Thursday, 31 October 2013

GOURMET TRAVELLER: Luxury Yachting Holidays Drop Anchor in India

This article first appeared in the Traveller section of the Delhi/NCR edition of Mail Today dated 31/10/2013. Unfortunately, there's no weblink to this article.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

SeaDream Yacht Club's Indian corporate
chef and president of the company's
Indian operations, Sudesh Kishore
THE docking of the luxury yacht SeaDream II in Mumbai this past Sunday opened a new chapter of sea travel from India. Unlike cruise ships, which are like little cities trawling the high seas and are fast becoming a popular vacation option, SeaDream "recreates the experience of travelling in a billionaire's yacht," explained the Miami-based company's vice-president for voyage planning, James Cabello.
The number of passengers on board is limited (112, compared with 3,000-4,000 on a standard cruise liner), service is personalised (you can even have your own Balinese dream bed on the top deck to make your honeymoon a little different), the dress code is informal (no tuxes, no gowns), the amenities are from Bulgari, and the gourmet menu designed by Sudesh Kishore, the company's Indian corporate chef who doubles as president of SeaDream Yacht Club's Indian operations, has scored a perfect 100 on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List. Interestingly, the SeaDream kitchen team has four Indian chefs and they include the pastry chef.
The two SeaDream mega yachts, in operation since 2001, are owned by self-made Norwegian entrepreneur and former Cunard Line chairman Atle Brynestad.
On its inaugural Asian journey, SeaDream II travelled from Athens to Mumbai, from where it headed to Goa, Kochi, Colombo, Port Blair, Phuket, Langkawi and finally to Singapore, where the mega yacht will drop anchor on November 9. At Singapore, the vessel will be rested for four weeks and undergo a $4 million refurbishment that will see all its woodwork and linen being replaced for the next voyage to Perth and Melbourne.
SeaDreamII anchored off the Indira Docks at the Mumbai
Port Trust at the start of its first Asian cruise from Mumbai
to Singapore via Goa, Kochi, Colombo, Port Blair, Phuket
and Langkawi. The yacht will reach Singapore on Nov. 9.
As Cabello took us on a guided tour around the glittering staterooms of the 105m yacht anchored off the Indira Docks at the Mumbai Port Trust, I couldn't help but notice the blue-blooded red wines--the Super Tuscans Solaia and Tignanello and the Bordeaux First Growth, Chateau Mouton Rothschild--that welcome guests on board as they walk into the stately yet intimate dining room. With the price being all-inclusive (on board the yacht, you have to pay only for the spa treatments, the casino and purchases made from the duty-free shop), I calculated that a couple travelling on SeaDream can actually recover most of their investment by merrily consuming these reds or helping themselves liberally at the 'champagne and caviar splash' that is organised at every port.
The ingredients for the elaborate menu, which fuses American, European and Asian elements, are brought fresh off the ports and the menu changes according to what's in season--at the Indira Docks, we had salmon, chunky shrimps and langoustines that had travelled with the yacht from Holland. And the fitness activities on board--from tai chi classes to the golf simulator--will help you shed the excess flab that you're likely to add because of the constant presence of good food.
Gitanjali Balani, Director, InRhythm, and SeaDream's India representative, said the cost of a six-day journey works out to Rs 6 lakh for a couple, but the Indian clientele is opting for longer voyages. A Mumbai couple have chosen to celebrate their silver wedding jubilee by taking one of SeaDream's cruises on the Amazon. A Hyderabad real estate developer has invited Balani to help him and his close friends plan a holiday together on a SeaDream yacht.
"When my potential clients, who are all high net-worth individuals (HNIs), hear about the all-inclusive fare, they can't believe there are no hidden costs," Balani said. She pointed to an interesting aspect of the price structure. If you book early for a SeaDream cruise, as in the case of an airline, you can actually get a special price (as opposed to the brochure price), which can be 45-55 per cent cheaper. Will these temptations be enough for the idea of bespoke yachting holidays to catch on? Balani is confident that the market is ripe for this new brand of sea travel.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Saravana Bhavan Tops Table in Delhi Gourmet Club's 'Dosa Dance' Led by Facebook Phenom Atul Sikand

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WITH THE migrant population from the south finding employment in growing numbers at government institutions, a band of enterprising Udipi dosawallahs moved to Delhi to make their fortunes by serving them from the back of bicycle-drawn carts. They served the office-going crowds, took over canteens at such
bastions of the Capital's southern population as the Press Trust of India, which for years has been jocularly called the Palghat Trust of India, and got migrant Punjabis addicted to the lightly spicy potato-packed crepe that everyone knows as the masala dosa.
This is one vegetarian preparation (along with the accompanying sambhar and chutneys) whose mass appeal cuts across linguistic and economic barriers. The masala dosa is ubiquitous, and has held its ground even after the onslaught of fast food and Barbeque Nation, in the Republic of Butter Chicken. What the southern superstar Rajnikanth couldn't do, the humble masala dosa has achieved--it has invaded Delhi. The credit for making the dosa a sought-after speciality must go to a runaway boy from Udipi who started his life as a dishwasher in a canteen before going on to establish the Sagar-Swagath restaurant empire. The hero of this rags-to-riches story is Jayaram Banan. He was the one who made the Punjabi gentry of Defence Colony discover dosas in the days when he used to make them himself on his bicycle cart at a tree-shaded spot right opposite the location of the original Sagar Ratna, which Banan opened in the neighbourhood market in 1986.
As his business empire grew (the majority stake of the chain, valued at Rs 200 crore, was picked up by the New York-based portfolio management firm, Indian Equity Partners, in 2011), the quality of his dosas became uneven. I blame it on rapid expansion and indifferent franchisees, and now the media is agog with reports of differences erupting between Banan, who's still chairman of Sagar Ratna Restaurants, and Indian Equity Partners.
With so much happening in the world of dosas, it was to be expected of the Delhi Gourmet Club (DGC) to set off on a 'Dosa Dance' across the city to zero in on the best. The jury consisted of well-travelled DGC members from different walks of life--a travel industry professional, for instance, who used to run a cooking
The Delhi Gourmet Club's jury rated the Saravana Bhavan's
dosas as the best in the city. It scored 39.33/50, 0.33 points
ahead of Tamil Nadu Bhawan, which was at No. 2.
Image: Courtesy of
school in France, an international lawyer, a senior Times of India executive, an editor with Bloomberg, and a management consultant with strong views on the provenance and authenticity of dosas.
The leader of the jury was Atul Sikand, who has become a Facebook phenomenon--his global recipe-sharing page, Sikandalous Cuisine, now has 10,000 (and counting) followers. With a leader like Sikand, it was to be expected of the jury to be tough with its assessments.
Sure enough, none of the 10 restaurants shortlisted for the Dosa Dance scored above 39.33/50. I wish, though, that they had more on the list, such as the United News of India canteen behind the Planning Commission building; Kausstubh at DLF Place, Saket; Southy on Aurobindo Marg (near Adhchini); and the mithai shops Anupam Sweets (Greater Kailash, Part II) and Evergreen (Green Park). It would have given us an idea of the variety available across the Capital. Also missing were restaurants from Karol Bagh and Mayur Vihar, which have major concentrations of migrant populations from the south.
The jury clearly wasn't impressed by the credentials of the shortlisted restaurants. Upsets naturally were to be expected.
Sagar Ratna, the original and not some franchisee outlet, finished a lowly seventh in a field where a minuscule 0.33 points separated the winner (Saravana Bhavan, Janpath) and the first runner-up (Tamil Nadu Bhavan, Chanakyapuri, which was clearly the surprise of the pack). Carnatic Cafe, which is at the back of the New Friends Colony Market, came third, although everyone just loves it (and it is Rahul Gandhi's favourite haunt, when he's not visiting Smoke House Deli, Khan Market). Saravana got top billing because of both the consistency of its offerings and the care that went into the accompaniments (sambhar and chutneys).
It is followed by another long-time favourite, Delhi Karnataka Sangha on Rao Tula Ram Marg, which beat Chidambaram, Khanna Market, Lodi Colony, an icon for Delhi's Tamilian population, by just 0.63 points. Chidambaram apparently lost out because of its unsatisfactory paper dosa!
The top five were followed by five established names in the business: Sri Gururaj Udipi at Munirka; Sagar Ratna at Defence Colony; Naivedyam at Hauz Khas Village; Bhaja Govindam, next to Delite cinema, on Asaf Ali Road; and Ananda Bhawan at the Main Market, Green Park. Their lowly rankings made me wonder whether they had become victims of the complacence that their early success brought upon them. Or have the got trapped in a time bubble and are unable to do anything about the writing that is loud and clear on the wall?
The jury, which covered two outlets in a week without letting the restaurants know what they were up to, tasted three dosas--masala, paper and rawa onion--per establishment. In each case, they asked for the masala dosa filling to be served separately so that they could taste it as it is. Each dosa was judged by its crust (crisp outside, soft within), fillings, accompaniments (sambhar, gunpowder and chutneys) and, most important, overall taste. The points given by each judge present were added up and the weighted average became the score that the restaurant got. Apparently, as you'd expect from a qualified jury, the variations in scores were minimal.
With their effort, the 'Dosa Dance' jury has given foodies in Delhi and visitors to the city a list to refer to when they are overcome by dosa cravings, which is not an uncommon happening. The Delhi Gourmet Club now has four such well-researched lists--butter chicken, classic hamburger, seekh kebabs and dosa--to offer to foodies who wish to discover the city's best-kept secrets. Another one--this time on pizzas--is being released soon. Watch out for my report on it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Rahul Akerkar Can't Find Executive Chef for Delhi Because Seniors Don't Want to Take Trade Test

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I MET Rahul Akerkar at the Hyatt Regency, right across the road from where his celebrated restaurant, Indigo, is opening its Delhi innings by the middle of next month. With his bald pate capping a head brimming over with ideas and eyes glittering with anticipation, Akerkar said the "same thought process" that drives Indigo Mumbai would guide his Delhi venture. It would be food focused and chef driven.
Rahul Akerkar says Indigo Delhi will be
food focused and chef driven, but he
can't find an executive chef to run his
operations here. It means we're going
to see a lot of him in Delhi.
So who's the chef leading the project, I asked, and my question was enough for Akerkar to take off on "how tough it is to find skilled people" in Delhi. He hasn't found an executive chef in the city, which means, as he put it, he and his Executive Chef, Nitin Kulkarni (who has been with him since 1999), are going to collect "a lot of frequent flier miles" by dividing their time between Mumbai and the Capital. "It's tough finding skilled people," Akerkar said. "There's a huge lack of homegrown talent. That is a cause for concern."
He was also surprised by the reluctance of senior chefs to take a trade test. "How else would I know if they are as good as their CVs say they are? Akerkar asked retorically. Trained as a biochemical engineer at Columbia University, Akerkar found his true calling while he was working in New York kitchen to pay his bills. He's therefore not a chef-owner who doesn't believe in getting his hands dirty. And he expects the same work ethic from the chefs he hires.
Moving away from his complaints against Delhi's senior chefs, we got into a discussion of his menu for Indigo Delhi. It will be "mainly modern European with a healthy dose of Asian," he said. "We are quite seafood driven," he continued, assuring me that he has lined up some of the best suppliers in the business. But do 
not expect pomfret on the menu because Akerkar believes (and his words were music to my ears) it's "a very over-rated fish". There will however be "good duck and quail," he assured me, adding "I discovered Vivek Kushwaha much before the rest of the world." Akerkar was referring to the CEO of Gayatri Farms, the favourite poulty supplier of hotels and restaurants. And he kept emphasising that his menu has an equal share of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.
The Indigo Delhi menu took Akerkar and his team up to three months to develop by listening to each other. "I read, eat and play around with stuff," Akerkar said. "I am learning all the time. I draw upon influences all the time, assimilate them and express them in my own way." Unsurprisingly, you'll find a tandoor in his 
kitchen, where he make a great chicken preparation with tamarind. And the rawas (Indian salmon) dish on his menu is an adaptation of his grandmother's kairi (green mango) curry.
More than anything else, Akerkar takes pride in being creative, in using the best ingredients and yet offering great value for money. "Guess what Indigo's average price per cover (APC) is?" he asked and then answered his own question triumphantly: "It is Rs 2,100-2,200 with alcohol." Explaining his philosophy of menu pricing, he said: "I don't believe in retiring with what I earn from the next meal I serve. Each dish has to be priced at a point that is reasonable. We are in the perception management business. The customer must believe he's getting value. I would rather somebody eats out four times a week and not once a month because it's too expensive."
I asked him about his wine list, which had got him the Wine Spectator excellence award for ten years in a row. "To get the award, you have to maintain a wine list of more than 300 labels," he said. "That's too much inventory. At one point, I had 63 chardonnays on my menu. My financial controller was very upset with me."
Akerkar's current wine menu is organised grape-wise, with the labels drawn from regions where particular grape varieties express themselves the best and then organised according to entry, mid-level and upper-end pricing.
And what does he believe to be the taste profile of the Delhi market? "Assessing people's taste is a very dangerous game," Akerkar said with an air of finality. "Taste is a very personal thing," he added, pointing out that the origin of the name of his company, deGustibus, is in the Latin aphorism: "Degustibus non est disputandem (You cannot dispute taste)." What he knows, though, is that "Delhi is a great market to be in. It is a consuming market, a well-heeled market."
If you go to Indigo Delhi, Akerkar would want you to ask yourself before you pass judgment on his food: "Are the ingredients good? Have they been treated with respect? Does the food sit well on my palate?" His final words summed up his restaurateuring philosophy: "Food must always take you somewhere. It must evoke some memory."

Check out my previous story on Indigo coming to Delhi:

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Carlsberg India Launches French Premium Beer Kronenbourg to Target Upscale Audience

Kronenbourg Blanc, with its distinctive citrusy notes,
was the favourite of all those who tasted the French
beer at Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

FOR THE discerning drinker, beer conjures up images of lager louts breaking into an orgiastic frenzy at football stadiums, not a brew to be had within the rarefied confines of Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi’s chic rooftop restaurant. I have never been a great fan of Le Cirque, despite the magnificent views its offers, because there’s a clear disconnect (or so I came to believe after my previous meals there) between the prices it charges and the goods it delivers.
This past Wednesday I had one of my most memorable dinners of the year in the company of people I didn’t know (with the exception of the bright and immaculately attired Magandeep Singh), with a drink I normally don’t drink, except after a long day spent tasting wine.
The beer was Kronenbourg, the French beer acquired by the Carlsberg Group after it got a part of Scottish & Newcastle’s operations in the elaborate April 2008 deal that saw the Edinburgh-headquartered company being divided between Heineken and the Danish company. The world’s fifth oldest beer brand that still exists gets its full name, Kronenbourg 1664, from the year of the founding of the brewery in Strasbourg, France, the capital city of Alsace now famous for being the home of the European Parliament.
Brasseries Konenbourg was the brewery that Geronimus Hatt opened in 1664, but the institution acquired its present name only in 1850 after it moved to Cronenbourg, an area of Strasbourg. Today, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, Kronenbourg — by the way, it is the top premium beer brand in France commanding a 40 per cent market share in its home country — is produced in the Alsatian town of Obernai along with 300 other beers. Well, that’s how the beer business is organised in the world!
It is this pale lager that we started the proceedings with at Le Cirque over a conversation steered by Subodh Marwah, Marketing Director, Carlsberg India. He said the beer gets its distinctive taste from the hops that go into it. The strisselspalt, he said, with its distinctive floral aroma is the “caviar of hops” and a native of Alsace. And we know that Carlsberg takes its hops seriously — the three artistically represented leaves you see on its brand identity are hops. The “fundamental” ingredient of beer, though, is yeast — the one that goes into Carlsberg travels to each of the 106 countries where the beer is produced, so each of the six breweries the company operates in India (a seventh one is coming up in Bihar) uses the same yeast.
The brew we loved was the Kronenbourg Blanc, a wheat beer with addictive citrusy notes that kept drawing us back to it. It went along merrily with the four-course meal — Le Cirque’s signature Caesar’s salad; porcini risotto with a beetroot emulsion whose taste lingered on the palate; chunky chicken escalope in mushroom sauce; and the inimitable Floating Island. Marwah said the brand strategy for Kronenbourg is to reach out to a “very select audience” and introduce it to the beer through Sunday brunches at five-star hotels and pairing with food. Well, this was one beer and food match that seemed to have been made in heaven.
Before I sign off, let me share with you some of the interesting beer market facts that Marwah told us about.
* Chandigarh has the highest per capita consumption of beer — five litres per person, compared with the national average of two litres per person.
* India, minus Tamil Nadu (for some reason I couldn’t get a grip on, the state is kept out of the count), produces 1,800 million litres of beer in a year.
* Ours is an overwhelmingly strong beer-loving country — within three years, strong beers will constitute 90 per cent of the market.
* Andhra Pradesh is the largest beer market and it is the fastest-growing too.
* Carlsberg has the third largest share of the Indian market, after Kingfisher (50 per cent) and SABMiller India, the subsidiary of the South Africa-based global behemoth that makes strong beers such as Haywards and Knockout in the country.

Friday, 25 October 2013

DINING OUT: Punjabi Beauties in Gurgaon's Cyberia

This restaurant review first appeared in Mail Today on Friday, October 25, 2013.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

WHERE: Made in Punjab, 6 & 7, Ground Floor, Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon
WHEN: 12 NOON to 4 P.M.; 7:30 TO 11:30 P.M.
DIAL: +91 8130911899 / 8800692397
The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor licence yet.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The mutton tandoori chaanp is a favourite at the
must-go-to Made in Punjab in Gurgaon’s new
‘food mall’, DLF Cyber Hub, which will have 44
restaurants when it is fully operational. (Photo by
Ramesh Sharma / Copyright: Mail Today)

AS YOU enter Made in Punjab on the ground floor of the country’s “first food mall”, DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, after negotiating dug-up roads and traffic diversions, you’re greeted by three humongous tandoors encased in titanium shells at the front end of a see-through turbocharged kitchen. It was only a couple of days after its opening that I was at the restaurant in the yet-to-formally-open mall sandwiched between Infinity Towers and HeroBPO and the DLF building that looks like a miniature of Dubai’s Burj al-Arab, just off NH-8.
It smelt, as the deathless Kurt Cobain sang so memorably, like teen spirit. I could only see Youngistan all around me, not exactly teenagers but young executives from the steel-and-glass temples of India Inc surrounding the Cyber Hub, digging the all-you-can-eat buffet priced at Rs 550 A.I. (“it is only an introductory offer, sir,” the manager was quick to add, lest I started entertaining delusions of paying little to live it up).
Halomax lights, a current favourite of stylish stores in malls, give the restaurant a warm, welcoming glow; the tables have Italian marble tops and the chairs are made with Burma teak; the crockery, cutlery and serviettes are all branded. The music of Advaita, my favourite Delhi band, plays in the background — a seamless fusion of rock, Sufi and Hindustani classical that can soothe even the most jangled nerves.
The place oozes quite elegance, despite its opening price of Rs 550 A.I., which, I am told, is not likely to go up beyond Rs 650 A.I. That I don’t expect to happen soon, thoughy, because competition will get serious once the DLF Cyber Hub has its 44 restaurants up and running when it becomes fully operational. The line-up includes India’s biggest Hard Rock Café; AD Singh’s Irani restaurant venture, Soda Water Openerwala; Dimsumbros/Yo China duo Ashish Kapur and Ajay Saini’s The Wine Company (where you’ll be able to buy wine at retail prices and have your meal with your favourite grape); the Rajasthani restaurant hugely popular in Maharashtra, Panchvati Gaurav; and Made in Punjab’s competition (and mirror image), Dhaba by The Claridges.
Coming back to Made in Punjab, the excitement begin with each table getting a sampler of six types of papad with four different chutneys to stoke the appetite of the lunch-time turnout for the feast lined up on tables crowded with busy induction stoves and stylish cast-iron pots designed by the French company Le Creuset. Curries and biryani kept in these pots don’t get overcooked — a common complaint with buffet food warmed in old-fashioned chafing dishes.
The spread includes ten starters, ten kinds of biryani and curries, ten salads and ten desserts, including a divine Moong Dal Halwa that miraculously doesn’t swim in ghee. It also includes the Made in Punjab version of French tableside cooking — live phulka and dal trolleys, a nifty innovation introduced to Delhi’s dining scene by Masala Art at Taj Palace. The Dal Saat Salaam — no, it’s not a Maoist slogan! — is made with seven kinds of tempering by your tableside (which explains the name). Made in Punjab has changed the meaning of value for money. The variety it offers also would make you want to come back again for the buffet.
The 112-seater restaurant’s a la carte menu has a number of standouts, but my favourites are the saffron-infused, generously creamy murgh kastoori kebabs, the more rugged tandoori chaanp, the generously proportioned Kashmiri morels (bharwan gucchi), the unforgettable prawn kulcha and gucchi naan, which I have never had anywhere before, the World’s Heaviest Lassi laden with rabdi and peda from Mathura, and the Kulfi Sundae.
Made in Punjab is just what Delhi/NCR’s new generation of diners needed but never had. And if you go for the buffet spread, make sure you check out each item in the churan platter that comes to you at the end in an ornate box with brightly hued ceramic pigeonholes.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Aldo Zilli’s Foray into India

