kind — jasmine, marigold and orchid arrangements, diaphanous white curtains, firm plastic chairs (I was scared mine would collapse under my weight, but thankfully it didn’t) — and I found myself sitting across Sunil Mittal and his wife, the porcelain-perfect Nyna, sympathising silently with the telecoms mogul for having to field complaints about call drops even at dinners!
On our long table, we had food writer Reshmi Dasgupta, media stars Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, ace corporate lawyer Ajay Bahl with his radiant wife Radhika, Guddu and Christine Patnaik, Madhu Trehan, the power behind www.newslaundry.com, Chandra Kant Birla, Avanti Birla, and Highway On My Plate hosts Rocky and Mayur. Other celebrities at the event included the nattily attired Minister of State for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia and his wife Priyadarshini, Priti Paul, Kalli Purie and Raj Singh, Shobhana and Shyam Bhartia, Hari and Kavita Bhartia, Pia Singh, Vikram and Seema Chandra, Amita Seth, artist Subodh Gupta, legal eagle Raian Karanjawala, fashion designers Suneet Varma, Malini Ramani and Abhishek Gupta, and PR ace Nikhil Khanna. With so many A-listers around, it was to be expected that the dinner would start half-an-hour later than the appointed hour!
Many of them knew each other, but others didn’t, yet we all kept talking as if we were old acquaintances. This is exactly what Marije Vogelzang, the Dutch ‘eating designer’ from Rotterdam who put this experience together, had said would happen. She said that when unknown people are thrown together in a dining experience, they start sharing, they start conversing, their inner child comes out. That’s an art we lost when we stopped having our meals around communal fires.
The menu prepared by Rajesh Radhakrishnan, Area Director (Food Production), The Park Chennai, matched the unusual setting. The accompaniments, from pickled vegetables and nuts to breads and luscious dips, were on the tables in tiered plates; each chair had a soft pillow and a small table cloth, which we had to place on our laps; and we had to pour water from bottles placed next to our chairs. These little elements heightened the sense of drama.
The dinner started with lobster fried in vermicelli batter, a mini duck puff pastry, a slice of pear and spun sugar (candy floss) served in a cocktail glass. The vegetarians got sweet corn, chickpeas, pear and spun sugar. Then came the quintet of grilled sea bass, Canadian scallop, crab cake, a divine caramelised walnut and cheese-stuffed Kashmiri morel, all served on a white tile. The vegetarians got samosa, beetroot dumpling and summer roll, apart from the last-mentioned two items. Then came the mind-blowing presentation of the evening: a bright red pepper serving as a bowl for corn-fed chicken kebabs dressed with truffle cream (or ‘zucchini-enrobed’ — delicious description — cottage cheese kebabs). And finally, the pots of lamb (or vegetable) risotto arrived, redolent of Indian flavours. The pots, sealed with spinach and red pepper rotis, were a treat for the weary eye.
For dessert, we had to come out of our under-table corners and just dig what was arranged on the tables. As accompaniments, we had coconut ice-cream served on halves of green coconuts and ‘molecular’ B-52s — heady spoonfuls of tiny pellets of Kahlua, Bailey’s and Cointreau. Of course, champagne flowed through the evening as if the world was running out of bubbly. It added sparkle to an evening that resonated with laughter and good humour. This is one dining experience we are not likely to forget in a hurry.