Sunday, 31 August 2014

An Ode to the Unputdownable Hainanese Chicken Rice at K3's Singapore Street Food Fest

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN the JW Marriott became the first five-star hotel to open at the New Delhi Aerocity, we were wondering how it would make money, especially because it had opened with just half of its rooms, the other half awaiting clearance security clearance from the Delhi Police.
Fortunately for it, in a market where weddings are getting bigger by the minute, the hotel got some big banqueting assignments and its F&B team emerged with its reputation intact in this baptism
Hainanese Chicken Rice stood out among
the Singapore street food preparations on
 offer at K3, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity.
by fire. And it was able to buttress its reputation with the quality of the buffet at its all-day restaurant -- K3. Executive Chef Girish Krishnan achieved it with the help of his two stars -- the Italian Chef Daniele Trivero and the Malaysian Dilliwallah Thomas Wee (who, sadly, has left K3 to oversee the high sea kitchens of an offshore oil exploration company) -- and the front-of-the-house team led by the mild-mannered Tarun Bhatia with his ever-smiling dynamo, K3's Restaurant Manager Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla. Its only weak spot is its Indian kitchen, which is badly in need of a new direction.
K3's strength is the flexibility of its design, which enables it to organise specialised food festivals, like the one showcasing Singapore's street treats, which concludes today (Sunday, August 31). Some time back, K3 hosted a Bohri food promotion, which I missed because I wasn't in the city (and it got very good reviews too), so I made sure I didn't miss the Singapore street food festival. What drew me to it was the fact that it was being curated by John Chye of the Singapore Marriott Hotel and that the young chef is from Penang. You can't get two better good food destinations than Penang and Singapore, and Chef Chye's spread draws on the best of both worlds.
The Singapore spread is quite extensive, yet there wasn't one dish, from the popiah (fresh spring rolls) to the braised aubergine, that fell below my expectations. If you're a carnivore, you can make a meal out of the seafood laksa, braised duck with tofu skin in soy sauce, fish in spiced tamarind gravy and, my favourite, Hainanese Chicken Rice. You can judge the real worth of a Singaporean chef, in my view, by his or her ability to dish up the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice. Chef Chye cleared my test with distinction.
His Hainanese Chicken Rice is a study in fine balance. The slivers of chicken, which are icy white because the whole chicken is dipped into icy water after it has been steeped in bone stock, are served with a helping of rice cooked in the same broth in which the chicken is steeped, pieces of cucumber dipped in chicken broth, and a hot dipping sauce made with minced chillies and garlic, topped up with soy. The dip breathes life into the slivers of silken chicken and rice cooked in broth tastes like something special. It take a bad chef to complicate this dish; an expert hand knows how much of human intervention is needed to let the ingredients and cooking methods speak for themselves.
The guardians of K3 must make the Hainanese Chicken Rice a lasting feature of their Sunday spread. That would be a befitting tribute to the talents of Chef Chye.

-- The Singapore Street Food Festival's Sunday Brunch is priced at Rs 2,500++ (without alcohol), Rs 3,000++ (with alcohol; no champagne) and Rs 4,200++ (with free-flowing champagne).

Saturday, 30 August 2014

THE NEWS BRIEFLY: Le Cirque's Star in Exit Mode; Vella Ramaswamy Heads Home; Vikramjit Roy Returns with Nian; and a Greek Skydeck

Mickey Bhoite is heading back
to Florence leaving his Royal
Enfield for the highest bidder
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

DELHI'S five-star hotels are heading for a churn because of exits by familiar faces and entrances by new arrivals.
The big news is that Le Cirque's Abhay Singh 'Mickey' Bhoite is going back home to Italy, where he plans to settle down in Florence (closer to his collection of more than 60 venomous snakes, who are now in the custody of his mother). That'll be a big blow to The Leela Palace New Delhi (a little bird informs us that Bhoite's deputy, Federico Tucci, is exiting as well) because Le Cirque's reputation owes a lot to Bhoite's personality and style of cooking.
Royal Enfield enthusiasts, though, are waiting for the opportunity to bid for Bhoite's custom-made motorbike, which comes equipped with mind-blowing woofers. Bhoite and his young colleague, Vaibhav Roy, team up together with friends as often as they can and hit the highways. People who know the motorcycle (known as the Highway Queen) say it is in sparkling condition and Bhoite is reportedly asking for Rs 4 lakh for the beauty.
Vella Ramaswamy may not have burnt rubber on highways, but the Mauritian who grew up in Australia is the only expat general manager I know who has seen two hotels in Delhi-NCR come up under his guardianship from the bhoomi pujan to the first guest walking in.
As the opening general manager of The Leela Kempinski Gurgaon (now known as The Leela Ambience Gurgaon), he got the hotel off the ground at a rather difficult time for the global economy and successfully established Spectra as one of Delhi-NCR's foremost restaurants. Then, as the founding father of the Kempinski Ambience Hotel Delhi, he turned its locational disadvantage on the head and took full advantage of the size of its banqueting area to make it the go-to destination for mega business providers in the MICE (Meetings Incentives Conventions Exhibitions) segment. The hotel is also a favourite of wedding planners and has seen many a Big Fat Bania Wedding take place with a no onion, no garlic vegetarian spread laid out for 1,000-plus guests.
Vella Ramaswamy gave Delhi-NCR
to hotels, but is now returning to
home city Melbourne
Puneet Singh is back in Delhi after
spending 20 years with Kempinski
Hotels in eight countries
Ramaswamy's time is up. The affable hotelier with a brilliant sense of humour is going home to Melbourne and he is in the process of handing over charge to a Delhiite, Puneet Singh, who is returning to his home city after putting in more than two decades with the Kempinski hotels in eight countries. After completing his hotel management studies in Germany, Singh got selected to Kempinski's four-year management training programme, which took him to Germany, the U.S. and Turkey. Thereafter, the polyglot roving hotelier, who's fluent in six languages, spent six years gaining F&B operations experience in culturally diverse markets, then held leadership positions at Kempinski hotels in China, Tanzania, UAE, Russia and Egypt, and even in the midst of all this movement, got his Executive MBA from the top-rated Reims Management School, France. Before his transfer to Delhi, Singh was the General Manager of the Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel at the Bahrain City Centre.
In other developments, Sevilla at The Claridges has been shut for its annual refurbishment; it is expected to open in October-end. I can't wait to see what Executive Chef Neeraj Tyagi and his deputy, Rajiv Sinha, have up their sleeves for the new Sevilla. Vikramjit Roy, who Delhiites remember from his days at Wasabi by Morimoto, is returning to the rooftop of ITC Maurya to open an 'Asian Cooking Studio' named Tian. The restaurant will replace My Humble House, which never came close to the popularity of Bali Hi. An IHM-Taratolla graduate, Roy opened Pan-Asian at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai about a year ago and became an instant superstar in a city that hadn't been exposed to his genre of fine dining.
And of course, The Leela Ambience Gurgaon is taking a leap of faith by turning its poolside into a 69-seater restaurant, Skydeck Lounge, with a Greek menu washed down by ouzo, the anise-flavoured aperitif, and retsina wines, which have a more than 2,000-year-old history. It is the first five-star hotel to tread into this unfamiliar territory. I hope it's not the only one taking this plunge.

