Friday, 23 May 2014

DINING OUT: Sunday Brunch Gets A New Twist at Chez Nini

This review first appeared in Mail Today on May 23, 2013.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers


WHAT: Sunday Brunch @ Chez Nini
WHERE: 79 & 80, Meher Chand Market, Fourth Avenue Road, Lodi Colony
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Rs 2,500+++ (unlimited cocktails from the menu);
Rs 2,000+++ (without cocktails) per person
CALL: +91- 9650257451

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Chez Nini's first floor, with its
display of ink sketches
of backs of people's heads,
is where the Sunday brunch
is served. (Below) Each
item, like the fish burger,
is cooked a la minute
and served at your table.
Images: Azra Sadr

NOT MANY chefs around the world get invited to serve a meal at James Beard House, New York's gastronomic pilgrimage at the town house that once belonged to the man who defined American Cookery. Nira Singh of Chez Nini just recently earned her entry into that exclusive club and immediately on her return, in an inspired move, unveiled a Sunday brunch that may just re-write the rules of the institution as it has transmogrified in Delhi.
We have gotten used to a brunch design that deifies excess. Just about everything a hotel or a restaurant has to offer is laid out on buffet counters for guests to dig in, with endless accompanying pours of bubbly and martinis, and the dishes keep getting replenished as they get consumed. That's quite industrial, though no one minds, because all of us believe we are getting our money's worth.
By going against the paisa vasool mindset, Chez Nini's Sunday brunch has shown how this institution was supposed to have evolved. Each guest gets to order one dish at a time from the special menu, which in effect means you can have an endless a la carte meal delivered at your table. There's an abundance of sangrias and smoothies, spiked with dates and honey, to keep everyone pleasantly high in between orders, and the pianist, Sahil Vasudeva, despite his Devdas looks and overnight stubble, plays just the kind of tunes that would get you to tap your feet and drum your table.
Your mind blanks out and you wonder why the neighbouring Lodi Colony appears to be in a state of slumber from the window beside your table. Shouldn't the occupants of the World War II-vintage apartments, which house government functionaries of all kinds, wake up and smell the Blue Tokai coffee from Coorg roasted exclusively for Chez Nini?
That's exactly the tantalising aroma that will greet you as you enter the first floor of the restaurant after a rather steep yet rejuvenating climb. The warm and welcoming fragrance of freshly baked breads and tarts will compete with it for your attention.
You can hear your stomach rumbling in anticipation, and as soon as your red wine sangria gives you an early afternoon alcohol rush, ask for the Watermelon Salad, drenched with citrus vinaigrette and loaded with creamy feta and grated hazelnuts to deliver a multi-textured sensation, then move on the French Onion Soup that comes with a blob of Himalayan gouda sitting on a crispy toast, and call for the Soft Poached Eggs served on a bed of sauteed spinach, bay leaf foam and crispy onion. The portions are generous, so share and show you care.
With your hunger temporarily assuaged but not your curiosity, your next step should be to order the Eggs Benedict that come sitting on gluten-free brioche, generously lashed with hollandaise and accompanied by seared slices of pork belly (divine!). Go for the Rosemary Pumpkin Pasta Au Gratin, which is a tribute to the umami powers of parmesan. Have the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Escalope with waffles, peppercorn sauce and buttermilk gravy. Or settle from my favourite: Fish Burger served on a multi-grain sourdough bun with okra fries, tartare sauce and salsa verde. Each offering comes with a twist, on wooden platters that arrive in diverse shapes, cooked a la minute and served at carefully calibrated intervals. I was surprised by the precision with which food was being served to a full house, giving hunger or impatience not even a sneaking chance to get the better of conversations. The sangria, of course, played a part in turning time into a bullet train.
Then comes the cherry on the topping. And the dilemma. Do we have the Caramel Popcorn and Berry Sundae or the Fruit Gazpacho? Order both and share. Don't miss either, and you must not go without your mandatory shot of Blue Tokai espresso. Did someone say Sunday brunch offerings have become predictable? Not at Chez Nini, for sure!