Friday, 8 November 2013

DINING OUT AT UZURI: A Terrace to Die For and A Menu With Winners

This restaurant review first appeared in the 08/11/2013 edition of Mail Today. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHERE: Uzuri Deck & Dining, M-40, M-Block Market, GK-II. It's on the Chungwa lane on top of Market Cafe.
WHEN: Lunch and Dinner. High Tea to start soon.
DIAL: 011-41623623 / 25
AVE MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 3,500+++
The restaurant doesn't have a liquor licence. But you can buy a day licence and have a party on the terrace.
STAR RATING: ***1/2 out of 5

Animal prints and African artifacts are all
over Uzuri's fine dining section to reinforce
the restaurant's positioning as the purveyor
of European fine dining suffused with
 uniquely African flavours.
I DROPPED in at Uzuri Deck & Dining almost on an impulse at an unsually sleepy Greater Kailash-II, M-Block Market (post-Diwali fatigue, I guess!), with my good friend and man-about-town, Shaun Lobo, whose father Ronnie is a much-revered name among hoteliers. Shaun's mother Fatima is one of the three owners of Tres, which has become a must-go-to fine dining destination, thanks to the combined talents of her chef-partners Julia Carmen De Sa and Jatin Mallick.
I was therefore in good company -- and I was particularly keen on meeting Guy Clark, the Masterchef South Africa finalist who had guests at the wedding of Max India Chairman Analjit Singh's daughter (it was the wedding where Lionel Ritchie sang) eating out of his hands. Clark is one of the two chefs steering Uzuri, which bills itself as a European-African restaurant (the name itself comes from the Swahili word for 'goodness'), but he was vacationing in Rajasthan.
That gave me an opportunity to meet the restaurant's young executive head chef, Rishim Sachdeva, who has moved back from London, where he went when he was 16, after studying hospitality management at Oxford Brookes University and working at Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal's celebrated Michelin three-star restaurant at Bray, Berkshire. I was particularly impressed by the last bit of the young chef's biography.
Rishim has actually worked for two years and half with the god of molecular gastronomy and was promoted to sous chef at Fat Duck, where most youngsters consider themselves lucky to be able to work as unpaid interns, just to be able to flash the name on their CVs. On the Uzuri menu, Blumenthal shows up with his invention, chocolate soil, on which rests the restaurant's must-have dessert with semi-frozen truffles, caramelised nuts, pickled grapes and butter caramel ice-cream. A silent tribute from a proud student.
I chose the two-storey restaurant's tastefully turned-out terrace, which was a delight on a nippy evening, and I could see it becoming the city's favourite party zone when the place gets its liquor licence only after the assembly elections. This hiatus may hurt the restaurant in the short run -- and it is showing in its uneven occupancy -- because its food is made for wine and long conversations. Frankly, I didn't say 'wow' after each dish, but the meal left me with a sense of satisfaction and a desire to return soon.
It was the mustard lamb shoulder, cooked for 48 hours and served on a bed of wild spinach with hazelnut salsa verde, that made me silently pray for this restaurant's long life. I had it with the herbed quinoa salad, bush-style smoked vegetables and truffle-scented pesto, whose charming simplicity won my heart, and the trio of beetroot and goat cheese mousse, toasted pumpkin seeds and warm bread. I just loved the bread, though I couldn't decide whether I loved the accompanying beetroot jam more (even the butter trio -- paprika, garlic and pesto -- accompanying the bread basket will make you consume a lot of carbs)!
The opening was heart-warming, but then came two jarring notes -- the Cape Malay fish cakes made me wonder why I was having aloo tikki in a restaurant that otherwise takes its food seriously and the pressed pork belly resting on an apple cider mash was left half-eaten. Before we could start complaining, though, we were blown away by the palate cleanser -- an unbeatable lemon souffle -- followed by the African-spiced leg of lamb with mint puree, onions carmelised for 48 hours, confit garlic and caper jus. I just loved the interplay of textures and tastes and how well they sat on my palate, and the twice-based cheese souffle served with braised edamame, sun-dried cherry tomatoes and balsamic fondue can give the grand-daddy in this department, Orient Express, a good run for its money. This is one restaurant that'll see more of me.