Progressive Indian Cuisine's Foremost Exponent Gaggan Anand to Curate Rs 12,500-Per-Head Meals for India's Most Exclusive Club

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

GAGGAN ANAND was a little-known chef when he left India to take up a job at a restaurant named Red Bangkok in a city where he's now among its culinary superstars. On September 2, Kolkata-born Gaggan, whose eponymous restaurant in Bangkok is ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the
Gaggan Anand at work in the 'laboratory' of his
eponymous restaurant located in one of
Bangkok's upscale neighbourhoods.
world, will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport for his first professional assignment in Delhi, where he once fed Bill Clinton during his days as a junior chef at Orient Express. And he'll be laying out an 11-course tasting menu for India's most exclusive club -- the uber-wealthy people who possess the American Express Centurion Card.
"I will recreate the Gaggan experience as much as possible with the ingredients available in Delhi and Mumbai," the chef said on phone from Bangkok. On many occasions, Gaggan has said that it is dream to launch a restaurant in Mumbai. Will his Indian experience bring him closer to his dream? That's a question up for speculative answers.
No bank in the country has taken the entertainment of its key customers to this level. But then, the people who own the anodised titanium card, famously known as the Black Card, are in a league of their own. Amitabh Bachchan is the owner of one and so are members of the Bhartia, Burman, Godrej, Munjal and Oberoi families. The charge card comes with annual fee of Rs 2.5 lakh and a joining fee of Rs 2 lakh, with there's no spending limit globally. Unsurprisingly, a Centurion card holder bought a Bentley with the world's most hallowed piece of titanium.
Arriving with his team of chefs and sommeliers, the Master of Progressive Indian Cuisine, who's the only Indian to have interned under Ferran Adria at El Bulli, will curate eight meals, four at the ITC Maurya and the remaining four at the Four Seasons Mumbai. Each wine-paired meal, according to sources, has been priced at Rs 12,500 per person.
Cellar Door Kitchen, a platform for pop-up restaurant events founded by Mumbai-based culinary consultants (and creators of Citibank Restaurant Week India) Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye, is the organiser of this eight-day event, which promises to a set a new benchmark for food events across the country.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Restaurant Bigwigs Bet Big on Home Deliveries and Takeaways, Airport Retail and Promised Turnaround of Railway Stations

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE Indian Restaurant Congress 2014, organised for the fourth successful year by Franchise India, opened at the Vivanta by Taj in Faridabad with the overarching theme of 'Think Global, Eat Local' and the inaugural speaker, Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman, drove home the point by stating how just one innovation -- the introduction of masala papad as a side dish -- drove the per outlet sales of Punjab Grill up by Rs 2 lakh a month in Delhi/NCR.
Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman gave
an insightful start to the Indian Restaurant
Congress 2014 with his analysis of the challenges
and future growth areas of the restaurant industry.
Innovation. Consistency. Localisation. These were the buzzwords that kept coming up in the presentations by the leaders of the industry as they looked into the crystal ball to predict the trends that would define their business in the years ahead.
Burman started his talk by listing the "continual challenges" -- higher-than-ever real estate, ingredient and personnel costs -- which have confronted the industry since the past year. Food inflation peaked at 20 per cent in November 2013 and energy cost went up on average by 11 per cent, Burman added. He listed four strategies to find a way around these challenges: smart menu engineering, efficient real estate use, smart hiring and tighter cost controls.
"We earn for the government, real estate owners and banks," Burman said on a light note, adding that taxes sliced off 20 per cent of the margins of a restaurant business, and rents as well as repayment of bank loans with interest accounted for another 30 per cent. What he mentioned in passing, though, is an even bigger challenge. Indians still do not eat out as much as their counterparts in south-east Asia, for instance. Though we eat out twice as much as we used to in the recent past -- eight times a month, compared with four in the past -- we are way behind the residents of Hong Kong (3.2 times a day) and Singaporeans (41 times a month).
In this tight market, how can restaurant operators make money? For Lite Bite Foods, which has become a benchmark-setter in the restaurant retail business, the future is in airport retail, which, according to Burman, offers more consistent footfalls and growth than malls or the high street. The company is now looking at food courts at next-generation railway stations, as visualised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the next big growth avenue. "More and more travellers are eating on the go," Burman pointed out.
Home deliveries and takeaways were the other growth drivers highlighted by speaker after speaker. Discussing the Yo China growth model, the 51-outlets-and-growing restaurant chain's CEO, Ashish Kapur, said that home deliveries and takeaways accounted for 40 per cent of its revenues, providing a cushion to the dine-in side of the business. A sound logic drives this mixed growth model: You're paying rent for the entire day, so why don't you make your most expensive asset sweat harder! "Maximise business, reduce transaction costs," Burman said, pointing to the obvious benefits of this mixed growth model.
K.S. Narayanan, CEO, Pan India Food Solutions, whose brands extend from Copper Chimney to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Spaghetti Kitchen, made a strong pitch for "constantly innovating in the way we cook, serve, deliver and communicate". He made three points that the industry can ignore only at its peril:
* Food is very local, very culturally driven (hence, the new buzz phrase, 'eat local').
* Taste is an important driver of consumer preferences (hence, the salience of consistency).
* Consumers are becoming critics (hence, the paramount importance of communications).
Everyone talks about consistency, but it's easier said than done. For a single restaurant, it may mean, as Saurabh Khanijo, the man behind the successful trio of Kylin, Kylin Premier and Sartoria, put it: "standardisation of recipes and regular audits" to ensure that the recipes are followed without deviation. Kapur at once gave the audience a reality check.
Consistency of the quality of food that is served at a restaurant depends entirely on the consistency of supplies and the consistent quality of ingredients, which are both big challenges. The supply chain, likewise, is dependent on the efficiency of the transport network and the consistency of temperature control, which are both logistical nightmares.
Kapur said that in an ideal world, it would make economic sense to prepare at a central commissary and transport the thousands of dim sum consumed daily at the many Yo China outlets in Delhi/NCR (all that these would then require is steaming or frying once orders are placed), but this enterprise would require a "chilled chain", which is a dream in our country as we still struggle to put a cold chain in place. In an imperfect world, it's not easy to be a restaurant operator, but the growth rates are too tempting for any entrepreneur to ignore.

