At the three-month-old Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House in Bandra, the Chocolate Extravaganza is probably the most Instagrammed dessert on the menu. When warm chocolate sauce is poured over the large chocolate ball, it breaks and exposes the creamy ice cream -- flavoured with caramelised pistachio. While, most patrons prefer to capture this drama on video, it still makes for a pretty picture.
Similarly, at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, the Jalebi Caviar takes the top spot for its appealing presentation. Caviar-like jalebi beads are stacked on a thick rabdi and the dessert is finished off with saffron foam. Social, which is known for its unusual food and drinks menu, has an even more eccentric way of presenting the dishes. Long LIIT (Long Island Iced Tea) tubes in myriad hues are popular with its patrons, so are cocktails like Aachorska (served in a pickle jar) and Trip on the Drip (served in Ziploc bags).
As more people hash-tag their meals on social media, restaurants and bars are increasingly pushing the envelope for food presentation. “To be active on social media is the need of the hour. It is human nature to share and social media tools like Instagram help do just that,” says Mihir Desai, co-owner, The Bar Stock Exchange. At its newest outlet in Bandra’s Linking Road, Desai has installed a large mirror on the ceiling, which makes for fun selfies.
This eccentricity translates into its food menu as well. Dishes like Misal Fondue and Kolhapuri Chicken Quesadillas are quite popular with its customers. “When people take photos of these dishes or the little corners at the bar, it helps us gain great word of mouth publicity as well,” he says.
Ajay Narang, director of restaurants, Mars Enterprises, agrees with Desai. His recently launched Cuban bar Havana, too, offers plenty of ‘selfie corners’ and interesting cocktails on the menu. “We’ve got paintings of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro on our walls. All our team members get an extra commission if they go out of their way and take photos of guests at the bar,” says Narang. Guests are then encouraged to use official hash-tags and social media handles to post pictures online.
According to a study conducted by market researcher Nielsen NV, the number of monthly active users on Instagram in India has more than doubled since last September. This study also found that most of the Indians on Instagram are young, mobile-first individuals with high spending power. It isn’t surprising then that restaurant owners want to cash in on this trend by offering something picture-worthy throughout the experience.
And sometimes, these tactics give rise to novel concepts. For instance, at the recently renovated The Daily Bar & Kitchen, its interior designer, The Busride fitted the outdoor sitting area with a wishing well, where people can write their wishes on a piece of paper and hang it on the well. “This concept was based on an inspiration from Paris. We wanted to bring a piece of the Love Locks Bridge to India and recreate that experience for our customers,” says owner Dishant Pritamani.
The good, the bad, the ugly
However, when everything on the table comes with a syringe sticking out of it (either to infuse a thick chocolate ganache into the dessert or a shot of Vodka in a cocktail), this eccentricity tends to get repetitive and borders on boring. And, with molecular gastronomy (read: liquid nitrogen) becoming increasingly commonplace, it is not surprising to see smoke coming out of cocktails and desserts.
So, how much is too much? “I am not a big fan of non-functional garnishes,” says Chef Manu Chandra of Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao. His other pet peeve is constant phone flashes going off on the table. Many fine dining restaurants abroad restrict the use of cell phones during a meal experience. New York-based Michelin star restaurant Momofuku Ko strictly prohibits food photography. “It meddles with the sanctity of the space. Fine dining restaurants take a lot of effort to put fresh, hot food on the table. To me, this is something like voyeurism, which tends to go out of control,” he explains.