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE PROBLEM with being a spy is that you don’t always get every piece of the jigsaw puzzle right. My post on Aldo Zilli’s Indian foray has evoked a tremendous response and fortunately, it also helped me re-establish contact, thank to my good friend Pareina Thapar, with Manish Baheyti, a dapper hotelier and a product of the Oberoi Group whom I have known off and on since his days as Director of Marketing at the Hyatt Regency.
In 2008, Manish and his wife Sonali established Haute Services Pvt. Ltd., which is a boutique consultancy with hospitality and art advisory as its main verticals. Their hospitality clients have included Usha Lexus Hotels, Seasons Group and Sinclairs. And it was Manish who set in motion the process that is bring Aldo Zilli to India.
Let’s hear it in his words and these are from an email he sent me late at night (my comments are in parentheses):
I have known Kashif (Farooq) and Prashant (Ojha) socially for many years and we got the opportunity to work with them from January this year as the lead consultants to a restaurant they wanted to open in place of what used to be Masharabiya (the open-air restaurant that used to be famous for its Lebanese food and belly dancing till it shut down) at The Ashok. Except for architectural services, interiors and kitchen design, we advise them on all other aspects of putting together this brand.
The need to provide a sound positioning to this restaurant in terms of its food offering, coupled with the fact that Delhi has a discerning palate, encouraged us to look overseas to engage a known name. Atul Kochhar (the Michelin-starred chef-owner of London’s Benaras restaurant) and I have been close friends for over 23 years, both having started our careers at the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, and I reached out to him for suggestions, which led to identifying Aldo Zilli.
The restaurant, Zerruco by Zilli (so he’s not bringing Cicchetti, as I had speculated), is co-branded with Aldo and our understanding is to grow the brand to be present in at least two more locations over a period of three years. There is no investment from Aldo Zilli. Besides Kashif Farooq and Prashant Ojha, who are the main promoters of this venture, they have three investing partners, namely Prashant Aggarwal, Bikram Oberoi and Munish Lal, for whom this will be the first hospitality venture.
The menu for the restaurant is completely designed by Aldo and he brings to the table his recipes from some of his most famous restaurants such as Zilli Fish, Zilli Green and the over 12 books he has authored, some of them big bestsellers. This gourmet dining restaurant will have a separate section in the menu for vegetarians as he found that majority of his patrons for Zilli Green in London were well-heeled Indians with a penchant for Italian vegetarian food.
I spent a week with Aldo recently in London and I can say that he is thoroughly excited about making his first-ever foray into the Asian market with a restaurant in the Capital of India.

Fratelli’s Sette VII Only Silver Lining for India at Decanter Asian Wine Awards 2013

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Steven Spurrier (above) and Jeannie
Cho Lee, Asia's first Master of Wine,
co-charied the Decanter Asian Wine
Awards 2013 panel of 44 experts  
IT HAPPENS to the best of Indian restaurants — they never make it to any respectable rank on any global ‘best list’. Indian wines, too, seem to be suffering from a similar crisis of acceptance.
Indian wines — 16 of them — cut a sorry figure at the Decanter Asian Wine Awards (DAWA) 2013, whose results were officially released in Hong Kong on October 23. In a competition where a Japanese entry, Grace Winery’s 2012 Gris de Koshu, won a gold medal and regional trophy for its white wine made 100 per cent with Japan’s signature Koshu grapes,  the Indians landed with one silver, nine bronze and four ‘commended’ medals.
The country’s pride was somewhat salvaged by Sette VII, the brilliant Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend developed by the celebrated Italian winemaker, Piero Masi, at the Fratelli winery at Akluj in Maharashtra’s Solapur district. Last year, when the first DAWA was held in Hong Kong, the Sauvignon Blanc 2012 of Sula Vineyards returned home with a silver.
To console themselves, Indian winemakers can draw solace from the performance of their Chinese counterparts, though on an Olympic-style medals tally China would rank higher than India because of its two silvers. Of the 36 Chinese entries, only one-half got a medal — two got silver, five bronzes and 11 ‘commended’ medals.
If this seems to you to be somewhat like India’s performance in the Olympics, rest assured you are not over-reacting. For starters, at DAWA, unlike in the Olympics, just about every competitor gets a medal. This year, 44 experts from across the world, including Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora, judged more than 2,300 entries and gave away prizes to 2,023 of them (it seems like the tally of votes that used to be cast in elections in the old Soviet Union — 99.99 per cent for the ruling dictator, making you wonder what happened to the remaining 0.01 per cent!). Of the 2,023 award winners, 39 got a regional trophy, 45 gold medals, 369 silvers, 985 bronzes and 585 ‘commended’ medals.
As you can deduce from these numbers, getting a bronze or a ‘commended’ medal is not the same as practising rocket science. A major source of revenue of competitions such as DAWA 2013 is the amount each participating winery pays for each wine entered in the competition. It is therefore in the best interests of the organisers to send all but a very few of the entries — these must be really undrinkable wines — back home with a medal, which explains the deluge of metal in the wine competition.
Co-chaired by Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian Master of Wine and a contributing editor to Decanter, the English-speaking world’s most authoritative wine magazine published from London and circulated in 92 countries, and Steven Spurrier, Chairman, Decanter World Wine Awards, and the magazine’s consultant editor, judging took place in Hong Kong on 16-19 September 2013. Sarah Kemp, Publishing Director, Decanter, said in a media release, “All wines were tasted blind and judged by a panel of Asia’s finest palates, and only those which represent outstanding quality are endorsed with a Decanter Asia Wine Award medal.” The Decanter World Wine Awards, incidentally, are the most prestigious in their category.
The competition leader, without doubt, was Australia, which participated with 614 entries and scooped up 18 gold medals and 11 regional trophies. Australia had done well in the Decanter World Wine Awards as well. In Europe, Italy’s Veneto area bagged four regional trophies and four gold medals from 84 entries. The surprise of the event was, to quote, a “revitalized” Languedoc-Roussillon (France), which went home with two regional trophies from 59 entries, compared with just one from 88 entries for Bordeaux.
“In today’s wine world, particularly in Asia, nothing, not even historical reputations, can be taken for granted,” noted Spurrier, writing on DAWA 2013 in his column for the Decanter magazine’s upcoming December issue. The task for Indian winemakers is a little more difficult. They have to build their reputation before they can stake claim to history.

To know more about DAWA 2013, go to:

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Urban Pind’s Kashif Farooq Ties Up with Celeb Chef Aldo Zilli to Get Acclaimed UK Restaurant

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHAT’S with celebrity chefs and their love for Delhi? Even before we could stop talking about the galaxy of Michelin-starred chefs who spent a week in the national capital, thanks to Anand Kapoor and his non-profit Creative Services Support Group, the city is abuzz with the news that London’s celebrity chef and television presenter Aldo Zilli is opening a restaurant at The Ashok, the state-run hotel infamous for its evil-smelling corridors, in partnership with Kashif Farooq of Urban Pind.
Television celebrity and cookbook writer Aldo Zilli's Fresh
and Green
was on the Daily Telegraph's Top Ten Books of
2012. He has teamed up with Kashif Farooq to bring the
much-acclaimed Cicchetti restaurant (TripAdvisor rating:
4.5/5) to the state-run hotel, The Ashok, in New Delhi.
Zilli has just made headlines by creating a pair of edible stilettos from fresh pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and truffles (price: 7.90 pounds) for the multiple award-winning Manchester restaurant, Cicchetti, which is said to be the favourite of Coleen Rooney, wife of the England and Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney.
Farooq’s Urban Pind, the N-Block Market, Greater Kailash-I nightclub, has seen better days, when the queues outside it and its discriminatory “foreigners first” entry policy kept the watering hole in the news.
Those were the days when Farooq could get away by making his infamous statement — “Foreigners know how to talk to or approach women. Indian men get drunk and start to misbehave.” He said this to author Omair Ahmed in Outlook magazine, but now, after being for years the must-go-to party spot in South Delhi, Urban Pind seems to be no longer top of mind for Delhi’s night birds.
Born in the Italian seaside town of Alba Adriatica in Abruzzo, Zilli ran a number of restaurants in London (the most famous of them being Zilli Fish, a Soho institution, which he sold along with the rest of his chain after he hung up his chef’s whites in 2012). And of course, he’s a television favourite — as we learn from his website, he has co-hosted with Enzo Olivieri a top-rated cookery show shot in Sicily (it has gone into its second season); he has travelled around Britain with fellow chef Silvena Rowe to compete in local cook-offs; his wife Nikki and he have mentored on television a homeless boy on television; he has lost 15 kilos on a reality show named Celebrity Fit Club; and he has even charmed the audience with his Italian songs in the ITV1 show, Celebrity X Factor.
He is also an acclaimed author of ten cookbooks and two autobiographies — his book over 100 vegetarian recipes, Fresh and Green, was on the Daily Telegraph’s Top 10 for 2012. He writes a weekly column for the Daily Express Saturday Magazine; he has consulted with Kraft Foods and Morrisons Supermarkets, where his Pizza Calabrese with Nduja (Calabria’s signature soft salami) was a national best-seller; and he has opened his own public relations and marketing company, Zilli Media (
Who brought Kashif Farooq and Aldo Zilli together? The buzz is that the match was sealed by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar of London’s Benaras restaurant. And the restaurant brand that they are bringing in, Cicchetti (named after the Venetian term for ‘small plates’, pronounced ‘chi-KET-tee’), is run by Carlo Distefano’s San Carlo Group, which has become famous riding on the success of the restaurant, which opened last year at the Piccadilly with a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5/5 after a hugely successful start in Manchester, and the Waterloo Street cocktail bar-cum-restaurant, Fumo. After he sold off his business, Zilli joined the San Carlo Group as Chef Consiliere, a consultancy position that makes him responsible for designing the menus of Cicchetti ( Having made its debut in Birmingham in 1996, the Group has spread its wings to 12 locations, including Kuwait, Beirut and Bangkok.
The entry of Cicchetti into The Ashok follows closely on the heels of the rather unimpressive opening of Michael van Cleef Ault’s nightclub for the fatcats, Pangaea, in partnership with the colourful owner of Spice Global, B.K. Modi. The industrialist’s other venture at The Ashok — Nom Nom, the Pan Asian restaurant in association with Dharmesh Karmokar — is yet to acquire the buzz of its Mumbai counterparts, which have got rave reviews from critics and guests alike. Will Cicchetti do what the combined star power of Michael van Cleef Ault and B.K. Modi has not been able to achieve in the jinxed state-run behemoth?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

GOOD TIMES FOR BUBBLY: Moments After Chandon Launch, Fratelli Formally Announces Rollout of Gran Cuvée Brut

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
The entry of the Fratelli Gran Cuvee Brut
Sparkling will make the bubbly market
that much more exciting

JUST AS I’d finished updating my post on the Chandon launch — my effusiveness, by the way, got me a mild rap from an active member of the Indian Wine Academy, a Facebook forum I greatly respect — I got a press release in my inbox announcing the launch of Fratelli’s bubbly, a methode traditionelle sparkling wine with 100 per cent Chenin Blanc.
The ambitiously named Gran Cuvée Brut has been developed by Fratelli Wines at Akluj, the old cotton trade centre of Maharashtra’s Sholapur district, which is now famous for the Indo-Italian joint wine venture. And the winemaker is the celebrated Piero Masi, about whom I had written about some time back in my report on Fratelli Sangiovese Blanc, which I found to be a creditable addition to the company’s wine portfolio. It’s a drinkable aperitif wine — just the kind you’d serve on a Saturday night at a small party.
I hope to taste very soon the Gran Cuvée Brut (Mumbai, Rs 995; Delhi, Rs 1,050), but when I was talking about it with Moet Hennessy’s Regional Managing Director (Asia Pacific), Mark Bedingham, he said the entry of more quality bubbly into the presently limited market would also make the category grow. I agree. With Sula, Grover Zampa, Moet Hennessy India and Fratelli, all quality players, ready to give each other a run for the money, the net gainer will be the consumer. I only wish, though, the Gran Cuvée Brut proudly announced itself as a ‘Product of India’ or ‘Product of Akluj’ in the same way as Chandon does.
What interests me about Gran Cuvée Brut is that it is a single-varietal sparkling wine. Champagne houses normally use three varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), unless they are making blanc de blancs exclusively from Chardonnay, to balance out the shortcomings of a particular grape in a particular year. As the popular saying goes (which I got know thanks to Bedingham), “In diversity there’s consistency.”
I will now quote extensively from the Fratelli media release to give you an idea of the production process — it’s the same that is employed to make champagne in France.
“After the primary fermentation,” says the media release, “the blend is bottled with yeast and a small quantity of sugar for a second fermentation at the Fratelli winery in Akluj. During the secondary fermentation, the bottles are stored horizontally, maintained at 10 degrees C constantly so that once the second fermentation is over, lees will mature and add complexity to the wine, both on the nose and the palate with bready notes.
“The bottles are then taken through a process known as ‘riddling’ where they are shelved in special racks, called pupitres, which hold the bottles at a 45-degree angle, with the crown pointing downwards. Using Italian machinery, once a day, the bottles are given a slight shake and turned, once to the right, then left, and then dropped back into the pupitres, with the angle gradually increased. The drop back into the rack gives a slight push, so that the sediments settle towards the neck of the bottle. In seven days, the position of the bottle is straight down, with the lees settled in the neck. This process of removing the lees is called disgorging.
“As the sugar added previously is consumed in the second fermentation process, the next stage is adding another small quantity of sugar to the blend. Piero Masi says, ‘We add a mixture of the base wine and sucrose called liqueur d’expédition to the blend. This is not to make the wine sweet, but to balance the high acidity of the blend. As the name suggests, the wine we have created at Fratelli is called Brut, meaning dry and having very less quantity of sugar’.”
And here are the tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from Fratelli Wines.
Tasting Notes: The Fratelli Gran Cuvee Brut, like good champagne, has typical bready yeast notes on the nose. The wine has a delicate and creamy texture with persistent bubbles and a touch of citrus on the palate, coupled with the typical Fratelli Chenin Blanc minerality. It also has a nice persistence in the mouth, as well as the glass.
Grape: The Chenin Blanc expresses typical mineral notes and acidity, perfectly balanced, making this Indian sparkling wine a surprisingly elegant experience.
Food Pairing: Excellent with sushi, prawns, oysters, duck spring rolls, smoked salmon, liver pate and creamy chicken dishes.
Serving Temperature:  3 to 7 degrees C

Saturday, 19 October 2013

TASTING NOTES: India Gets First Sparkling Wines with French Pedigree from Moet Hennessy

Moet Hennessy's Regional Managing
Director Mark Bedingham with a bottle
of the Chandon Brut at the launch of
the sparkler at the Four Seasons
Mumbai on October 20.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I HAVE just come back to my 18th-floor room at the Four Seasons Mumbai from a sneak preview tasting of the Chandon Brut and Rose, Moet Hennessy India’s debut methode traditionelle sparkling wines from Nashik, convinced that the country has a future as a serious producer of bubbles made with wine grapes and not Thompson seedless.
The Brut (Maharashtra MRP: Rs 1,200) arrived with a rush of playful little bubbles — the first visible sign of a good sparkling wine — and it effortlessly balanced crispy acidity with citrusy notes, without really letting its 10gm/litre residual sugar (high by French standards) over-express itself. So, if you’re looking for a Prosecco equivalent, this is not the one. The residual sugar (a result, predictably, of the 84 per cent presence of Chenin Blanc, which is not one of the grapes you’d associate with a methode traditionelle sparkling wine) was present in the background, but only to soften the acid attack. And just in case you’ve been wondering about it, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the other two grape varieties that have contributed the remaining 16 per cent of wholesome sparkler that lasts longs on the palate.
The balance was stunning and I felt honoured to be drinking the sparkler with its maker, Kelly Healy, a New Zealander who has been making sparkling wine for the past 17 years. It is just the kind of bubbly I would serve friends before a lazy, conversation-laden Sunday lunch, where I would order in Mini Mughal’s smoky, juicy butter chicken, and open the Rose (Maharashtra MRP: Rs 1,400) when people settle down to eat.
This is the first genuine Rose sparkling wine I have had in India — its competitors, I am afraid, taste like turpentine. It seamlessly marries the fruitiness of Shiraz with the structure of Pinot Noir to titillate your palate and draw out best feelings. This is just the sparkling wine you’d have with wholesome (but not chilli hot) rarha mutton or even the kosha mangsho of the Bengalis. Dal Makhni and Shahi Paneer are the vegetarian dishes that I can see getting along famously with the bubbly.
As we tasting the sparklers, I asked Mark Bedingham, Regional Managing Director, Moet & Hennessy Asia-Pacific about the difference Chandon will make to the wine drinking culture in the country. For those who can’t afford the price points of champagne, Bedingham said, Chandon offers “affordable luxury”. He said the sparklers had been made to “reach out to a whole bunch of new customers”, especially “the rising young professional class”.
Its custodians expect it to open up the market, at present very limited for sparkling wine, which have a 3-5 per cent market share in the country — naturally, because champagne has never been seriously appreciated; it has either been flaunted or reserved for consumption on festive occasions. “Emerging lifestyles in India are sympathetic to the consumption of sparkling wines,” Bedingham said.
The Chandon Brut is 84 per cent Chenin Blanc and
8 per cent each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The
Rose is 90 per cent Shiraz and 10 per cent Pinot Noir,
which has become Nashik's varietal to look out for. 
The Chandon sparkling wines are now being produced and bottled at the Nashik-based York Winery, but Moet Hennessy India is all set to open its own winery at Dindori, a taluka with perfect soil for wine grapes that was first put on the country’s wine map by Rajeev Samant, the man behind the humongous success of Sula Vineyards. “We are here to be the pioneers for the highest quality of Indian wines,” Bedingham assured me as I couldn’t stop admiring the Rose. The tasting session convinced me that he wasn’t overstating his company’s case.

A SPARKLING NIGHT: The Chandon sparklers were launched on October 19 at a glittering party with the chatterati in full attendance, who, in true Mumbai style, sashayed in only after midnight. From the glamorous writer Shobhaa De, who looked younger than her daughter, to industrialist Gautam Singhania and actor Arjun Rampal, the city’s A-List partied hard till the wee hours to the heart-pumping music of the deejay, who had been flown in for the day from Paris.
The wine world was there too — from Rajeev Samant, who was a force to reckon with on the dance floor, and Ashwin Deo, a former managing director of Moet Hennessy India who has now his own wine label, Turning Point, to Sonal Holland of ITC Hotels, who, I learnt, is one of four Indians to get the WSET-IV certificate, which is quite a creditable achievement, to Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora, Sommelier India founder-editor Reva Singh, Business Standard columnist Alok Chandra, and celebrated wine trainer and writer Magandeep Singh.
I was most happy to meet Ian Morden, the estate director of Cloudy Bay, a jewel in the Moet Hennessy crown. A South African whose warmth is so natural and welcoming, Morden was the one who was given the charge of initiating the Chandon project five years ago. He still remembers how his first port of call was Sula, where Samant floored him with his hospitality. Maybe that gave Moet Hennessy the confidence to launch Chandon.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Masterchef Australia’s Gary Mehigan Will BBQ Lamb Chops at Ticketed Event in New Delhi

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

MASTERCHEF Australia co-host and judge and Melbourne restaurateur Gary Mehigan was in Mumbai some time back to promote the culinary wealth of his home state, Victoria. He’ll be back in India on Sunday, October 20, when he’ll preside over ‘A Great Southern BBQ’ at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. The ticketed event has been planned to pump up the second round of Oz Fest as well as Australian lamb (don’t we all love it?), which has finally been allowed to be imported after a 12-year ban.
Gary Mehigan, on his favourite motorbike, the Royal Enfield,
with his Masterchef Australia co-host and judge George
Calombaris riding pillion in New Delhi. Since this picture
was shot last year, Calombaris has lost 20 kilos!
On a four-city tour covering Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Jodhpur, Gary will conduct a cooking demonstration with Australian lamb from Sanger, a Sydney-based company which has been in the business of meat exports since 1973. Joining him will be celebrity chef, television presenter and cookbook author Ritu Dalmia, who’ll be donning her hat as Fisher & Paykel brand ambassador and conducting on-the-spot cooking competitions for Gary to judge.
Now, just in case you’re wondering what Fisher & Paykel, a New Zealand kitchen appliances brand is doing at an Aussie event, it is because the event is being powered by the Australia, New Zealand & India Business Association (ANZIBA). The event will also see the Manesar-based La Carne Cuts, a new name in the business of charcuterie products and value-added meats that we will hear a lot of in the coming days.
“I am so excited to be returning to the saffron land for my third trip,” Gary is quoted as saying in a media release issued by the Australian High Commission. He came last year with his Masterchef Australia co-host and fellow judge George Calombaris last year as a part of the Oz Fest. The enthusiastic welcome the two got in India, and of course the impressive ratings of their show (Masterchef Australia has the highest viewership outside Australia in India), have been the reasons for Gary to keep coming back. Unsurprisingly, Gary, who makes no secret of his love for parantha, dosa and naan, is the ambassador of the ambitious Oz Fest for the second consecutive year.
Gary’s other engagements around the country will include a visit to the Royal Enfield factory, where he’ll hit the road with the new Continental GT racer, and a ‘BBQ duel’ featuring lamb from Mulwarra, which is another New South Wales company, at the Hyatt Regency Chennai. In Mumbai, Gary will autograph books for fans at Crosswords Bookstore, In-Orbit Mall, Malad, on 25 October. He will also join celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani on his new show ‘Party Kitchen’ on NDTV Good Times to dish out party recipes.
That’s a lot of travel, and it’ll all be filmed for his new television series pilot, ‘Far Flung with Gary Mehigan’. There’s never a dull moment in the life of celebrity chef.

Tickets are priced at Rs 3,000 (wine and beer included) per adult and Rs 750 per child below 12. Send an email to or call +91 8285371826.

DINING OUT: Swiss Comfort Food to Warm Delhi’s Heart

This review first appeared in Mail Today on 18 October 2013.

It is difficult to produce a simple dish — you understand why when you savour the delicately balanced flavours and textures of Heinz Rufibach's roesti served with emince Zurichoise

Swiss Gastronomy Experience
WHERE: Café, Hyatt Regency, Bhikaji Cama Place
WHEN: Till October 20. Dinner Buffet: 7 to 11 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: Noon to 3 p.m.
DIAL: 011-26791234
PRICE PER PERSON: Rs 1,550++ for dinner buffet; Rs 2,100++ for Sunday Brunch with unlimited soft drinks or champagne

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

HEINZ RUFIBACH is the master of what he describes as the “Alpine-Mediterranean style of cooking”, which got him 15 GaultMillau points (the equivalent of a Michelin star), and he has designed the menu for the first and business classes of SWISS International Airlines, but at the Café of the Hyatt Regency, Bhikaji Cama Place, he has opened a window to the home-style comfort food that has travelled from his country to across the world.
Heinz Rufibach has turned Swiss comfort food into
a gastronomic experience at the Cafe, Hyatt
Regency New Delhi, Bhikaji Cama Place
For a country famous for being the receptacle of world’s ill-gotten wealth, Switzerland has a simple yet wholesome home cuisine. Potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut and sausages are the four legs of its daily table, the decorative elements being chocolate and the array of desserts, of which the Swiss roll is only the ornamental tip. As the Hyatt Regency’s Swiss executive chef, Marin Leuthard, expressed it, “We are a simple people with traditional tastes.” And Rufibach is Switzerland’s celebrity ambassador of everyday cooking.
The genial visiting chef, who has fallen in love at first sight with the Taj Mahal, lives and works at Zermatt, the Alpine ski resort town with over 35,000 rooms in 132 starred hotels across a radius of 3.5km (that is more, by the way, than the inventory of the entire Delhi-NCR!). Tourists (Indians included) outnumber the residents of this village many times over as they come to admire the majestic beauty of the Matterhorn, standing in dignified isolation with its crown of ‘banner clouds’ a little distance away. It is in this busy picture-postcard village that Rufibach presides over the kitchens of Alpenhof Hotel, which is famous for its Le Gourmet restaurant.
At the Hyatt Regency’s Swiss Gastronomy Experience, start with the wintertime staple, raclette, which Rufibach scrapes off lovingly as the cheese melts slowly and temptingly, serving it with two pearl potatoes, pickled gherkins and silver onions. Move on to the Munder saffron soup, which is named after Mund, Switzerland’s famous ‘saffron village’ in the Rhone Valley to the southwest, whose annual production every October is a mere 1.3 kilos. Of this princely amount, a gram of which is priced at 42 Swiss Francs (Rs 2,840 at the present exchange rate), the allocation for Rufibach is 3gm — he’s among the fortunate few, for the village is very picky about whom it gives its saffron to.
You can’t go for a Swiss meal and not have roesti, which is simply pan-roasted boiled and grated potatoes, a poor man’s dish that can be elevated with limitless variations. You could have roesti wrapped in an omelette, or roesti with bratwurst (“Switzerland’s street food”), or roesti with the heart-warming emince Zurichoise, or sliced veal (chicken at the Hyatt Regency) and button mushrooms in silky white sauce. It is difficult to produce a simple dish — you know why when you savour the delicately balanced flavours and textures of the emince. And of course, no Swiss experience is complete without fondue — a “family dish”, explains Leuthard, it is made with grated gruyere and emmental boiled in white wine on a pan brushed with a garlic clove, and finished with a generous helping of kirsch, the dry, colourless brandy extracted from dark morello cherries.
Also on the buffet are smoked pork loin; gravlax, or spiced preserved salmon (remember the excitement around the world in 2008 when Switzerland saw its first salmon in 100 years at the Basel stretch of the Rhine?); spaetzle, a gnocchi-type pasta, but made with egg, flour and water; and beer-battered fried fish served with a remoulade sauce made with preserved cucumber, gherkins, silver onion, mayonnaise, parsley and dill.
And yes, you can’t miss the desserts — Swiss rolls; carrot cake from Aargau, the carrot canton up north; rye bread mouse with blueberry sauce; and the nut cake from Engadine valley, which is famous for its playfield of the rich and famous, St Moritz. The Swiss have turned simplicity into a gourmet experience.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Sushi Making Tips from Master Chef Kicks Off Japanese Food Season; Event to Feature Wow Restaurant Deals

