FOOD for THOUGHT

Anoothi Vishal

Estimated read time: <5 minutes

At his ultra-exclusive pop-up dinner at Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi Chef Gaggan Anand momentarily hit pause to the rock music in the background to sing praises of his Delhi audience! It was an exemplary dinner: One course flowed after another — 19 to be precise — matched with wine.

Delhi’s diners (all 30 of them) who came to their tables having coughed up Rs 19,500 plus taxes each for this meal, sat through the whole affair patiently. No one got up for a smoke or a chat and every one talked pleasantly to their neighbours instead of keeping to cliques, but most importantly, every one tasted and in many cases applauded everything that came to the table — sans a murmur of protest.

For a city with a reputation for conservative tastebuds — after all, isn’t it accepted wisdom that Mumbai is more experimental? — this was unusual behaviour indeed: to go through the likes of fish seasoned only with cardamom and green chillies; baigan ka bharta fashioned into cookies; mushroom pâté to be licked off the plate because we were using no cutlery; and chicken pâté squeezed inside a banana in an approximation of baby food with respect. As recent as five years ago, Delhi would have bitterly complained and ducked into Pandara Road eateries post any such meal for “real food”.

But we are changing. Gaggan took note of that, as did many of us in the business of observing food and people. India’s appetite for unique food experiences at the highest end has been growing exponentially and nowhere is this more apparent than in the two metros — Delhi and Mumbai. While Mumbai does remain more experimental, Delhi is not too far behind either. People are more experimental, and indeed ready to spend a lot for luxury dining experiences.

At the Gaggan pop-up at the Taj, I sat next to designer Ashish N Soni, who told how every year he and his wife Misha “make it a point to travel to eat at top restaurants globally, ticking off places on the San Pellegrino world’s 50 best list”. They are part of a small but growing group of well-heeled travellers doing the same. From bankers to businessmen and doctors, many are seeking a slice of luxury dining, undaunted by unfamiliar ideas and flavours.

Even within the country, we see this in the popularity of not just pop-up dinners organised by celebrity chefs but also at restaurants and restaurants-within-restaurants that offer cutting edge menus. One of my favourite experiences in the NCR is the Saturday night weekly feature put together by chef Abhishek Gupta at The Leela-Ambience Gurgaon. Gupta, who briefly interned at Noma a few years ago, experiments with fermentation and local seasonal produce to give us completely unexpected flavours at his experimental dinners, where both the tasting menu and the 12 fellow diners, your company for the evening, are a complete surprise. These dinners have allowed the chef to push his creativity and for discerning diners to go beyond regular restaurant experiences. That they have been steadily serving for the last six months is a substantial measure of their success.


In Mumbai, chef Prateek Sadhu at Masque and Vikramjit Roy at POH are both dishing out heavily experimental menus at their restaurants and with much success, too. Masque has quickly become the darling of Mumbai’s society since it opened doors last year. Sadhu uses local ingredients, some of them foraged, many almost forgotten, to put together unique plates. Roy, meanwhile, is giving Mumbai a taste of what he used to do at Tian at ITC Maurya — combining pan Asian influences and flavours in an individualistic way. These are not your regular restaurants where the conservative diner can ‘safely’ go. They may have some safe options too because they are commercial establishments at the end of the day, but the premise remains that diners will visit these places seeking the new and the unexpected, and often be jolted out of their comfort zones. Like art, cuisine at its finest should be able to do that: expand your horizons and give you food for thought as well.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons | Vogue | Gaggan | Chef Abhishek Gupta Instagram | Chef Vikramjit Roy Facebook | Chef Prateek Sadhu Instagram

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