Friday, 1 August 2014

DINING OUT: A Rare Bird in a City Teeming With Options

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHAT: New Menu @ Rara Avis
WHERE: M-27, Second Floor, M-Block Market, Greater Kailash-II
WHEN: 12:30 to 3 P.M.; 7:30 to 11 P.M.
DIAL: (011) 33036648

The Smoked Salmon Salad (above) delights
you with its zesty freshness, even as the
full-bodied Gazpacho seduces your taste
buds to ask for more at Rara Avis
RARA AVIS (which means 'rare bird', by the way) opened around two years back, at a time when the city was seeing an unexpected efflorescence of European cuisine. Tres opened to admiring reviews, thanks to the understated brilliance of the talented duo Julia Carmen Desa and Jatin Mallick; Chez Nini got the attention of sophisticates, although no one knew the inventive Nira Kehar before she opened the restaurant; and Rara Avis started off by getting a buzz going because of its romantic, wind-swept terrace, before people discovered that Jerome Cousin, who's the polar opposite of the flamboyant Laurent Guiraud, the second Frenchman in the troika that runs the restaurant, is a master of home-style, no-fuss, soul-satisfying French food oozing the gentle warmth of the Provencal sun.
In the last two years, I have got to know Rajiv Aneja, the third member of the triad, and have admired him for making the brave switch from being a tyre industry executive and then a marketing consultant to running a restaurant with the love and the drive of a mother rearing her first child. In these two years, the M-Block Market, GK-II, which was once the domain of Diva, China Garden, Hao Shi Niann Niann, China Garden, Not Just Paranthas and the local hardy perennial, Chungwa, has seen a number of restaurants come up, starting with Uzuri (another success story scripted by the Heston Blumenthal acolyte, Rishim Sachdeva) and the unbeatable Mini Mughal, and then, one after the other, Amalfi, Artusi and Yeti: The Himalayan Kitchen.
Here's a market teeming with options, but I keep going back to Rara Avis for its French Onion Soup and Chicken Cordon Bleu, and I know people who swear by its Snails in Garlic Butter (I could never have imagined Delhi flipping over for d'Escargots!), Salmon Salad (the salmon is neither stale, nor rubbery, which is how it is served in most other places) and the rectangular pizza-like Flammenkeuche, an Alsatian speciality that we must thank Jerome, a third-generation restaurateur, for introducing to the city. The service is friendly and generally flawless, with the hands-on Guiraud keeping a close watch, and there's not an evening when Rara Avis isn't busy.
It took another visit to Rara Avis, spurred by a call from Aneja asking me to check out his new menu, to make me fall in love with the place all over again. My meal started with a Gazpacho from heaven (full-bodied and seductive), moved on to the Smoked Salmon Salad, and then moved from one beauty to the other -- Bechamel and Chicken Croquettes, which I recommend to anyone who goes to Rara Avis (apart from the classical Duck Breast with Orange Sauce); the light-as-air Fish Carpaccio marinated with lemon and dill; Grouper with Beurre Blanc (it was so heartening to have the French mother sauce made exactly the way it should be!); a reassuring Creme Brulee; and a scoop of Chocolate Mousse that made me wonder why I ate anything else.
It was Jerome's off day, so his No. 2 -- a smiling young man who seemed to be from the hills -- was at the kitchen. The restaurant, clearly, does well even without its head chef. I was a tad disappointed, though, by the Filo with Prunes and Bacon (it was dripping oil) and the Sea Sole with Mustard Sauce (too creamy!), but these quibbles apart, the overall experience was one that made me decide to return soon.
POSTSCRIPT: I was introduced to Laurent many years back -- it was his first night in the city and he was having dinner at The Imperial -- by Mark Walford, my wine merchant friend from London. My friend knew Laurent from the days he owned a Michelin-star restaurant at Pays Basque, south-west France. Over the years, having seen him at Manre and at Olive, I have been surprised by Laurent's humility. He has not once bragged about the Michelin star. He lives in the present and enjoys every bit of it.

This review first appeared in Mail Today on August 1, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers