Does it again
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Does it again

Who says Delhi’s food scene is dead? With three more new restaurants opening up, there’s more happening here than in any other Indian city, writes Vir Sanghvi.

india Updated: May 16, 2009 18:14 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times

Who says Delhi’s food scene is dead? With three more new restaurants opening up, there’s more happening here than in any other Indian city

People can say what they like about the recession but new restaurants keep opening all the time in the Capital. A few weeks ago I wrote about three of them (Lodhi, Italia and Manre). Here are my first impressions of three more.

The new Oberoi Patisserie and Delicatessen has been open for a while but I haven’t got around to writing about it yet. If you haven’t been there yet, it is part of the newly redone lower ground floor at the Delhi Oberoi. The beauty salon, flower shop etc. have also been given a spectacular makeover but the new deli occupies pride of place – in the space that used to be Kandahar.

The idea is a good one. Even in the old days, many people preferred to go for a coffee and a pastry at the first floor pastry shop (where Hermès is now located) especially when they were not in the mood for the glamour and bustle of 360. So why not build a larger pastry shop and expand the menu?

The Oberoi took its time about getting the new place ready (nearly a year, I think) but it has been worth the wait. The new pastry shop / deli is brilliant. The bread is excellent, the savoury pies are innovative and there is a huge range of cold meals and other deli products.

I’m of the view that they should have allowed for a few more tables and I am not a great fan of the current menu (the last one was much better) but even so, the restaurant is a breakthrough – easily the restaurant of the year in Delhi.

Foodies of my generation will remember the team of Ronnie Lobo and Giovanni Leopardi. In the early 1990s, Ronnie was General Manager of the Taj on Man Singh Road and Giovanni was chef at the old Casa Medici.

Casa Medici had been around since 1978 but its moment of glory came when Giovanni introduced modern Italian food to Delhi in 1991. Ronnie was ahead of his time: the best F&B professional in the Taj group and a man who understood wine long before it became trendy in India.

Together, Ronnie and Giovanni made Casa Medici Delhi’s best restaurant and because I stayed at the Taj in those days (I lived in Calcutta), I ate at the Casa nearly every evening.

Ronnie moved on to become General Manager of the Radisson and then to occupy a more exalted spot in the Radisson group’s corporate hierarchy and Giovanni went off to America to open many Italian restaurants of his own.

But they kept in touch and a few months ago, Ronnie lured Giovanni back to Delhi to open a new Mediterranean restaurant at the Radisson.

It’s called Med and had only been open for a week when I went so I won’t attempt anything like a comprehensive review (besides, I was not anonymous). I took my friend Gautam Anand of ITC to get a professional’s perspective and even Gautam was impressed.

Giovanni has moved away from Italian regional cooking (he is from Torino) and has tried to do a modern American / Californian spin on Mediterranean. Thus, there are gourmet pizzas, many kinds of carpaccio, Spanish-style tapas (in a very nice area upstairs), 21 wines by the glass and many kinds of paella.

We ate a trad Italian meal (an excellent veal chop and a terrific halibut provencal) but Gautam was particularly taken with the modern innovation of ‘lime air’ which replaced the between-courses sorbet. This was exactly what the name suggested: a light airy foam with the taste of lime. There’s a trick to making it (soy lecithin is a key ingredient) but no doubt it will turn up at Gardenia, the new ITC hotel that Gautam is working on in Bangalore.

Roger Narula is a Delhi boy who went to America to go to college and then got seduced by his passion for food. He worked in fast food restaurants, cleaning chickens to put himself through college. Eventually, he entered the restaurant businesses full-time, rising to become a big shot at Burger King in the US.

Roger’s now back in India (in Bombay, though) and is the franchisee for a Dubai-based chain called Noodle House. He’s opened outlets in Bangalore and Delhi but because of some legal problems surrounding the name, has had to call his restaurants Tasty Tangles in India.

I had lunch with him and his elegant wife at the Tasty Tangles in the Metropolitan Mall in Saket (which is fast becoming an F&B destination, also hosting Manre and Ai) and wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

In the event, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not really a fast food place at all and reminded me of Wagamama, the British noodle chain that Alan Yau started (and later sold).

There are large tables seating up to eight or ten people but on the Sunday I went, they were not being used as sharing tables because each group of diners seemed large enough to take over the entire table.

The menu has some noodles but is essentially Pan-Asian. There’s dim sum (good), fried duck rolls (excellent: crisp on the outside and moist on the inside) etc. and then there’s astonishingly sophisticated Far Eastern food. I had juicy prawns, an authentic lamb Rendang (better even than the Rendang at the Pan Asian in the nearby Sheraton), a nasi goreng that could have been made on the streets of any Far Eastern city, good fried rice, filling and wonderful Laksa and a truly great Peking-style duck with pancakes (at Rs 500 or so!)

Some dishes were less successful. The Kung Ba Noodles have no nuts and do not taste remotely authentic. (There’s nothing they can do, the chef told me. The recipes are standardised at Noodle Houses all over the world so all that the Indian operation can do is pray that no Chinese person drops in and sues them for defaming the dish.) They are experimenting with Bubble Tea (not on the menu yet) and hope to get it right.

But overall, this was great food – at any price. And the astonishing thing about Tasty Tangles was that it was all very good value.

If Roger can maintain these standards even when he’s not eating in the restaurant himself, then I think he has a huge success on his hands.

A final, slightly irrelevant note: I think I have finally located Delhi’s best cheesecake. It’s at Yum Yum Tree in the New Friends Colony Market.

I had a great cheesecake the first time I went there and then, a pretty bad one the second time. But Varun Tuli, who runs the restaurant, seems to have finally cracked the recipe.

I had the latest avatar (even lighter than the first) and it was terrific.

Who says Delhi’s food scene is dead? There’s more happening here than in any other Indian city.

First Published: May 16, 2009 17:52 IST