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Fine-dining goes intimate, retains sophisticated charm

india Updated: May 13, 2012 01:47 IST
Zofeen Maqsood
Zofeen Maqsood
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

You know that society is on its way to acquire the refined art of eating out, when people start swapping swanky fine-diners for homey little eateries serving fantastic food without the flash.

The past few months have seen an emerging trend of intimate dining; where one goes out to eat not just to be seen digging into exotic fare at a fancy restaurant but to a small eatery for as food experts call it — an epicurean experience. Across the country, there is an increase in small, chef run dining-out options.

Chef Ritu Dalmia, who opened Diva Piccola, a 29-cover bistro this February in Delhi says, “Early 2000 was a phase of hookah bars, followed by a café culture and the popularity of whiskey clubs. The current trend is of intimate places with small seating capacities and an emphasis on experimental cuisine.”

The trend is duplicating the bistro culture that happened in the west 20 years ago. Mumbai was forward in appreciating the trend, with eateries like Salt Water Cafe and Indigo Deli that opened few years ago but Delhi has now got almost the same number of small, classy places. Kolkata and Bangalore are also experiencing this grown-up gourmet phase now. Seema Chandra, food editor NDTV, says, “In Delhi it started with Gun Powder, where one saw the chef cooking and chatting about food. People began getting interested in the art of food-making.”

Le Cordon Bleu educated chef, Sohini Beherens, who’s opening a pit-stop eatery in Kolkata says, “Influenced by Delhi and Mumbai people are getting interested in interactive kitchen culture.

Gourmet experience
The eateries are breaking away from a tradition where dining meant, ordering food, paying the bill and coming back. Mrigank Singh, executive chef, Blue Frog says, “When I hold tables, I discuss menus with diners.” Bakshish Dean, corporate chef, Lite Bite foods, agrees,“A dish becomes superlative when it comes with the experience of how it was prepared.” Chefs also say that smaller places give you scope to experiment.

Bhuvnesh Khanna cook and owner, 2,2 Tango, a new,14 cover eatery in Hauz Khas Village, Delhi, says, “In Spain and Italy at good restaurants the meat is braised for 9-12 hours. Chefs in India, are trying to replicate the same attention to detail. Since we cater to limited people we have the luxury to use sous vide cooking (a method of slow cooking involving vacuum sealing) where the meat is marinated for 96 hours for a particular dish to ensure perfect texture.”

Neighbourhood eateries
Harmeet Bajaj, co-owner Smoke House Grill says, “Home-style eateries are like an extension of your living room. You can dine in your pajamas.” She adds, “In London, localities like Notting Hill are dotted with cute, little eateries.”

Chef Sid Khullar says, “In the west, eating out is culture, unlike India where tiffin is the culture. We may be getting there but the bistros may not become mainstream.” Dalmia gives another perspective, “Small places are also commercially viable. In Delhi a 1000 square feet space rent, may be anywhere between R3 lakh to whopping 15 lakh.”

Food is in fashion
The joys of eating are now not limited to just savouring a lemon meringue pie or a summer mintini. People want to explore food as a craft. Chef Dean says, “Cookery shows like Nigella Lawson’s and Masterchef have glamourised the kitchen. People want to be educated on everything from a Halloumi Pepper Bruschetta to a Halibut.”

Beherens agrees, “When I custom make a specialised dessert like Earl Grey flavoured cream cheese frosted cupcake, customers want to understand what goes behind it. Bajaj says, “It’s eclectic to talk about food and little eateries serve as conversational spots.”