Friday, 1 November 2013

DINING OUT: Fashionably Late, But Cavalli Caffe Gets Its New Menu Right

This review first appeared in Mail Today, Delhi/NCR, on 10/11/2013.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

and click on Page 23.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DINING OUT
WHAT: Cavalli Caffe
WHERE: Ground Floor Atrium, DLF Emporio, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj
WHEN: 11 A.M. TO 11 A.M. (last order)
DIAL: 011-46950000; +919582645245
AVG MEAL FOR TWO (SANS ALCOHOL): Rs 2,000+++

WHEN Cavalli Caffe (the 'ff' is deliberate!) opened last year, next to the flamboyant silver-haired Italian designer's boutique at DLF Emporio, people joked that it got as many diners in a day as would fit into the monogrammed stretch limo that had ferried Roberto Cavalli to the launch party in the glittering presence of Bollywood's young celebs led by the towering Sonam Kapoor.
Split into two sections--one in the luxury mall's atrium and the other inter-connected with the store, with crystal lamps, floor-to-roof mirrors, zebra-print sofas and chairs, and framed black-and-white photographs of Cavalli schmoozing with international stars, the Caffe was at once perceived to be overpriced and too snobby for regular diners.
Its misfortune was compounded by its location next to Cha Shi, whose wholesome South-East Asian street food, sensible pricing and accessible style made it an instant hit. The Caffe's indifferent menu and Cavalli prices did it in -- in our picky city, the only way you can make a restaurant successful is by serving good food. People pay for taste and not for an international celebrity's licence fee.
The new menu has the power to bring life back 
to Cavalli Caffe, whose bright and fashionable 
decor hadn't been getting people to come in 
and dine. Image: Shekhar Yadav/Mail Today
The restaurant's owner and promoter of a number of luxe brands, Manav Gangwani, was quick to read the writing on the wall and at once drafted Vidur Parashar, formerly famous for Circa 1193, the restaurant that met with a premature end even though it served honest-to-goodness Pan Asian cuisine with an international twist. Parashar took up the challenge, though he knew he would have to work hard to convince Roberto Cavalli's chefs that tweaking their menu was important to get the crowds that the Caffe needed to post decent-enough financial results. In this monumental effort, Parashar was aided by Jatin Mallick of Tres, who, in his capacity as independent expert, convinced the Italians that the menu was badly in need of an overhaul.
The Caffe's new menu is not only miles ahead of its predecessor, but also gentle on the pocket, with most dishes priced between Rs 200 and Rs 500, the notable exceptions being the Sweet Lobster Linguine (Rs 1,000) and the Lasagna Tradizionale/Tagliatelle Amatriciana (Rs 700 each). It has more items in the 'Cavalli International Specials', including melt-in-the-mouth chicken shawarma that'll make you ask for a repeat and a soul-satisfying, soupy tom kha, which has been renamed Oriental Meal in a Bowl keeping in mind the restaurant's global credentials. It took the burrata, or mozzarella with cream inside, with nothing more flashy than cherry tomatoes and a hint of balsamico to give it company, that convinced me the menu had indeed been turned around. And the burrata, oozing cream like a god dropping manna from heaven, had been sourced from saddi Dilli's Flanders Dairy at Brijwasan.
I was eating in the company of Atul Sikand, whose Facebook recipe-sharing group, Sikandalous Cuisine, has become a phenomenon with 10,000 members (and counting). It's very difficult to make him happy, but Atul was as pleased as punch, especially after we spooned up the last drop of the Crema di Pomodoro, a hearty tomato soup served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread -- old-fashioned but wholesome. Next on the agenda was the Beetroot Vinaigrette with feta and arugula (rocket), a much-abused salad that could have stayed that way, but it was actually a delight for the senses. The portion of Cavalli Burger (our choice was chicken) came in as two delicious sliders, with the juicy chicken patty encased in a slightly crunchy breaded batter. And the thin-but-not-paper-crust Margherita Pizza that arrived thereafter blew us away with its sauce, which finely balanced sweet and tangy -- it is apparently not taken out readymade from a bottle, but made in the kitchen with Italian canned pelati (peeled) tomatoes that you'll find in plenty at INA Market.
A regular mortal would have stopped here, but as Atul and I were on a serious tasting mission, we ordered the burrata ravioli with burnt butter and sage -- the description on the menu said it was "divinity on plate" and we had to agree with it wholeheartedly, despite the patent immodesty of the declaration. The burnt butter just did it! The sweet lobster linguine was yet another temptress and it justified its price with the chunks of lobster in it. Our final dish was the Oriental Meal in a Bowl -- the creamy, soupy tom kha with chunky shrimps was just what we needed to prepare ourselves for the grand finale: airy hot chocolate foam sitting atop a rum granita.
The hot-and-cold sensation was just what we needed to be convinced that the new Cavalli Caffe menu not only has depth, but also quality. With it coming back to life (I hope it gets the numbers), the DLF Emporio atrium is now a complete dining experience.