Kunal Vijayakar on how Indian cuisine is making waves in London
And the chefs who are reinventing the rules of the game.art and culture Updated: May 19, 2017 16:43 IST
For a country, that for over a century, has actually believed that “The Curry” is any old sauce, fired with a pinch of ready-made spice powder; that Indian food was invented by Bangladeshis; that the balti (a bucket) is India’s only cooking utensil and that chicken tikka masala is their national dish, enlightenment has come rather late, though better than never at all.
The cuisine of the subcontinent has just exploded in London in its most legitimate and bona fide form, albeit with vivid liberties. Regional Indian food detonates at Manoj Vasaikar’s India Zing at Hammersmith. Try their scallops in hirwa masala. This Indo-Pacific mollusk tossed in traditional Maharashtrian green masala tastes of home in a faraway land, as is the prawn and aubergine kharphatle (jumbo prawns and aubergine finished in pickle masala, with caramelised onions and tomato).
Then there is Bristol’s celebrated chef Romy Gill, whose little kitchen restaurant in Thornbury, at the foot of an old castle, now pops up at the most exclusive places in London to produce astonishing Indian food. Imagine a Rajasthan-style laal maas wild boar curry (cooked with yogurt, chillies, garlic, onions and spices). Of course, the happening restaurants Dishoom and Roti-Chai have caught the fancy of locals as well, and stalwarts like Amaya and Veeraswamy will stand the test of time. But Vineet Bhatia is taking Indian food to its next level. Not only in his London restaurant, but particularly at The Oberoi, Nariman Point, in his restaurant, Ziya.
I had lunch the other day with Vineet in Mumbai, and he’s trying to convince us that Indian food can break the shackles of tradition and still be Indian food. His gourmand menu, presented and served like any tasting menu at any Michelin star restaurant in the world, complete with palate cleansers and paired booze is a must-try. Start with prawn chaat toffee, and follow it with sesame honeyed cod with mango chop-chop kachumber, and hazelnut butter lobster with edamame coconut khichdi, turmeric moilee (try it just for the creamy and delicately spiced moilee, ‘twas tear-jerking). You end up with such joy that you’d want to plunge into the sea at Nariman Point and swim across home.
But the talented chef of our generation has to be Ranveer Brar. His restaurant at Lower Parel, or should I call it an art gallery, TAG GourmART Kitchen By Ranveer Brar is something else. I haven’t eaten there, but I went for an early tasting that Ranveer invited me for, with a bit of trepidation. It’s pure vegetarian and I’m not. But the man dumbfounded me dish after dish. Watermelon sashmi Salad looks like real fish, except it’s slices of sou vide watermelon with a yam guacamole, umami glaze, toasted sesame and ginger lemon ice. Mock butter chicken ravioli with kale saag, puffed Indian grains, makhani sauce, and candied ginger. Palm heart biryani, fresh palm heart and jackfruit cooked with spices in basmati rice, he could have had me fooled.
The question now arises. Is all this Indian food? Well, if we Indians can learn to accept and love it, it is very much Indian food.
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar