By Sourish Bhattacharyya
DIYA at The Leela Gurgaon is one of Delhi-NCR's few finer Inventive Indian restaurants that can be counted on your fingertips, but it has never got its due, maybe because the chef who was responsible for its outstanding menu, Kunal Kapur, is more famous as the genial host and judge of Masterchef India, and not for his tawa parantha stuffed with feta cheese, spring onions and onion seeds (kalonji).
Kapur has risen steadily up the hotel's corporate ladder -- he's now the executive sous chef -- so Diya will soon have a new chef and he's Angshuman Adhikari, who has been running Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar's Simply India restaurant at the year-old St Regis in the scenic Le Morne peninsula, an old hideout of runaway slaves on the south-western tip of Mauritius. Angshuman was sous chef at Kochhar's Dubai restaurant, Zafran, before he moved to the Indian Ocean island nation.
The St Regis at Le Morne stands in the shadow of a 556m-high basaltic monolith that looms over the palm-fringed resort thriving in glorious isolation on a beach in pristine condition. It is here that Kochhar, who opened London's Tamarind restaurant and now presides over Benaras, conceptualised Simply India, where the Samundri Do Pyaza, a treat for seafood lovers, competes for your attention with Karara Kekda Aur Salad (soft-shell crab paired with apple and peanut salad and apple chutney); Batak Chettinad served with cabbage and vermicelli foogath (which gets its name because of coconut and curry leaves); Tandoori Machhi teamed with crispy bok choy and Kochhar's signature smoked tomato chutney; and Citrus Rice Pudding with Blood Orange Ice Cream.
I can see Diya becoming the talk of the town, which Angshuman knows very well, having worked at Set'z with the formidable Master Chef Arif Ahmed, but it is not the only restaurant that'll see the infusion of pedigreed talent. The ever-popular Olive Bar & Kitchen at Mehrauli has got itself a prized import -- the young Sujan Sarkar, who's fresh off the boat from London (and all set to get married). I was reading up about Sujan when I stumbled upon a tweet by Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame informing his followers about how this talented dynamo was "preparing [a] dazzling display" for TreatFest 2012. It's not often that Blumenthal tweets as enthusiastically about a young chef.
Described as a "gastronomic genius", Sujan was crowned London Chef of the Year and was National Chef of the Year finalist in 2012. The rising star of 'molecular ingenuity' who uses liquid nitrogen like a magician, left Mumbai's JW Marriott, where he launched his career, in 2004 to join the Hilton hotels in the UK. Soon, he found himself working at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, from where he moved under the wings of the Relais & Chateaux grand chef Peter Tempelhoff, and then on to the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows on the 28th floor of the London Hilton at Park Lane, where he got to work with Andre Garrett and Chris Galvin.
|Sujan Sarkar, seen at the TreatFest 2012 in the UK,|
has joined Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli. His
appointment has been a casting coup for the
restaurant's charismatic owner, AD Singh.
Moving fast, Sujan changed gears and went on to be the opening chef of the Automat American Brasserie on Dover Street, Mayfair, whose popular menu is as famous for its macaroni and cheese with truffle as for its chicken liver and foie gras mousse served with plum chutney. From Automat, Sujan also ran the affairs of the private members' club, Almada, which opened beneath the brasserie and attracted the likes of George Clooney because of its classic decor, good food and discreet setting.
Alex Marks is the other debutant from London who is opening his innings at the Orient Express with a dinner on Tuesday, November 12. He's replacing D.N. Sarma, the Taj veteran who learnt his craft from the legendary Arvind Saraswat and became synonymous with OE. Well, OE needed more than just Sarma's reassuring presence to shore up its jaded reputation and Marks, who earned his spurs at Gordon Ramsay's Maze at the Marriott on Grosvenor Square, may just be the oxygen that the chic restaurant badly needs.
Marks got noticed because he did a pretty competent job of stepping into Ramsay's star protégé Jason Atherton's shoes at Maze -- a gushing review of the restaurant had lauded it for its "attention to infinitesimal details and a commitment to exactingly high standards". He was previously the head chef at the Michelin-starred Foliage, the Modern British restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge that has been replaced by Heston Blumenthal's Dinner.
With such talented chefs with impeccable track records arriving in the city (apart from of course the incredible Rahul Akerkar), we seem to have a great gastronomic season ahead. I can't wait to see how it unfolds.