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AFTER TESTING the waters with the Taste Japan food promotion last year at three Godrej Nature’s Basket stores in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is all set to roll out the Japanese Food Season on Sunday.
The multi-event, two-city programme, also named Oishii (or Tasty) Japan, will take off with the Japanese Restaurant Season, which will see 11 establishments in Delhi and Mumbai offering set menus at prices ranging from Rs 1,000++ to Rs 3,500++ per person up to November 10.
Junichi Asano, right, from Singapore's Tokyo Sushi Academy
has been making sushi for the past 28 years, but it was thanks
to Megu's Master Chef Yutaka Saito, left, that he was able to
remove the misconceptions he had about vegetarian sushi
at his first meal in India at the Japanese restaurant of
The Leela Palace New Delhi in Chanakyapuri
Price-wise, Delhi seems to have the more exciting offerings. You could dig Megu’s Signature Sakura Sushi Platter at The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri for Rs 3,750++ per head, or go to Lodi Colony Market for Guppy by Ai’s six-course set menu (veg, Rs 1,000++ per person; non-veg, Rs 1,200++ per person), or check out Ambience Mall for Sakae Sushi’s elaborate spread, which is big on rolls, priced at Rs 1,295 per head. Also on offer are the six-course set menus with the same pricing at Asia7 in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, and the seven-item menu (veg, Rs 1,199++; non-veg, Rs 1,299++) at Izikaya, which has reopened at the Basant Lok Community Centre in Vasant Vihar.
Mumbai’s participating restaurants include Aoi, Mount Mary Steps, Bandra West, with a six-course menu (Rs 1,000++) has a sushi platter thrown in (I was tickled by the pesto maki with bocconcini and cherry tomatoes); Umame, Churchgate, whose offering is rather thin, except for the Suntory whisky ice-cream, for the Rs 1,500++ tag; Kofuku, Linking Road, Bandra West, which has a six-course menu priced at Rs 1,000++/Rs 1,200++.
The upper end, price-wise, is represented by San-Qi at the Four Seasons (four courses, Rs 3,500++) and India Jones at The Trident, Nariman Point (three courses plus a glass of sparkling wine, Rs 2,500++). Sushi and More, Cumballa Hill, Breach Candy, is also on the list, but the event website ( repeats the Umame menu in the pop-up for the restaurant. It’s an off-putting oversight.
The event’s other big highlights will be the Washoku, a Japanese street food festival with kaiten (or conveyor belt) sushi, yakitori, noodles and more selling for Rs 150++ per dish at the High Street Phoenix in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and an original Japanese recipe contest in association with BBC GoodFood magazine, the winner of which will be get to go to Japan. Check out the Facebook page, GoodFood Magazine India, to find out more about the contest — the last date is November 30.
Japan’s Ambassador Takeshi Yagi formally flagged off the Japanese Food Season at the embassy in New Delhi on October 17. His press conference was preceded by a sushi-making master class for students of the Institute of Hotel Management-Pusa presided over by Junichi Asano, an instructor at the just-opened Singapore branch of the Tokyo Sushi Academy. Asano, who has spent 15 years presiding over the kitchens at the Japanese embassies in Europe, started making sushi when he was 20 and he put in the mandatory 10 years before he earned his certificate to qualify as a sushi chef. Few people know sushi as intimately as he.
I asked him what it takes to make the perfect sushi. He said it was rice, though you need just 15gm of it in one sushi. “Nothing but Japonica sticky rice would do,” Asano said. The other critical step in the sushi-making process is to add rice vinegar at the right time to the sushi rice. “Add the vinegar as soon you take the rice out of the cooker,” he said. “The rice must be hot so that the vinegar seeps into it. It must be warm when you make the sushi.”
Asano spent his first night in India sampling Master Chef Yutaka Saito’s menu at The Leela Palace at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, and discovered the world of vegetarian sushi. Saito, whose wife is from Delhi and a committed vegetarian, is the master of Japanese Zen cuisine. Vegetarian sushi, naturally, are big on his menu.
When I asked Asano about the new trends in sushi making, he pointed to the use of ingredients such as avocado, asparagus, vegetable tempura and spicy mayonnaise-based dressings. These ingredients have turned around the taste of vegetarian sushi. “I have always believed that vegetarian sushi aren’t interesting, but my dinner at Megu proved me wrong,” Asano said, but he was quick to add this bit of advice for all aspiring sushi chefs: “Innovative sushi may be a good way to introduce people to sushi, but you’ve got to learn the basics first.”

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Royal China’s Ishann Dhawan Spearheading Global Pita Sandwich Chain’s Indian Foray

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

SUBWAY has competition round the corner and it is shaping up in the soft-launched DLF Cyber Hub, the food-only mall in Gurgaon with 44 brands vying for your palate and wallet. Kingston,
Pita Pete is the central character of the Pita Pit
marketing campaign. The Canadian pita sandwich
chain is making its national debut in India at
the Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, in November. 
Canada-headquartered Pita Pit, the QSR chain that has turned freshly made pita sandwiches into a global commercial opportunity, is opening in November at an advantageous spot at the Cyber Hub — at the ground floor level in the company of Dunkin Donuts and Zorawar Kalra’s Made in Punjab.
Being brought into India by Royal China restaurant’s co-promoter  and University of Manchester alumnus Ishann Dhawan, Anun Dhawan of Mentor Hospitality and Virat Mohan, Chief Executive, Perfect Ice, the chain is hugely popular among students and young professionals, especially those who are up working or partying till late at night, because its outlets offer hot and fresh hunger-busters at wee hours.
Founded in 1995 with a store in Kingston, Ontario, by Nelson Lang and John Sotiriadis, Pita Pit is famous for its low-carb and whole-wheat pitas, which it packs up with fresh vegetables, falafel, cheeses, babaganoush and hummus as well as grilled meats (from chicken souvlaki to black forest ham) and a choice of dressings (from Thousand Island to Ranch). Pita Pit expanded into the United States in 1999 and now has 425 stores worldwide in countries as disparate as New Zealand, Panama, South Korea, Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil. It is now in the process of expanding its footprint to locations in Australia, France, UK and India, where Mentor Hospitality is the master franchisee for the north and east.
“Most people desire a healthy lifestyle but never find the time, money or dedication required to achieve it,” says Anun Dhawan in his LinkedIn profile. “This is where Pita Pit comes in.” Anun has degrees in business and finance from the London School of Economics and Cass Business School, which is affiliated to the City University London. Virat Mohan also has the same degrees and, as the Pita Pit website informs us, they have completed their stint together at the chain’s international training centre in Kingston, Ontario.
Will Pita Pit be able to able to replicate Subway’s Indian success story with its competing fresh and healthy brand positioning? Keep on reading Indian Restaurant Spy to find out more.