Rude food by Vir Sanghvi: Eating in
How do smart restaurateurs cope with the pandemic and all the stresses it entails? Well, the brightest ones adapt to the new reality. Prasanjit Singh is one of India’s best restaurateurs, having opened many restaurants in his career, including two of my favourites, China Kitchen (when he was F&B manager of Delhi’s Hyatt Regency) and Set’z (which was called Zest when he opened it at DLF Emporio).
Sensing that things are changing, Prasanjit has also moved into the cloud kitchen business (you can find his operation at shackhood.com), offering delivery from three brands, Masala Shack, Shack Bites and Asian Shack. Prasanjit’s food is always good, so that is never a concern, but to create a distinguisher between Shackhood and other delivery operations, he has looked for new angles. The Indian brand Masala Shack is much more regional than most brands, and Prasanjit has worked closely with housewives and home chefs for authentic masalas. Asian Shack relies on the freshest ingredients, creating a farm-to-delivery model that few have attempted. I was surprised by the high quality of the Thai and Chinese cooking; in a different league from most delivery kitchens.
Prasanjit has only one cloud kitchen at the moment. He needs at least three to cover all of Delhi-NCR, so I hope that his excellent food can be delivered outside of Gurgaon soon.
Sid Mathur, a former banker, gave up a well-paid, cushy job to throw himself into the food world, rising to become one of the top guys at Riyaaz Amlani’s Impresario restaurant group. Sid is still with Impresario, but four years ago, he also started something on his own. He noticed how so many people were sending boxes of chocolates out with invitations or giving them as gifts. Why, he wondered, couldn’t they just send fresh mithai?
This led him to launch Khoya, an upmarket mithai brand, which has become a rage in gifting circles. Sid uses the best quality ghee and steers clear of halwai tricks. If it says that a mithai uses pista, then Khoya will use only good quality pistachios, not coloured cashew nuts. You can actually taste the quality in his mithai.
The Khoya mithai is made in Delhi but you can order online all over India. The freshness is guaranteed. Khoya supplies to the Oberoi pastry shops in Delhi, and each day they send a fresh batch while removing any mithai left over from the previous day. Because Sid is a food guy, he knows how to reduce the quantities of sugar syrup that so many mithais are drenched in and bring out the original taste of the ingredients.
Aman Agarwal of Nima Gourmet had a humbler start than either Prasanjit or Sid. He went to the Taj hotel school in Aurangabad but did not join a five-star chain. Instead, he opened a restaurant on Delhi’s Janpath and when that failed, decided that delivery was a better option. Four months ago he sent me pickles made to his dadi’s recipes, and more recently I had a full meal from his operation. It was good and you could tell that he was operating from a home kitchen.
I knew Akriti Malhotra when she was at Diva before she opened the first wildly successful Aku’s Burgers and became an institution in Delhi’s Defence Colony. Since the lockdown began, Aku’s shifted to delivery – one more restaurateur adapting to changing times. And now a branch of Aku’s has opened at DLF Cyber Hub to handle take away and delivery so that Gurgaon can enjoy what Defence Colony already loves.
Meanwhile the packaged food business continues to grow by leaps and bounds in the current sort-of-lockdown phase. The team behind Mamagoto (whose empire now includes Dhabha) has launched a range of cook-in-sauces. You cook with them at home and you get a taste of the Mamagoto group’s restaurants.
Also joining the cook-in sauce race are Mr. Chow sauces, which produces a range of oriental sauces to use with noodles and the like, which should appeal to those who want quick meals. And Viraj Bahl, one of the two kings of the sauce market with his bestselling mayonnaise, has also entered the field with cook-in Veeba sauces, across many cuisines ranging from Makhani gravy to a sauce for Kung Pao chicken.
Dev Lall is one of the titans of the food business and few people can match his expertise in the bakery ingredients sector. While Dev’s reputation has been largely restricted to the B2B sector till now, that is set to change with the launch of his Frescotti brand, which, so far, is delivering only in Delhi and Gurgaon. This includes frozen baked goods that you bring to life in your home oven. His product range includes croissants (plain and chocolate), garlic bread, very good pre-sliced cheesecakes, cookie dough and puff pastry.
The surprise hit in his range has been the frozen puff pastry. Obviously Frescotti has tapped into the baking boom. Many baking videos on YouTube are shot in countries where ready-to-cook puff pastry is easy to buy at supermarkets. It hasn’t been that easy to get good quality ready-made pastry in India so far, so the Frescotti stuff is selling out as fast as they can make it.
I have written often enough about the difficulty of buying good quality sausages in India. Mostly you get tasteless forgeries made with industrially farmed chicken. My solution has been to rely on small artisanal operations like Artisan Meats and H’Man who make their sausages fresh in small quantities.
But now there is a large-scale alternative. Meisterwurst is an Indian outfit that makes sausages in partnership with Germany’s Arthur Foods. They manufacture all kinds of cured meats and sausages and, so far, I have only tried their Bratwurst and it is very good. There is a lot more in my fridge (including ham and other kinds of German sausages), which I look forward to trying.
None of this is as quite as rewarding as going to a restaurant, of course. But there are now so many food options that at least we can pretend that we have got restaurants to come home to us!
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, September 27, 2020
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