Rather than the standard comparison between Bombay and Delhi restaurants, I thought I would just give you a round-up of all the places I’ve been to in both cities over the last month. As you may have noticed, India’s restaurant scene is hotting up and over the next two months, as Delhi’s Aerocity hotels open, another 20 or so high-end restaurants will be launched.
The big opening of the last month in Delhi is of course Yauatcha, London’s Yauatcha if you like, but in the minds of most Indians, Bombay’s Yauatcha. When the first Indian Yauatcha opened in Bombay a couple of years ago, it was an instant success. The food was up to the standards of the London original and the room was much nicer than the horrible basement from which the London Yauatcha derived its reputation. (The London restaurant has a tearoom upstairs but when it opened, it served most of its meals from a cramped basement.)
is now ready to expand in India. I am told that a recently-opened Bangalore outpost flourishes and the Delhi restaurant has been the most spectacular opening the city has seen last month.
is in the Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj and is vast (around 160 covers, I would guess). The menu is derived from the London original but with many original twists. The famous venison puff becomes a chicken puff in India, the pork char siu cheung fan is made with chicken and it includes dishes I’ve never seen in London, including a Momofuku-like pork belly served with buns.
I’ve been twice. I went for the very first meal that was open to the public (a weekday lunch) when the restaurant was largely empty (it opened without any publicity) and the food was amazing, even better than Bombay. I went back for lunch four days later and was startled to find the restaurant 75 per cent full (and they were sold out for dinner that night), all on the basis of word of mouth. I went with Gagan Anand and his partners and Gagan enjoyed the meal. We ordered many, many things and Gagan and his friends said they liked 80 per cent of the dishes. Gagan is a world-famous chef who has eaten dim sum all over the Far East, so his opinion matters. But we also bumped into ITC supremo Nakul Anand eating quietly with wife Timsy and two of her colleagues. Nakul came and sat with us and it turned out that he had arrived on impulse without attracting any attention to himself. Even he thought the restaurant was terrific.
It is too early to pass judgement but based on the early evidence, this is the best dim sum in India and Yauatcha is the best non-Sichuan Chinese restaurant in Delhi. (The best Hunan Chinese place is still China Kitchen at the Hyatt.)
The other big opening in Delhi is Akira Back at the JW Marriott, the first of the Aerocity hotels to throw open its doors. Back is, apparently, a well known Korean-American chef with two places in Las Vegas, and follows the long tradition of ex-Nobu employees (Masaharu Morimoto, Rainer Becker etc.) who have started their own restaurants. While the food is recognisable as derived from Nobu, Back has added his own spin to most of the dishes.
I ate there before the restaurant had formally opened and Back sat with me, so I’m not in a position to provide any objective review of the cuisine. But I thought it was fun food, full of spice and texture and packed with flavour. Back is keener on texture than Nobu, so much of the food comes with a satisfying crunch.
On a related note, I liked the JW Marriott. It feels like less of an airport hotel (which it is) and more like a luxury property. The executive chef is Girish Krishnan, well known to viewers of Foodistan, where he was one of the stars. The Akira Back restaurant is run by Rajat Kalia, who used to be manager of Megu. The restaurant director is another familiar Delhi F&B figure, Tarun Bhatia, and the executive pastry chef Nitin Upadhyaya is from Zest. So it is a new hotel with very many familiar faces.
The places I went to in Bombay were less fancy. Imbiss is a new restaurant in Colaba, in one of the Pasta Lanes. Despite the location, the menu is less pasta and more meat. The manager told me that the owners were in the meat business, which may explain the wide choice of charcuterie on the menu.
I started with a fried duck egg on onion rounds, which was rich and flavourful. The bratwurst hot dog was satisfying and the chorizo rice was outstanding, a dish I would happily go back and eat again and again. The problem was with the cooking. When the kitchen deals with bratwurst, chorizo, sausages etc. it does fine. But give it raw meat and the results are less successful.
The beef cheek sounded like a good idea. This is an inexpensive cut of meat, which chefs love because it gets more exercise than most other parts of the animal. For maximum flavour, however, it needs to be slow cooked. The cheek was tough and came in a needlessly spicy watery gravy. Obviously, the chef had no clue how to cook it. When it came to the T-Bone steak, it may have been the meat that was to blame. The steak was inedible.
But you don’t have to rely on the chef’s cooking. Stick to the charcuterie, enjoy the relaxed ambience, attentive service and the very reasonable prices and you’ll be fine.
Nico, in the Fort area, is a little more ambitious than Imbiss – and it is certainly more expensive. It is ineptly lit, presumably to create a bar-like ambience. But it is strange to find an empty restaurant that is so badly lit at 8.30pm that it is hard to read the menu at some tables.
Perhaps I just went too early (the restaurant had begun to attract some guests by 9.30pm) and made the mistake of eating when I should have stuck to the booze. A pulled mutton thingie was okay but the duck confit was so bad that they should either take it off the menu or teach the chef how to make it.
Service was slapdash and for much of my dinner, the loudest noise came from a spluttering coffee machine as waiters scurried around it, trying somehow to get it to work. Even when more guests arrived, the coffee machine could still be heard all over the restaurant. And they still couldn’t get any coffee out of it.
But then, maybe it seems very different if you go for a cocktail at 11.30pm, having taken the precaution of first having eaten elsewhere. So I’m not dissing the restaurant. It may just work as a bar.
Meanwhile, it is good to see the old war- horses still going strong. Having spent part of the last few months in Thailand shooting my last TV show there, I’m not always eager to try Thai food in India. But my son who swears by Thai Pavilion dragged me there for dinner. The food was outstanding – even though Ananda Solomon was off. And F&B service at the President has improved beyond recognition ever since they have shifted Rishi Kumar there from the Lands End.
They gave me a preview of the new Konkan Café which seems stunning. But I’ll wait till it opens formally before reviewing it.
It is truffle season and Delhi is making the most of it. At Travertino at the Oberoi, Francesco Apreda, the Michelin-starred chef from Rome’s Hassler Hotel, did a special menu featuring white truffle. I went twice, once at lunch when he was clearly cooking himself, and the slow-cooked egg (on which he showered slices of white truffle) was perfect. His cooking has Japanese influences, so it was strange to try a porcini soup with miso flavours but the dish worked brilliantly. I went back for dinner (when the restaurant was fuller) and the food was less good – the egg was overcooked, for instance – but still interesting.
But the best European restaurant in Delhi is now La Piazza at the Hyatt Regency, fast becoming Delhi’s foodie hotel. Who would have thought that La Piazza, an old-style pizza and pasta joint that has long masqueraded as a proper Italian restaurant, would ever reach these heights?
But it has, largely because of the new chef, Maurizio Raselli. His truffle menu was excellent (Tuscan-style baked eggs with white truffle, a perfect risotto etc.) and even when he doesn’t have luxury ingredients to rely on, Maurizio’s food is always excellent.
And then, there’s the oldest warhorse of them all. Gagan and his partners were touring Delhi’s restaurants but refused to go to Bukhara arguing that the food was no longer any good. Eventually they decided they would take the plunge anyway and went off for Sunday lunch. At 3pm they texted to say that they had been completely wrong. The raan and the kebabs, they said, were outstanding.
Which, I guess, is how it should be. It is good when new places like Yauatcha open and take the city by storm. But it is also nice to know that some of Delhi’s most famous restaurants still have the ability to reinvent themselves (as La Piazza has done) and to maintain the standards they have been known for over the decades.
Two big openings still to come: the new Konkan Café in Bombay and Indigo in Delhi. Watch this space.
From HT Brunch, December 8
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