The Rude Food Awards are a tradition that started over a decade ago, then became part of the HT City Food Guide and eventually came to be called the Vir Sanghvi Awards, when HT City instituted its popular and prestigious HT City Crystals.
I missed doing them last year – they are usually announced in the autumn – but I promised everyone who asked about their absence that they would be back this year. All the usual qualifications apply: this is no more than a highly subjective list of the places I tend to go to and the people I respect in the industry. These do not claim to be objective, comprehensive, or measures of genuine popularity. (Like say, the HT City Crystals, which attract thousands of voters).
Best Chinese (Five Star): The China Kitchen
Every year I long for some hotel to open a great new Chinese restaurant. And every year I am disappointed. Instead, The China Kitchen at the Hyatt just keeps getting better and better. The new chef has re-invigorated the menu and regulars know to ask for the off-menu Hunan and Sichuan specialties. Not cheap but not more expensive than its other five-star counterparts.
The China Kitchen at the Hyatt keeps getting better every year
Best Chinese (Standalone): Yauatcha
Ever since it opened in the Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj, this branch of the Michelin-starred London original has been packing the punters in with outstanding dim sum including the legendary baked chicken puff and the excellent cheung fans. The non-dim sum part of the menu can be a little wobbly (too many sweet sauces in the stir-fries from the Malaysian-Chinese in the kitchen) but overall, an outstanding experience.
Le Bistro du Parc brings out the true essence of French cuisine
Best Modern Indian: Indian Accent
There’s only one thing left to be said about Manish Mehrotra, without a doubt India’s greatest chef: why is he still stuck at this destination restaurant in a residential colony? By now he should have opened in London, New York and at the very least, Bombay. Instead, this master of modern Indian cuisine is still doing what he did three years ago. He has an incredibly supportive and passionate foodie boss in Rohit Khattar. I hope this will be the year they break out of Friends Colony.
Best North Indian: Bukhara
Yes, I know: boring. But find me one other Indian restaurant that after 35 years of serving the same menu (only the prices keep going up!), still maintains its standards and is full night after night with guests from all over the world? A true phenomenon and a legendary restaurant.
Amaranta at Oberoi, in its current form, is better than Varq
Best South Indian: Swagath
Every time I have friends from Bombay over who brag about their coastal seafood places, I order in from my neighbourhood Swagath or I take them there. Without exception they are blown away by the crab, the mutton sookha, the appams and even the (north Indian) Garhwali Dal. It always amazes me how Jayaram Banan manages to maintain these standards.
Best European (Five Star): Orient Express
Who would have thought it? A restaurant that opened in 1982, does not depend on over priced expat chefs, and embodies the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work values that the Taj group was built on still beats the hell out of Le Cirque and all its newer, fancier rivals. In its own way, as much of a legend as Bukhara. Congratulations to Taljinder, Ashu, DN and the rest of the Taj Palace team for keeping the faith.
Best European (Standalone): Le Bistro du Parc
In a sense, the anti-Orient Express: small, reasonably-priced and modest in its ambition, this Defence Colony bistro brings out the true essence of French cuisine: a talented chef extracting the best flavour from local ingredients. Proof, if any were needed, that you don’t need to import your cherry tomatoes to cook a great meal.
Best Modern Indian (Five Star): Amaranta
I know that Kapil Chopra packaged this as a seafood restaurant when he opened the Gurgaon Oberoi but it is so much more than that. Delicious, delicate Indian flavours, wonderfully presented by talented chefs. In current form: better than Varq.
Best Café: Sodabottle Openerwalla
Ok so maybe it’s because I grew up in Bombay but I love the Cyber Hub Sodabottle. (Mixed reports about the Khan Market branch). Wonderful Bombay non-vegetarian street food (keema pav), acceptable interpretations of Irani stand-bys (Berry Pulao) and home-style Parsi (papeta per eedu). A great concept, superbly executed.
Sodabottle Openerwala does great interpretations of Irani stand-bys (left); Townhall has Wasabi-quality
food at half the cost
Opening of the Year: Town Hall
This is how all new non-hotel restaurants should be. A vast, quirkily-designed space spread over two floors in Khan Market, Town Hall lets you relax and enjoy what you want. A collaboration between several veterans (the folks behind Amour Bistro, Augusto Cabrera who popularised sushi in Delhi at Threesixty° and Navneet Kalra, the uncrowned king of Khan Market, among others), this has Wasabi-quality food at half of Wasabi’s prices, plus pastas, pizzas and the usual stuff. A triumph.
Food Company of the Year: Lite Bite Foods
Proof that two outsiders to the restaurant business (Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal) can create a massive multi-brand company out of nothing more than a passion to be the best.
For Farzi cafe the real triumph is its owner Zorawar Kalra
Restaurateur of the Year: Zorawar Kalra
I briefly considered giving an award to the massively successful Farzi Café but decided, on balance, that the real triumph was Zorawar’s. He has finally emerged from his father’s shadow (his dad is my old pal Jiggs Kalra) to become one of India’s most exciting restaurateurs, excelling in old-style Punjabi (Made in Punjab) and doing what none of us thought was possible: taking genuinely innovative modern Indian food to a mass, young audience with Masala Library and Farzi Café.
F&B Professional of the Year: Somnath Dey
You may not have heard of him, which is how he wants it. But Dey has turned the Hyatt Regency into an F&B hub because of his obsession with food and service and his outstanding banqueting skills which keep the Hyatt two steps ahead of the competition.
Japanese Restaurant of the Year: Megu
A tough one because Wasabi is so good but, on balance, I’ll give it to Megu because the food is better, the restaurant looks better and the service is outstanding.
Megu at the Leela Palace trumps Wasabi on better food and service
Chef of the Year: Vikramjit Roy
He returned to Delhi in triumph with Tian (which would have won Best Pan-Asian if the category existed) which showcases both his skill at understanding and extracting flavours and his flair for dramatic presentation. My prediction for the year: he is the next Manish Mehrotra, and potentially India’s brightest and most inventive chef.
Hotelier of the Year: Anil Chadha
Every company has a few key employees who embody the values the company was built on. At ITC, it is Chadha who exemplifies the chain’s can-do attitude, its lack of snobbery and pretensions, its commitment to quality, its emphasis on personalised service and its quest for efficiency. He has transformed the ITC Maurya – the hotel he was probably born to run. And one day, this man will run a major hotel company.
From HT Brunch, November 16
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