LINKING THE DOTS: Rollatainers, Wendy's, Jamie's Italian, Barista and Saurabh Khanijo

The parent company of the entity bringing Wendy's into India has yet another hospitality industry subsidiary, which has just acquired Barista and picked up an undisclosed stake in Saurabh 'Kylin' Khanijo's Welgrow Hotel Concepts. It's also getting Jamie's Italian, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's highly successful international restaurant chain, into India. These multiple forays are the first in the hospitality business for the parent company, which is a market leader in the business of manufacturing lined cartons for clients as varied as Amul and Gillette.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHEN Economic Times broke the story of Rollatainers and the London-based International Market Management (IMM) bringing America's third-largest burger chain, Wendy's, to India through a jointly owned subsidiary named Sierra Nevada, a number of eyebrows shot up. What is Rolltainers and how is it linked with the food business?
For starters, not many may know that Rollatainers, one of the country's largest packaging companies based out of Haryana, has just picked up Barista, the country's second-largest cafe chain with 190 retail outlets across India, UAE, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The lock-stock-and-barrel acquisition, which includes Barista's central commissary, 65,00-litres-a-month ice-cream plant and four warehouses in Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, was made by Carnation Hospitality, a Rolltainers subsidiary powering the company's foray into the hospitality sector.
Saurabh Khanijo, who's behind the successful
Kylin brand of restaurants, is the man to look out
for as Rollatainers, a Haryana-based packaging
company, prepares to launch Wendy's and
Jamie's Kitchen in India in 2015.
The subsidiary, according to, quoting a stock market disclosure made by Rolltainers, one of the country's leading manufacturers of printed and lined cartons, has also "entered into separate business purchase agreements with Welgrow Hotel Concepts and Mapple Hospitality to operate their brands". The firm, according to the authoritative M&A news website, did not say if it has acquired the brands owned by the firm or picked up stake in the two companies.
Started by poultry farmer-turned-travel agency operator-turned-restaurateur Saurabh Khanijo, Welgrow Hotel Concepts runs a chain of eateries across formats under the Kylin brand as well as the high-end Italian restaurant, Sartoria. Mapple Hospitality, launched in November 2009, runs a chain of budget hotels in Delhi/NCR and a host of business and leisure destinations, and operates the luxury train, The Golden Chariot, in Karnataka and Goa.
The only connection that the publicly listed Rollatainers has had thus far with the food and beverage sector is that some of its major players are clients for the cartons rolled out by the company. These big brands include Amul, Bacardi, Britannia and Haldirams. And of course, it launched its business in 1970 by producing lined cartons for Brooke Bond. Very little is known about its partner in these big-ticket acquisitions, International Market Management (, except that it focuses on emerging markets and its Chief Executive, Jasper Reid, was behind bringing PizzaExpress to India.
It is Reid who has been behind the other major Rollatainers initiative, carried out under a Carnation Hospitality subsidiary named Dolomite Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., to bring Jamie's Kitchen first to New Delhi in 2015 and eventually take it to different parts of India. The celebrity chef behind Jamie's Kitchen, Jamie Oliver, has been quoted by M&C Report, as saying, "We have known our Indian partners for over two years now and I'm thrilled to be teaming up with them to bring the Jamie's Italian experience to the wonderful people of Delhi." Nice-sounding PR lines, but indicative, nonetheless, of the amount of due diligence that has gone into the deal.
Sanjay Chhabra is the name that appears in press statements on all these deals. This Delhi/NCR-based businessman, a mechanical engineer by training with an MBA in Marketing, is a director of Rollatainers and also the independent non-executive chairman of the board of Amtek India Ltd, a leading iron casting company in the business of manufacturing automotive parts. And as we had reported earlier, in the Jamie's Kitchen initiative, Welgrow's Khanijo is the go-to man for Chhabra, who's still wetting his feet in the food and beverage business.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Priya Paul Dishes up a Chettinad Experience on Banana Leaves

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Tucked away in the Chettiar heartland,
The Bangala has preserved a cooking
tradition that can turn the humble chow
chow (above) into a taste sensation.
Image: Rohit Chawla
IT IS NOT often that the Capital's Stiletto Set eat out of banana leaves in a five-star hotel. Priya Paul made sure they did a couple of evenings ago. Those with manicured nails used cutlery; those without, including some of the city's most influential people, from image makers to fashion designers, dug in with their fingers. They did it to celebrate the launch of Sumeet Nair and Meenakshi Meyyappan's The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad, a brilliant showcase of a regional cuisine that is as well-known as it is misrepresented.
Paul, whose passion for food matches her head for business, was dressed like a Tamil daughter-in-law, which she is, being married to Sethu Vaidyanathan, and she succeeded in pulling off yet another culinary coup. Some time back, she got the high and mighty literally to dine 'under the table' -- giving the expression a new meaning altogether. This time around, Delhi's elite ate with their fingers, re-establishing the lost connect between their thumb and the brain.
What they ate was a Chettinad spread that turned our notion of the cuisine on its head. I have had Chettinad food in Chennai, but the delicate interplay of flavours, and the ability to turn even a humble vegetable such as the chow chow (an ugly cousin of the squash) into a sensation for the palate, which I got to experience at The Park, just blew my mind.
The spread had been laid out by Abishek Basu's team at The Park New Delhi and the cooks of The Bangala, a heritage hotel that Meyyappan opened in 1998 at Karaikudi, which is the cultural centre of gravity, two hours from Madurai, of the fabulously wealthy, well-travelled and cultured Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu. Their business took Chettiars all over south-east Asia, from Burma to Cambodia, which reflects in the depth of their culinary repertoire and the catholicity of their taste buds.
A mobile camera view of the banana
leaf treat laid out at The Park, in the
true Chettiar wedding feast style.
The spread will be available at the
hotel's 24-hour restaurant, Mist,
till Saturday. Image: Courtesy
of Mini Shastri
The former chairman of the Murugappa Group, M.V. Subbiah, who, incidentally, got his Padma Bhushan in the same year as Paul got her Padma Shri, shared a telling example of how foreign influences show up on the Chettinad table. The example was that of the kavanarsi, or black rice, which in early days used to be imported by the Chettiars from Burma, where they had extensive business interests. And the rice, which is used in a host of preparations, including a halwa, got its name because it used to be served first to the governor of the Madras Presidency in the days of the British Raj. Governor became 'kavanar' in popular usage, so kavanarsi is literally the 'governor's rice'.
Subbiah, whose humility left a lasting impression on me, and the Meyyappan family members went from one end of each long table to the other, urging the guests to have second helpings and explaining what the dishes were, as we negotiated a spread consisting of a procession of pachadis, kootus, curries and pepper fries. None of the dishes was allowed to be overpowered by spices, which are stone-ground every morning, or red chillies -- subtlety, as in the Chettiar lifestyle (or in Rohit Chawla's available-light photography for the book), is the essence of Chettinad cuisine.
This is most evident than in the Uppu 'Dried Mutton' Curry, where you'd expect a chilli attack, because, as Nair had informed me in an earlier interview, 40 pieces of goondu maligai (berry-shaped round red chillies) are added to a kilo of mutton. The chillies are mild, so you don't end up with a numb palate, but the complex flavours lend a distinctive edge to Chettinad dishes. This interplay of fresh flavours also defined the Pepper Curry, where fresh green pepper and mor mulagai (green chillies soaked in buttermilk and then dried) are the main ingredients. The dinner favourites, though, were the Chicken Pepper Fry, where black peppercorns and goondu maligai did a little waltz, and the tamarind-infused Fish Curry.
Subbiah spoke glowingly about Meyyappan achi's contributions to the revival of Chettinad heritage. Together with Nair, she has put the region's cuisine, as it is meant to be eaten, firmly on the country's culinary map.


IT CAN BE disheartening to wake up one morning and learn that an old favourite restaurant has been gutted as a result of a short circuit in a freezer kept at the entrance. Yes, that's exactly how I felt -- disheartened -- when I read about the fire at The Embassy in Connaught Place. It was the second fire in two days at Connaught Place.
What followed was utter shock when I learnt that restaurants in the city are not required to get a fire clearance if they seat less than 50 people. It has become common, as a result, especially for the pigeon holes of Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village, or Paharganj (where restaurants and bars are not on the radar screens of the elite media), to under-declare the number of seats they have. It saves them the struggle to acquire the fire licence -- getting one licence less can be a blessing! The subterfuge also saves them the money they would have to spend on the licence, the fire safety equipment, and the inescapable 'facilitation' expenses.
Can someone explain the rationale of letting restaurants with less than 50 seats get away with no fire licence? Each restaurant is a potential fire hazard unless approved fire safety equipment, in working order, are in place. Are lives less valuable in restaurants with less than 50 seats, or those that claim to be so, but cram twice that number of people in, especially on weekends? It's almost a rule for smaller restaurants to abuse the 50-seater rule to dodge the fire clearance.
I have an uncomplicated three-step solution to this life-threatening legal sleight of hand. One, introduce one-stop, online licencing for restaurants to reduce their incentive to dodge the process. Two, make annual fire safety clearance mandatory for all restaurants and bars, irrespective of the number of seats. Three, industry bodies need to work overtime to sensitise their hotelier/restaurateur members to the nature of the time bomb they are sitting on. They must, in fact, mandatorily be made a part of the inspection teams to ensure no compromises are made on the issue of safety. The industry owes it to the consumer.


AFTER the Uphaar fire tragedy, it has become mandatory for cinema theatres to educate their customers about fire exits. Well, the next time you go to a restaurant, look for a fire exit. Consider yourself lucky if you find one. When you are in the third floor of a Hauz Khas Village restaurant, it is not comforting realise suddenly that in case of a fire, the only escape route is the window on the far side. Most restaurants also don't have water in the tank that is meant to be kept permanently filled for use in case of a fire emergency. The daily struggle for water makes this basic fire safety requirement a low priority for restaurants.


Guppy by Ai's Ramen Burger packs in pork
belly, bacon, fried egg, lettuce and tomatoes
BACK IN 2009, Keizo Shimamoto, a young American of Japanese origin, quit his computer programmer's job and hit the road in the mother country of his parents to get to the bottom of the amazing story of ramen noodles. His blog became an international hit and his invention, Ramen Burger, edged out the cronut as the big food trend of 2013. In a ramen burger, the regular buns are replaced by two chewy and not crunchy discs of compressed ramen noodles made according to a proprietary process perfected by Shimamoto.
It may be a year late, but Guppy by Ai at the Lodi Colony Market, my favourite neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, can justifiably claim to be the first to put ramen burgers on the menu. Shimamoto used only a soy-based 'secret sauce', arugula (rocket), scallions and a chunky, juicy beef patty with a higher fat content than the standard burger patty. At Guppy by Ai, the options for fillings include beef, pork belly and bacon, chicken tsukune (meatballs), fried egg, five kinds of mushroom, sake-braised onions and Kewpie, Japan's most popular mayonnaise.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

'A Fake Nair' Puts Real Chettinad Cuisine on North Indian Mind Map & Finds A Heritage Gem

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The Bangala at Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu, inspired
Sumeet Nair's exploration of Chettinad Cuisine
and his labour of love, The Bangala Table.

SUMEET NAIR first made headlines when he set up the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and organised the first India Fasion Week in the late 1990s. That was a humongous achievement, for it is hard to get so many creative and opinionated people on to one platform. Nair moved out to pave the way for seasoned professionals -- Vinod Kaul and Rathi Vinay Jha -- till he was brought back again to stage a rescue act in 2007, for the FDCI was collapsing under the weight of competing egos. Nair ("the fake Nair," as he calls himself, for he's a Punjabi born and brought up in Mumbai), as they say, rose to the occasion and rescued the FDCI from certain disintegration.
All the diplomatic skills that this Stanford Economics graduate mastered during his stint with the FDCI must have helped him prise the secrets of the Chettiar table from the grande dame of Karaikudi, Meenakshi Meyyappan, for The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad. The effort took him six months and the book, another three years.
Nair, ironically, did not even about The Bangala's existence some four years ago, when his good friends, hotelier Priya Paul and her husband Sethu Vaidyanathan, urged Nair and his wife, Gitanjali Kashyap, to spend their New Year's Eve in Tamil Nadu, instead of the usual suspect, Goa. "Sethu drew up my itinerary and The Bangala was on it," remembers Nair. Befittingly, the book is being released at The Park New Delhi on Tuesday, August 26, at a Chettiar-style sadya (feast) served on banana leaves, and hosted by Priya and Sethu.
A passionate cook (a trait he has inherited from his late parents, Sunny and Saroj Nair) with a personal collection of 400-500 cookbooks, Nair made innumerable trips to Karaikudi to master the combinations of spices and understand the nuances of the goondu maligai (berry-shaped round red chillies), which he now also uses to make kung pao chicken, and mor maligai, green chillies soaked in buttermilk and then dried. He also roped in Atul Sikand, shepherd of Facebook's most vibrant recipe-sharing community, Sikandalous Cuisine (21,000-plus members, and counting!), to test the recipes and see whether they could be replicated at home. As many as 35 Sikandalous Cuisine members were roped in for the recipe tests and Sikand remembers that his Palam Vihar home was "smelling like heaven" after he made the Chicken Chettinad, which is nothing like what we are condemned to eat up north. "This book will re-define Chettinad cuisine as we understand it," says Sikand.
When I first heard the name of the book, which is embellished by some fine examples of Rohit Chawla's photography and has a short introduction to the Chettiar community by the 'Chronicler of Madras', S. Muthiah, I thought it was Bangla mis-pronounced. I was wrong.
Dating back to the 1910s, The Bangala is a heritage hotel recreated from an old 'gentlemen's club' in Karaikudi, one of the three main seats (the other being Pudukottai and Sivaganga) of the mercantile, world-travelled and prosperous Chettiar community in Tamil Nadu. The Chettiars, as Guy Trebay of The New York Times recounts in his evocative Foreword, owned magnificent homes that had pillars made out of entire teak logs rafted from Burma via the Bay of Bengal and brackets made with African tusk ivory; Brescia marbles skirted the walls, the English ceramic tiles came from Minton and the crystal chandeliers, of course, could only come from Bohemia. Still, the men, their palatial mansions notwithstanding, had their own getaways for entertainment.
The Bangala, originally called the Senjai Bungalow, was one of them. It was developed by the MSMM family (the initials stand for Meyyappa, Settiappa, Meyyappa & Meyyappa), which had earned its fortunes in Ipoh, Malaysia. The family evidently was very important for Karaikudi -- it built the area's first school for girls, then established the town's water supply system and was one of the founders of the local electricity supply corporation.
Unsurprisingly, back in 1936, the Senjai Bangala played host to Archibald Nye, the then Governor of Madras Presidency, who started his day with Fish Moley, Mutton Chops, Grilled Chicken, Buttered Eggs, Pears and Cream, Tea or Coffee, and Fruits, and ended it with Pigeon Soup, Fried Fish and Potato, Mutton Cutlet, Kidney Curry, Egg Pilav and Chicken Kurma, Brain Balls, Pudding, Dessert and Coffee, with Johnnie Walker being the tipple of choice!
After World War II, the Senjai Bungalow became the Town Club with its own tennis court and rummy room, but the high noon of socialism did not bode well for the MSMM family. Senjai Bungalow was in a state of utter neglect till, in 1998, two remarkable ladies of the family, Visalakshi Ramaswamy and Meenakshi Meyyappan, started working on its turnaround into a heritage hotel. Their vision was to make Chettinad a heritage tourism destination, showcasing the Chettiar houses and the work of the area's sari weavers, and in the 15 years since the time The Bangala opened its doors, it has inspired half-a-dozen other heritage hotels to come up in Chettinad. Like so many success stories of the South, though, this one too eluded our attention. Nair has ensured it would no longer be so.

Friday, 22 August 2014

DINING OUT: Cafe Delhi Heights Creator Opens A Terminus of Unfussy Palate Ticklers

By Sourish Bhattacharyya


WHERE: Terminus 1, Second Floor, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj (Next to the Lifestyle store)
WHEN: 11:00 A.M. to 11:30 P.M.
DIAL: 011-40870755; (+91) 9643654033

VIKRANT BATRA has food in his genes. It was 21 years ago when I first (and for the last time) visited the banquet hall his family has owned and operated in Naraina since 1989. It stood out then like an illusion in the middle of nowhere. In the years that have lapsed, it has grown into one of West Delhi's prominent marriage venues and Naraina has never been busier.
If he were less entrepreneurial, Vikrant would have happily continued with his annual, sleep-depriving routine of 520 (maybe more!) marriage banquets a year. Like Ajay Mago of Om Books International, his good friend who got us to meet over lunch, Vikrant chose to look for money and fame beyond his comfort zone, even as his mother, at 63, continues to oversee the central kitchen and commissary of the family's banqueting empire from 6 every morning, and his wife manages the bakery and patisserie.
The stripped-down interiors of Terminus 1 at the Ambience
Mall, Vasant Kunj, give the newbie restaurant a New York
look. Newspapers in ornate steel trunks are a cool idea.
Ajay has added the power of publishing to his family's old (and thriving) business of bookshops. Vikrant ventured into the business of stand-alone restaurants six years ago and he has scripted the success of Cafe Delhi Heights, whose breakfast and Juicy Lucy Burger are the two unmissable favourites on the list of any discerning patron of good eating. To this success story, he has added Terminus 1 (T1), which may be at one neglected corner of the second floor of Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, but has all the positives of a restaurant that will make waves even in an overcrowded market.
Creamy onion soup with cheese and croutons:
nourishment at soul-satisfying prices
It has the stripped-down, New York-inspired industrial look and Spartan furniture that seem to define the new design favourite of young restaurateurs, but it has other engaging features. A TV screen that zooms in on the chef preparing or plating a dish that's been ordered, for instance. Or menus that are designed like books with covers inspired by immortal titles, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Eat Pray Love. Or newspapers rolled up thoughtfully in an ornate trunk, instead of being tucked away on a soulless standee.
Such eye candy however cannot satiate your hunger or the curiosity of your alimentary tract. For that, you have to turn the pages of the menu and admire the creative touches of the head chef, Ashish Singh, a soft-spoken, smiling man who has to be goaded to let out the fact that he has spent some years working in London restaurants. The beauty of the menu is its delectable unpredictability. You could start with the sublimity of Applewood Smoked Chicken, Corn and Raja Mircha Chowder, where the infusion of the world's hottest chilli is delicately balanced by the residual sweetness of corn, and then transport yourself to the simple pleasures of the ISBT Makhni Maggi, though the 'instant' noodles that can never be made in two minutes, could have done better with less of makhni gravy.
The idea of digging the Railway Cutlets was too tempting, but I had to tear myself away from it because I wanted The Butterilicious TOAST (the capitals are theirs, not mine) -- a plump, melt-in-the-mouth piece of bread gratinated for eight minutes with butter. On the other side of the cholesterol spectrum, the Sous Vide BBQ Chicken Green Salad should do well with the ladies who lunch -- it's light, refreshing and conducive to conversations about daughters-in-law. Heartier appetites will naturally gravitate towards the Kimchi Bacon Quesadillas -- the bacon is crispy; the Monterey Jack connects instantly with the soul.
It's a menu that has something for every pocket and taste bud -- as you'd expect at a terminus. I'd recommend the Grilled Sea Bass, crumbed with sesame and peanuts, and served with wild rice, eggplant and cucumber dashi veloute. Someone else would go for Halloumi Eggs or Cauliflower and Hazelnut Risotto. Diversity of the palate is what we celebrate at T1, but count yourself among the losers if you leaving without having the Batter Fried Mars Bars or the Karachi Halwa Brownie Cake.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

SUNDAY BRUNCH WITH A TWIST: The Four Standalones Who Stand Out in the Crowd

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WE HAVE gotten used to a Sunday brunch philosophy that deifies excess -- even the central idea of a brunch, which is an extended breakfast, has been re-defined to mean an endless, excessive lunch. Just about everything a hotel or a restaurant has to offer is laid out on buffet counters for guests to tuck into, with endless accompanying pours of bubbly and martinis, the dishes getting replenished as they get consumed. It's almost like an industrial assembly line, though no one minds, because all of us believe we are getting our money's worth. But are we?
Ask people in the food and beverage business and they'll say brunches are designed keeping in mind the limitations of the human appetite. It is not possible for regular people, unless they have unimaginably stretchable stomachs, to digest more than 250-450gms of food per meal. The 'industrial brunch' therefore lets you delude yourself into thinking you have endless choice, although you eat only what you would normally do and pay as you would for a regular meal on any other day that you choose to patronise the establishment. Fortunately for the dining public, restaurants across cities are moving away from the predictable and pumping new life into a Sunday habit that is getting hugely popular in the metropolitan cities.

WHERE: 79 & 80, Meher Chand Market, Fourth Avenue Road, Lodi Colony, New Delhi
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
PER PERSON: Rs  2,500+++ (unlimited cocktails from the menu); Rs 2,000+++ (sans alcohol)
CALL: (+91-11) 9650257451
My favourite fish burger served
on a sourdough bun with okra
fries, tartare sauce and
salsa verde
CHEZ NINI's Sunday brunch goes against the paisa vasool mindset by letting each guest order one dish at a time from the menu of the day. It means you can have an endless a la carte meal delivered at your table, and wash it down with the abundance of sangrias and smoothies, spiked with dates and honey, or get awakened by the aroma of the Blue Tokai coffee blend from Coorg roasted exclusively for the French and fashionable Chez Nini. As your red wine sangria gives you an early afternoon alcohol rush, ask for the Watermelon Salad, loaded with creamy feta and grated hazelnuts, then move on to 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.
With your hunger temporarily assuaged but not your curiosity, order the Eggs Benedict that come on gluten-free brioche, generously lashed with hollandaise and accompanied by seared slices of pork belly (divine!). Or go for the Rosemary Pumpkin Pasta Au Gratin, which is a tribute to the umami powers of parmesan. Or, better still, settle for my favourite: Fish Burger served on a multi-grain sourdough bun with okra fries, tartare sauce and salsa verde. Each dish comes with a twist, on wooden platters in diverse shapes, cooked a la minute and served at carefully calibrated intervals.

WHERE: D-17, First Floor, Defence Colony, New Delhi
WHEN: 12 noon to 4 p.m.
PER PERSON: Rs 1,850+++; add Rs 1,200+++ for unlimited sparkling wine, beer and cocktails
CALL: (+91-11) 40648861
EVERYONE loves Eggs Benedict, but what if the hollandaise comes spiked with Penang curry? That's the Diva Kitsch touch to the Sunday brunch. It's different because it doesn't complicate life -- and comes with an assured supply of endless prosecco. Let the Italian bubbles tease your palate and build up anticipation as you await the steady procession of dim sum being directed towards your table -- my favourites are the ones with Chinese greens and water chestnuts, wild mushrooms, chilli pork and the heavenly five-spice beef.
After you've had your fill of dim sum, you are invited to choose one of the many mains list out on the page-long menu. Eggs Benedict apart, you could opt for the breakfast platter with three eggs cooked in three different ways, or look at life beyond eggs -- check out the flavourful Udon Noodles and Laksa Curry, or the Pumpkin, Water Chestnut and Litchi Curry with unpolished rice (believe me, you'll love it!), or the Spice Chicken Roulade served with sake-drunk noodles, or the Asian-Style Beef topped with a fried egg, served (here's the twist) on a flaky Malabar parantha. The dessert platter is a temptress and like everything else, comes with a twist. Anyone for jaggery creme brulee? You can only get it at Diva Kitsch!

WHERE: 4, Mandlik Road, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai
WHEN: 12 noon to 4 p.m.
PER PERSON: Rs 2,100+++ (with alcohol)
CALL: (+91-22) 66368981 / 80 / 99
YOU CAN'T talk about Sunday brunches and not mention Indigo, the original purveyor of the idea about a dozen years ago. Yes, it's a chafing dish brunch, so you may wonder what makes it special, but it has atmosphere (who can beat Indigo's ambience and then there's a live jazz band), it has class (unlimited pours of Billecart-Salmon champagne and not your everyday supermarket brand), and it offers variety (the small plates and bowls keep changing every Sunday and the entrees are cooked a la minute). The dishes are not your usual brunch kind, though you can't miss the Eggs Benedict or the long-time favourite -- Create Your Own Omelette!
My favourites among the entrees: Seared Mushrooms, Spinach and Gruyere Lasagne with charred tomato sauce; Risotto with Prawns, Squids and Mussel with olive tapenade; Smoked Scarmoza, Pinenut and Sun-Dried Tomato Ravioli with chive cream and braised greens; and Chili and Garlic Linguini with Leeks, Fennel and Capers. Sadly, you can only have one, but no such portion control applies to the grills, so go for the Cracked Cumin Rubbed Grilled Chicken, Peppered Minute Steak With or Without Fried Egg, or Cilantro Rubbed King Prawns with Wasabi Dressing (the vegetarian options don't look that exciting, so I don't want to be held accountable for them!). It's impossible to have a disappointing Sunday at Indigo.

WHERE: Amateur Riders Club, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Mumbai
WHEN: 12 noon to 4 p.m.
PER PERSON: Rs 1,850+++ (with alcohol); Rs 1,500++ (sans alcohol)
CALL: (+91-22) 33487711
Olive Mahalaxmi now has a
Guppy by Ai pop-up every
Sunday, introducing citizens
of Mumbai to the specialities
of Delhi's much-loved
Japanese restaurant

I CAN'T think of a more romantic setting for a laidback Sunday brunch that does justice to the grand vision of Guy Beringer, who recommended the practice as an antidote to Sunday morning hangovers in his 1895 essay unimaginatively titled Brunch: A Plea. Located in the serene, leafy expanse of the Amateur Riders Club at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, away from the crush of humanity and the rush of ceaseless traffic, the restaurant seems straight out of the Italian countryside. And you get to spend an afternoon next to a stable of purebred horses.
Complement the rustic look with the sense of mystery and anticipation that a pop-up restaurant brings to a venue. For some time, Olive Mahalaxmi has been playing host to the food and charms of Goa's Greek taverna, Thalassa, and its owner-chef Mariketty Grana was lavishing on Mumbai her brand of "cooking (and feeding) with love". This lure of freshly baked pita bread, crumbling feta, gyro wraps packed with cured meats, moussaka and tender roast lamb made Olive Mahalaxmi the go-to place for every bon vivant who either lives in Mumbai, or passes by. Come August, and the vacuum left by Thalassa will be filled up by Olive founder-partner AD Singh's youngest brainchild, Guppy by Ai, the Japanese restaurant that has wowed Delhi with its California rolls, minute steak tuna tataki, signature pork belly, black cod with miso and wild mushroom gyoza. These temptresses will ensure Olive Mahalaxmi's tables are cleaned up by brunchaholics almost as soon as they are replenished. Dig in!

This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of BT More, the monthly lifestyle section of Business Today. Copyright: Living Media India Ltd.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Korma Konnection: Seeking Food & Adventure in Purani Dilli

By Pamela Timms
Aleph; Rs 395

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN I was invited to an Ashok & Ashok mutton korma lunch by a friend a few years ago, I could smell what awaited me as I made the laborious climb up to his Gole Market barsati office. Whiffs of garam masala, browned onions and desi ghee gyrated like Madhuri Dixit around my nostrils, teasing me to add spring to my steps and dive for the lunch box being opened in my friend's office.
The gustatory extravaganza that followed piqued my curiosity about the Sadar Bazar duo, whose name sounded uncannily like a legal partnership parodied in a Charles Dickens novel. As I tried desperately to shake off a korma-induced slumber upon my return to my place of work, I typed in the names 'Ashok & Ashok'.
The first words that popped up on my computer screen were: 'Ashok & Ashok: A Taste of The Sopranos in Old Delhi'. "Oh, another blog post by a memsahib, a 'trailing wife'!" I murmured as I trained my droopy eyes on the words in front of me. I ate those words and lost track of time as Ashok & Ashok introduced me to the fascinating world of Eat & Dust, Pamela Timms's blog on her "food adventures in India," brimming over with wit, insights and recipes of the iconic dishes that define our street food experience.
As I finish reading Timms's first book, which opens with a racy whodunit centered around the mystery surrounding the origins of Ashok & Ashok, I can't help admiring the ease with which the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin, his American translator and goddess of food writers M.F.K. Fisher, Charles Baudelaire, E.M. Foster and Anna Hazare meld together with the flies, the open drains, the searing heat and the glorious food of Old Delhi in this page-turner on our city of quirks and kormas.
"My first mistake, like Adela's in Foster's novel, was assuming I would blend effortlessly into Indian life," writes Timms, a Scottish journalist who arrived with her husband, Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor of The Daily Telegraph, in 2008. Effortlessly or not, Timms has delved deep into secrets that no author before her has attempted and put together a lip-smacking repertoire of recipes (more in her blog than in the book), starting with the Amritsari kulchas of the All India Famous (formerly 'Fames'!) Kulchas on Maqbool Road, Amritsar, to Sita Ram Diwan Chand's Chana Bhatura and Kuremal's Falsa Kulfi, to the jalebis of Dariba Kalan's Old & Famous Jalebi Wala, members of whose family are as uncommunicative as they are busy counting cash.
Pamela Timms is a Scottish journalist who came to India
about six years ago with her husband, Dean Nelson, South
Asia Editor of the U.K. newspaper, Daily Telegraph. Her
blog, Eat and Dust, is all about her 'food adventures'
in India. Image: Courtesy of Aleph Book Company
Gifted with a visual writing style, Timms takes us on Technicolor tour of Delhi, not limiting entirely to the older parts of the city. Her cast of neighbourhoods extends from the tony Vasant Vihar, where she settles into the life of an expat memsahib -- and where my favourite stopover for food books (courtesy of its Le Cordon Bleu-trained owner), Sheviks Toys (it started life as a dry cleaners' shop!), gets a cursory mention (albeit not for the books!) -- to the chiaroscuro confusion of Matia Mahal, where the Rahmatullah Hotel continues to serve hope and nutrition to the poor.
Along the way, Chittaranjan Park, Kashmere Gate and Civil Lines jostle for attention with the sights and smells of Haveli Azam Khan, famous for its Mota Biryaniwala; Gali Qasim Jan, home to the Fresh Corner bakery, which still sells macaroons made in the Anglo-Indian style with desiccated coconuts; Raghu Ganj, where Jain Coffee House's fruit sandwiches just don't seem to go out of fashion; Chitli Qabar's Diamond Bakery, which makes the city's best rusk waiting to be dipped into your early morning chai; and the Chandni Chowk-Jama Masjid quadrilateral, which has seen a return of its glory days, thanks to the Metro.
As we join Timms on her leisurely yet purposeful pursuit of our city's culinary wealth, we are introduced to people with interesting stories to share, such as Amit Arora (son of one of the two Ashoks of the mutton korma fame); Pran Kohli, owner of Sita Ram Diwan Chand; and Jamaluddin Siddique, the elder of the two brothers who run the famous Bade Mian's kheer shop (he's also the present occupant of the house in which Mumtaz Jahan Begum Dehlavi -- known to the world as Madhubala -- was born in 1933.
A couple of years back, I organised a couple of Chandni Chowk tours for Delhi Gourmet Club members. One of the tours ended at Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners, outside Fatehpuri Masjid. One of the present owners of the shop famous for its Karachi halwa is the former Hindu College and Delhi Ranji Trophy cricketer, Hari Gidwani. Watching with obvious bemusement the palpable excitement of our group, Gidwani said, "If Delhiites rediscover Chandni Chowk, it's good for our business -- and for the city."
Timms has rekindled our sense of wonder about our city -- and has given Purani Dilliwallahs such as Gidwani one more reason to treasure their heritage.

