Saturday, 28 June 2014

DINING OUT: Summer Menu Lifts Le Cirque New Delhi to a New Stratosphere

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHAT: Summer Menu at Le Cirque
WHERE: The Leela Palace New Delhi, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri
WHEN: Dinner only
DIAL: (011) 39331390
(The restaurant doesn't levy service charge)

WHEN Le Cirque first opened on the rooftop of The Leela Palace New Delhi at Chanakyapuri, I went against prevailing wisdom and trashed its tired Franco-Italian menu, which, I discovered, was more or less the treatment being meted out to it by critics at the restaurant's birthplace, New York City. It was at this time that someone alerted me to the till-then undiscovered talent of Abhay Singh 'Mickey' Bhoite, the restaurant's Gujarati-born Italian executive chef. He could do much more than just replicate the mother restaurant's menu.
Mickey Bhoite, Le Cirque's
Chef de Cuisine, has proved to
be a fine orchestrator of the
unusual -- jasmine-smoked
scallops and pan-seared foie
gras with jamun confit, anyone?
Mickey grew up in Tuscany and worked at some of the world's best-known Italian restaurants before being handpicked by Le Cirque's Grand Old Man, Sirio Maccioni, to come over to Delhi. On arrival, Mickey at once attracted notice with his spiky hairstyle and sunny disposition. And stories started circulating about his lifelong love for venomous snakes (his collection of 60-plus of these slithering creatures back home in Italy is now in the custody of his mother), his passion for motorbikes and football (AC Juventus has his unwavering loyalty), and, as you'd expect from a chef of his standing, his mastery over contemporary gastronomic techniques such as sous vide, or  slow cooking in a water bath to ensure uniform cooking and protect the sanctity of the essential juices of meats. But we got to see very little of Mickey's repertoire.
Not any longer. Le Cirque's recently unveiled summer menu retains the popular classics such as the Porcini Consomme, Caesar Salad (with sunny side-up egg toast), Sirio's Pasta Primavera, Bistecca alla Fioentina (prepared with a chunky Angus T-bone steak), and Lobster Risotto, but it allows Mickey and his deputy, Federico Pucci, the freedom to give their creative instincts a free run. The formula seems to be working, for the restaurant, despite its steep prices, is forever full. The last time I was there, the celebrity diners included Captain Amarinder Singh, Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, his party colleague, Louise Khurshid, who was celebrating her promotion as senior citizen, the Iraqi ambassador, who had come with friends, and Kapil and Romi Dev, who were with an eclectic group at yet another private dining room.
Mickey loves to marry tastes and textures into seamless gastronomic experiences with the confidence that comes only when a chef understands his ingredients well. I asked him, for instance, about why he feels the need to import aubergines from France, and his reply made sense to me, despite his lengthy carbon footprint. Indian vegetables can be very temperamental -- sometimes, they taste like the best in the world; at other times, they are just not right. This can be extremely frustrating for a chef whose reputation is built upon consistency.
What I admire about Mickey is his memorable little creative touches, like presenting Asparagus Soup with buttermilk foam and salmon roe, or Wild Forest Mushrooms with parsnip puree, fava beans and hazelnuts, or Double Cooked Mozzarella with figs, arugula, aged  balsamic vinegar and  strawberry gazpacho (how cool!). His killer app, though, is the Pan Seared Foie Gras with perigordine sauce (a must for a Beef Wellington), caramelised peach, summery jamun confit (this is a touch of genius!) and toasted brioche. And Mickey's scallops come delicately jasmine-smoked, an idea that carries stamp (as does his Masala Tea Tiramisu).
Mickey brings an element of surprise to each dish, but the standouts are Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi (with spicy carrot reduction, caramelised onion and spinach cracker), Lamb CĂ´telette in Grissini Crunch (with cocoa butter, which is another inspired choice, like using grissini for crumbs, potato and roasted garlic mash, plus a mint and onion sauce in the style of the Argentinean 'chimichurri'), and Olive Oil Poached Black Cod (drizzled with fresh tomato and parsley guazzetto, or slow-cooked, sauce and burnt eggplant 'pestato'). A world of influences congregate on the plate and Mickey orchestrates this gastronomic symphony with the elan of a Zubin Mehta.

This restaurant review first appeared in Mail Today on Friday, June 26, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers