Friday, 13 June 2014

The Wine List to Beat All Wine Lists: Spice Market's Sumit & Chiquita Gulati Get It Right

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

SUMIT GULATI has hospitality in his DNA, which is why it is a pleasure to be invited by him. And if the dinner is in the company of Sumit's fellow Les Roches alumnus Samrat Banerjee, whose guest management skills were as much responsible for Indian Accent's success as Manish Mehrotra's wizardry with the ladle (and of course the brilliant marketing and communications of Mukta Kapoor), the pleasure could only get doubled.
Sumit and Chiquita Gulati, the
couple behind Gulati's Spice
Market behind Select Citywalk
in Saket. They met at Les Roches,
Switzerland's leading hotel
management school. 
This blog post, however, is not a self-indulgent piece on a memorable dinner with two friends, but a tribute to the passion with which Sumit, with professional help from Magandeep Singh and his talented deputy, Gurjeet Singh Barry, is promoting wine as an accompaniment to good food at Gulati's Spice Market, Saket. Sumit has proved one more time that an intelligently priced, and engineered, wine menu can become a conversation point among guests, giving a restaurant a renewed marketing boost (and additional revenues to boot!), when its food by itself ceases to be a novelty. We have known this before, but the hospitality industry doesn't see the simple logic of this proposition, blinded as it is by its love for the bottomline. And remember, Sumit, unlike our five-star hotels and many privileged restaurants, doesn't get to buy his wines duty-free.
Sumit is from the family that owns the famous Pandara Road restaurant that carries his family name. His grandfather, Faqir Chand Gulati, uprooted by Partition at the age of 24 from native Gujranwala, used to sell chhole-bhatura from a bicycle at India Gate. He must have been popular because when Jawaharlal Nehru mooted the idea of the Pandara Road Market in 1959, he was the first to be asked to move there and set up his dhaba, which eventually grew into the restaurant we love.
Gulati, the restaurant, earned its reputation from its unforgettable kadhai chicken, but in the 1970s, it turned vegetarian because Faqir Chand's brother (and business partner), Krishna, came under the influence of a religious teacher. Business plummeted, so Faqir Chand and Krishna worked out an arrangement that many of us, who have grown up with Gulati, must personally be grateful for. Krishna opened Krishna Sweets, whose multi-flavoured kulfis and piping hot gulab jamuns, sold today by his grandsons, are must-haves after any meal at the market's many restaurants.
The restaurant is now presided over by Faqir Chand's son, Vinod Gulati, who joined it in 1976 right after getting his B.Com. degree from Bhagat Singh College and managed its transformation from a dhaba to a modern eatery. There was a time when he was an expert at making kadhai chicken at time when he wasn't needed at the till, but now, he's better known as the president of the market association who got NDMC to transform it into a visual showpiece. His restaurant, after a recent expansion, is a 140-seater that feeds 700-800 people a day and its hugely popular lunch-time buffet is a hit among Delhi High Court lawyers. "It's like catering for a marriage daily," says Sumit.
As the scion of a family that has created a Delhi landmark, Sumit could have easily settled into the comforts of managing a business that is running on auto pilot. He teamed up with his wife Chiquita (his Les Roches sweetheart from Mumbai) and launched Gulati's Spice Market with a pan-Indian menu behind Select Citywalk at a building known as Southern Park in 2008.
The Spice Market has shown that you can make
money without overcharging if you have an
intelligently engineered and rightly priced menu.

Fratelli's Sette 2010 is a personal favourite and
it is available at Spice Market at the bargain
price of Rs 1,900 for a 750ml bottle.
It may not be attracting a blaze of publicity, but Spice Market, as I realised during the course of our dinner that started with an unforgettable jamun-spiked shikanjwi, has maintained the Gulati commitment to food you can never complain about, while being inventive at the same time. The restaurant justifiably is well-known for its dum-cooked murgh zafrani kabab, Rajputana sooley, patthar ke kabab, dahi ke kabab, tandoori kathal and a host of other specialities, including my personal favourites -- Hyderabadi kachche gosht ki biryani, laal maas and of course, kadhai chicken.
I was happy therefore to see the restaurant buzzing with guests on a Tuesday. Sumit says he easily manages two seatings -- first, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., which is when the expats, especially Japanese and Korean executives from the Mitsui and Hyundai offices upstairs, and American guests at the neighbouring Svelte, Hilton Garden Inn and Sheraton New Delhi hotels; and second, from 8:30 p.m. onwards, when resident Delhiites start streaming in. I wish now more people come in for the fantastically priced wine list.
Gulati's Spice Market is the first restaurant in Delhi-NCR to introduce 187ml bottles (for Rs 400 each), including the zesty rose, Torres Da Casta 2012 (Garnacha + Carinena; Rs 450), or the hearty red, Torres Coronas Tempranillo 2010, which a couple would find handy, especially if one is into wine and the significant other isn't. There are many 375ml bottles to choose from, including my favourites: Sula Chenin Blanc 2013 (Rs 450; white); Torres Vina Esmeralda (Moscatel + Gewurtztraminer; Rs 950); and Sula Satori 2013 (Merlot + Malbec; Rs 450).
If yours is a table of four (or even two with good absorption power), I would recommend that you order a full bottle (750ml) of Sula Riesling 2013 (Rs 1,000) or the refreshing newcomer to Delhi's wine scene from South Africa, Marianne Natana 2011 (Sauvignon Blanc + Chenin Blanc; Rs 1,700). Among the reds, you'll be spoilt for choice, but my picks are: Fratelli Cabernet Franc + Shiraz 2013 (Rs 950); Fratelli Sette 2010 (a real bargain at Rs 1,900); and Castello Banfi Chianti 2012 (another good bargain for Rs 1,700). The stars of list, though, are the Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Gewurtztraminer 2012 (Rs 3,300), which Sumit and Chiquita discovered on their first anniversary at the Orient Express, Taj Palace, and Joseph Drouhin La Foret Pinot Noir Burgundy 2010 (Rs 2,500). If you're in the mood to celebrate, these are the wines you must ask for, otherwise you can always savour the other wines lined up on this compact and competitively priced wine list.