This book review first appeared in Mail Today on August 17, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

Thursday, 14 August 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: No Freedom from Licence Raj for Our Restaurants

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AS WE prepare to raise a toast to another Independence Day (so what if it's a dry day!), the lords of our bureaucratic jungle need to seriously ask themselves if they are honestly prepared to liberate the economy from the shackles that stifle entrepreneurial spirit. India officially bid farewell to the licence-permit raj, but for creators of wealth and jobs, very little has changed on the ground. Ask restaurant owners and they'll tell you how.
A restaurant honcho in a neighbouring state was explaining to me how it takes Rs 10 lakh to get an excise licence -- without which you can't serve liquor, which is a substantial source of easy revenue for any establishment -- worth Rs 3 lakh. The difference is the sum newbie restaurants pay as 'facilitation charges'. It is no longer OK to call a bribe a bribe! And the rules ensure that there are multiple points of and opportunities for bribe collection.
In Communist China, you need four licences
to start a restaurant, but you must get 12-15 in
India. And state governments keep ignoring the
demand for single-window, online licencing.
Picture for representation purpose only.
In this neighbouring state, for instance, you need to get no-objection certificates from four local officials, who, anyway, gave you the licences to open the restaurant (for some strange reason, you have to obtain an excise licence after you've opened a restaurant, which is why new eateries can't normally serve liquor in their initial months unless they are in five-star hotels). You have to go back to each one of them and re-establish your credentials (and the city magistrate get to sit  over your case twice, once to start the process and then to certify that the process has been completed satisfactorily) before your file can move up to the state excise department, which is another hell hole.
My source shocked me with his stories on the extent of bribery in the state excise department. Peons, who double as 'facilitators', demand 'walking money' to deliver a file from one office to another. Personal assistants of officials ask for gratification before they tap on the print command to get an important printout.
And even after you have greased the relevant palms, your file may come back with ridiculous objections such as the one raised on a particular restaurant's application. If more licences are given out in this particular district, noted the objective official, the workload of the district excise administration will go up so much that it wouldn't be able to handle it. The district excise administration was therefore advised to state whether it would be able to cope with the burden of handling that one additional licence!
Well, if the state exchequer earns Rs 3 lakh every year from each excise licence, it can jolly well second officials to the district excise administration to manage the 'overload'. Restaurateurs therefore take the easy way out and sign up facilitators who profession it is to liaise with the relevant officials--read, pay bribes to get files moving. A major fast food chain has a vice-president with a staff of three dedicated to this honourable task, which includes skilful management of accounts, for the facilitation charges are paid in cash.
Maximum government, as opposed to maximum governance, continues to be the bane of the country's Rs 75,000-crore organised food service sector, which contributes Rs 12,000 crore annually to the national kitty. That is exactly the point made by the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) at a recent meeting with Tourism Minister Shripad Naik.
Restaurateurs across India have to obtain 12-15 licences from 10-12 different authorities before they can operate. These licences have to be renewed every year, the rules vary from state to state, and worse, despite years of representations to various governments, the organised restaurant sector has not got anyone to agree to a single-window, corruption-free, online clearance. Did anyone say the licence-permit raj is over? It is, but in Communist China, where you need four licences to open a restaurant. Time to move from Chandni Chowk to China?


LAST WEEK, I dropped in at Geoffrey's, the old pub-style restaurant that opened at Ansal Plaza in the days when such establishments were hard to come by and thereafter moved to Select Citywalk, and got talking with its 20-something owner, Shobhit Saxena. He had a friend with him who has just come back home after getting a bachelor's degree in financial management from Peking University, China.
Farzi Cafe's Posh Maggi, drizzled with truffle
oil, comes with a pan-seared foie gras on top.
The two were remembering their days at Scindia School, Gwalior, where their favourite staple was Maggi instant noodles, which they would cook by boiling water with two keys attached to wires plugged to an electricity connection. The keys were effective conductors of electrical heat. The hunger-driven jugaad would put immersion heaters to shame!
I have watched with wonder our national romance with Maggi, even though it is impossible to make it in two minutes, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across Posh Maggi on the menu at the newly opened Farzi Cafe at Cyber Hub, Gurgaon. A creation of the restaurant's brilliantly inventive young chef, Himanshu Saini, it is a portion of Maggi noodles drizzled with a generous dollop of truffle oil and topped up with a pan-seared chunk of foie gras. It was heaven on a plate, where everyday noodles were transformed by the Cinderella treatment they got. They were a treat even without the foie gras, for the aromas of the truffle oil linger around to tease your senses.
Maggi makes an appearance also on the menu of Beer Cafe, but in a humbler form, with three options: chopped vegetables, or eggs, or chicken.  My Big Maggi Moment, though, was at Tapri, Jaipur's trendy 'tea cafe' about which I have written more in a companion piece in this column. It has eight kinds of Maggi on the menu and they come with the most interesting names -- from Bachelor, which is plain Maggi, to Tadka, Green (with peas, spinach, broccoli, zucchini and capsicum), Firangi (for mharo beto angrez!) and Jaipur Rural (spicy), as opposed to Jaipur Urban (creamy). Restaurants seem to have wised up to our love for all things Maggi -- and how!


Chai Chic: Tapri brews new style statement
JAIPUR has always been associated with classical food. Niro's took the flavours of Delhi's Kwality to Jaipur, even as Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar's ghewar and Rawat's pyaaz kachoris kept acquiring a fan following in the national capital. But never has the city seen a trendy hangout of the young (and the young at heart) at a 'tea house' named Tapri. Strategically located behind one of the showrooms of Surana Jewellers, Tapri, with its kitschy design, edgy menu and decent selection of teas, has made cutting chai, vada pao and the Rs 2 mini-pack of Parle Glucose-D into style statements. It is here that you see the cosmopolitan face of tradition-bound Jaipur.
Tapri is the Marathi word for a roadside tea stall (Rajasthanis would call it chai ki thadi) and that is how rookie HDFC Bank executives Ankit Bohra and Sourabh Bapna launched the brand, which was born out of a business idea presentation for their MBA programme, a couple of years ago at Lal Kothi. They broke even in six months and they have graduated from streetside to high street, but their menu favourites -- poha (served imaginatively with Bikaneri bhujia), dal omelette, Ishpecial V.P. (vada pao!), eight varieties each of grilled sandwiches and Maggi, and ten pages of tea options -- have stayed the same. What's different is that they now get full houses of Jaipur's hip set.


THE MAGGI wave seems to be catching on. I was at T1 (or Terminus One), a smart restaurant with a smarter menu from Vikrant Batra, promoter of the hugely popular Cafe Delhi Heights, at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, and lo and behold, I was served an ISBT Makhni Maggi drenched in a soul-satisfying creamy gravy with a dollop of butter on top. Dishes such as these play on people's nostalgia and take them back to the familiar territory of tastes they have grown up with. This is why Indian food has become fashionable all over again and restaurants are investing time and money to delve deeper into the country's treasure house of cuisines and revive old recipes.

The column first appeared in Mail Today on August 14, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers