Friday, 4 October 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Qube Adds Oomph to Coffee Shop Dining

Christophe Gillino, who has worked in the
kitchens of the French maestros Alain
Ducasse and Alain Senderens, has given
the menu at The Qube, The Leela Palace,
New Delhi, a brilliant creative spin 
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

NO FIVE-STAR hotel makes a serious attempt to raise the bar for the a la carte menu of its all-day restaurant, the coffee shop in popular parlance, because this institution has traditionally been known (and judged) by the quality of its buffet.
As we all must know by now, a buffet isn’t the most appetising way to have a memorable meal, unless of course someone in the hotel’s F&B department has put a lot of thought into making it special. It’s also commonly understood that if people order from the a la carte menu of an all-day restaurant, they would ask for a sandwich or a burger and maybe soup. Even The Qube at The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri has been famous for its Angus burger, which is without doubt the best in the city.
The hotel’s executive chef, Christophe Gillino, a Frenchman from Avignon who arrived from Four Seasons Marrakesh some months back, all tanned and eager to tweak things, has taken the bold leap of faith to recast The Qube’s menu, pumping up its Mediterranean section (his years of work in Madeira and Monte Carlo coming in handy) and introducing his contemporary interpretations of French classics, which he mastered in the kitchens of the two doyens of the cuisine — Alain Ducasse and Alain Senderens.
When I first met Gillino (who's equally famous as the sound designer known in the business as Chris Milano), he said he wanted to make The Qube’s menu reflect the restaurant’s ambience — after all, the temperature-controlled glass box in which guests dine is a piece of architectural sophistication. I could appreciate Gillino’s sense of urgency. The Qube has been outperforming all the other restaurants in the hotel, so it makes sense to keep pumping up the oomph factor in its menu.
Gillino has not held himself back from introducing potentially popular choices. We have the schecciatta (pronounced as ‘Skee-ach-ATTA’), a flat bread that is as Tuscan (and as delicious) as Chianti; the sliders (mini burgers); the shawarma, a reflection of Gillino’s close association with the Arab world (his wife is Moroccan, for starters); chicken bento box, which presents different preparations of the Delhiite’s favourite meat in the cute Japanese version of the thali; and even items that’ll make you sit up and take notice, such as barbecued sea eel (unagi) with foie gras (this must rank as a most original inclusion in an all-day restaurant menu).
You’ll get a sense of the chef’s immense reserves of creativity from the spin he gives to French classics, starting with the silky and seductive bisque-bouille, which deconstructs the old-fashioned seafood soup, bouillabaisse, with catch from the Bay of Bengal. We have all had seared scallops, but Gillino lends the dish a summery lightness and a depth of flavour with the addition of guacamole and cucumber tartare. With the same dexterity, Gillino has enriched what could be a just a standard-issue pavĂ© (prime grilled steak) of salmon with the addition of leek fondue, goat cheese, beetroot reduction and lentil risotto. This interplay of textures and flavours saves the dish from being condemned to ordinariness, which is usually its fate, especially if the salmon has been in the freezer for too long. For the chicken ravioli served in a rosemary-infused wine reduction with Parmesan cheese, Gillino has played with the style of presentation, making it rise above its commonplace pedigree.
The star of the show, though, is the five-spice lamb shoulder (a stylish harking back to the Moroccan tagine) with apricot confit, soft polenta and onion chutney — the competing tastes, like the music Gillino orchestrates, seamlessly complement each other. Now, if you believe this is the peak of indulgence, wait till you dig into Gillino’s Araguani orange chocolate (a 72 per cent dark beauty from Valrhona) hot pudding with a saffron apricot compote and Bailey’s ice-cream. That’s my idea of heaven on earth!