Friday, 11 July 2014

DINING OUT: Startup Dreams Meet Fun Food At The Village

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

QUICK BYTES
WHERE: Hauz Khas Social, Hauz Khas Village (entrance next to Delhi Art Gallery)
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
DIAL: (+91) 7838652814
HOW MUCH (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 800 for two, minus taxes and 10 per cent service charge
STAR RATING: 3-1/2*/5

HAUZ KHAS SOCIAL in not just another new dining space in a city teeming with options; it's a new experience altogether. It's the first hangout of the young -- in the capital of Delhi's Youngistan, Hauz Khas Village -- where bootstrapping start-up entrepreneurs can work through the day, satisfy their hunger pangs as they go about their day's business, and unwind at the end of it by stepping into the bar and ordering an unbelievably priced quarter to be shared with friends and co-workers.
The vibe at Hauz Khas Social is
such that you'd want to unwind
with an Aacharoska (above) or
a Screw Social Driver (below)
after a day spent with your
laptop and your colleagues,
your lunch being the humble
Social Staff Meal Du Jour
It's like working in your office cafeteria after some invisible magic wand has transmogrified it into 8,500 sq. ft. of social space, cheek by jowl with Firuz Shah Tughlaq's medieval madarsa, yet loaded with contemporary amenities such as WiFi and an app that lets you order food or select your music playlist, with the kind of edgy personality you'd associate with New York's Meat Packing District. Unfinished bare walls, naked bulbs, recycled furniture, skeletal clamp lights, plush leather sofas and signs in classical fonts hand-painted by street art guru Hanif Kureshi fall in place seamlessly to turn conventional restaurant design wisdom on its head. Anti-design is the Social's design statement.
The menu mirrors this sense of newness, yet it elevates conventional coffee shop and bar offerings into conversation pieces. Serious thought has been invested into it by Mumbai-based restaurant entrepreneur Riyaz Amlani, who's also famous for his Salt Water Cafe, Smoke House Deli and Mocha brands, his food and beverage honcho, Sid Mathur, and the Social's head chef, Gaurav Gidwani. Together, they have walked the fine line dividing fun food and kitchen gimmickry, without falling into the welcoming iron clasp of the latter.
For the Aacharoska, the classical cocktail with an Indian twist (and my personal favourite), for instance, they tried out 28 different lime pickles with mixologist Shishir Rane before settling for the Maharashtrian variant. The cocktail, served in a martaban (as you'd expect pickles to be), as a result, doesn't have the cloying sweetness that ruins such concoctions -- and that is especially true of the Deconstructed Moscow Mule, which comes (as it did at its birthplace, the Cock 'N' Bull restaurant on the Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles) in a copper mug with a pipette of ginger juice to balance the ginger ale's sugar punch. The Screw Social Driver, meanwhile, arrives in a beaker (specially ordered from Dava Bazaar, an area in South Mumbai famous for medical and scientific instruments as well as lab chemicals) with a real screwdriver in tow to remind you of the drink's origins -- it was apparently invented by American engineers in the Middle East in the 1940s, as they secretly mixed vodka into cans of orange juice with a screwdriver, the only equivalent of a cocktail shaker they had at an arm's length.
The food menu, similarly, is studded with surprises. You can order the Pakistani street food staple, anda shammi burger (with the buns being replaced by pao and the shammi being plumper than the usual), or make your heart work a little extra after you've had the fried bacon-wrapped peanut butter-jam sandwich squares served with vanilla ice-cream, or have a regular daal-chawal lunch for Rs 150 by ordering the Social Staff Meal Du Jour (notice the inverted snobbery!), or a Paneer Makhni/Butter Chicken/Andhra Mutton Biryani.
Each page of the food menu is studded with nibbles that will bring back cherished memories, like the cutting chai with khari biscuits, which are essentially puff pastries served in Mumbai's Irani cafes; or Bombay Bachelors, the typically Mumbai sandwich with sliced veggies and masala aloo bhaji topped with mint chutney and sev; or The Ramesh & Suresh -- deep-fried Five Star bars served with hot chocolate fudge and vanilla ice-cream -- named after the two characters who appears in the commercial for the well-known chocolate brand. But in all this unusualness, there's a unifying strand -- good taste. It never goes out of fashion.