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.