Friday, 24 April 2015

Special Cuisine | Korean Temple Cuisine at Tian

The eating out options in Delhi are more than ever now. To up the level (and to beat competition) restaurants are offering unique dining experiences. While you can try the self explanatory “dining in the dark” at a few eateries, another offers the concept of “eat your words” – where the dishes of an evening are inspired by popular books or poems. But the soon to be introduced Korean Temple Cuisine at ITC Maurya’s rooftop restaurant, Tian - Asian Cuisine Studio, is a first for Delhi.

Unlike my other posts, I’ll have to refrain from getting into the details of this meal. Firstly, I don’t want to give away surprises that Chef Vikramjit Roy is famous for. And secondly, this meal is an experience that I would urge you to try for yourself, because it goes beyond the food.

Other than being informed that it’s an entirely vegetarian Korean meal, I have no clue what I am in for when I reach for the preview. We are served champagne before being escorted to the dining area. We are asked to remove our shoes, dip our feet in a tub of water and enter the dimly lit room. In typical Tian style, we are given step-by-step instructions to enhance the whole experience. To start the dramatic gastronomic journey we stand behind our chairs while the servers place some individual dishes for guests. Something is poured at the base of the dish that creates wafts of aromatic smoke. Then the lights are slowly increased and we are requested to take our seats. We then take three deep breaths and start the first course of the evening – dehydrated fruits. It's incredible how the flavours of each fruit – there are five thin slices of different fruits – is enhanced dramatically.

Now the mystery veil surrounding the meal is slowly being lifted. After spending a fair amount of time in Seoul, Chef Vikram is ready to offer his take on the Korean Temple Cuisine. “This meal is made without any onion or garlic,” he says. Really?! Garlic is one of the key ingredients of Korean food, I thought. He adds that he would like us to avoid having alcohol during this meal not for any religious purpose but because he would prefer us to focus on the food. We are surprised when he tells us that there has been no added salt in the entire meal; pickled vegetables and other ingredients that have natural/inherent salt have been used to lend the savoury flavour. “Chefs are generally used to just throwing in salt or garlic to make the food tasty but this meal has been cooked with utmost honesty and integrity,” he explains.

Then course after course (we are served 11 courses!) we are amazed with different textures and flavours, surprises on the plate and the palate, each course building up to the next. Without going into much detail I’ll let you in to a few courses. We are served a congee of black sesame with Korean brown rice and kimchee three ways. While one course features seven different textured vegetables with gochujang (fermented Korean chilli) and soymilk mousse the next comes with seven vegetables again, but served with edamame and Korean cheese mash.

While this meal is absolutely fantastic for vegetarians, I can assure you that despite loving our meats none of us missed them the entire evening. Luscious broths, fantastically textured vegetables, japchae noodles and a bit of molecular gastronomy - I promise you'll be in food heaven. We could give it all sorts of names like soul food and such, but I will simply leave you with an image of some of the dishes that we enjoyed. For the rest, just head to Tian to experience it for yourself!

Tian, ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi.
Timings  7pm –11.30am.

Tel 011 2611 2233.

Restaurant Review | Schengen – Deli-Bistro-Pub: For Pan-European Fare

Schengen – Deli-Bistro-Pub has amped the party quotient in its otherwise quiet neighbourhood.

Located in the diplomatic area of Chanakya Puri, the Malcha Marg market has always had more than a few restaurants. Be it Fujiya, Moti Mahal, Lazeez Affaire, Fez or Side Wok, each restaurant has enjoyed its share of regulars. And even though the same market housed nU Delhi Q’ba featuring live music that attracted a lot of rock music lovers, the place was invariably quiet on the outside. The first time I noticed Schengen was a few weeks ago while driving past it one evening. The bright lights and loud music create quite a buzz in the area. Good or bad? That depends on your preference I guess. In my opinion, Delhiites have an affinity for the bold and the bling.

But, don’t get me wrong! Schengen is not just for the night birds. Spread over three floors, it opens for breakfast and serves pan-European fare through the day. The ground floor has a little seating area and the bakery and dessert counter. The first floor is the dining section, and a lovely terrace covered with white gravel. And the bar on the second floor usually gets busy 6pm onwards.

I’m happy to note that the place is quite busy even for a weekday lunch. The bright interiors (at this time the brightness comes from the daylight streaming in through large glass windows and doors) are buzzing with an assortment of people – a few media personalities, an old couple, a business meeting in progress and a bunch of college-going kids.

The Wild Mushroom Solyanka Cappuccino; Inset: Bulgarian Sour Lamb Soup.

We start with the Bulgarian Sour Lamb Soup. A traditional soup of Bulgaria, the tangy, slow cooked broth has small chunks of tender lamb. It is quite tasty but I prefer the Wild Mushroom Solyanka Cappuccino. As the name suggests, it is an exotic mushroom soup served with parmesan cream foam. The soup is delicious on its own, but what I love is that one can actually taste the cheese in the foam. I’ve had something similar in other places where the parmesan in the foam is only for namesake.

Then comes the Watermelon and Feta Salad. Simple and refreshing in its taste, I appreciate the plating – the watermelon has been scooped into neat balls and the salad, tossed with pine nuts and rocket leaves in a honey mustard dressing is served in a watermelon shell.

Top: Watermelon and Feta Salad;
Bottom Left: 
Warm Tomato and Mozzarella Stack; Bottom Right: Spanakopita. 
Going by corporate chef, Piyush Jain’s recommendations, we try the Spanakopita and a Warm Tomato and Mozzarella Stack. While the former is phyllo wrapped spinach, feta, onion and ricotta rolls served with tzatziki the latter is the chef’s take on the Caprese salad and is essentially a stack of slow roast tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil and polenta breadstick served with balsamic caviar. The plating, again, is beautiful! There’s also a touch of molecular gastronomy since the “man made caviar” is made with tomato, mustard and balsamic.

Let me tell you right away that the Pizzas are fab. Freshly made in a wood fired oven, the dough is made with part whole wheat making it healthier. That it is a thin crust and nicely loaded with toppings, makes it fantastic. We have the half and half, the vegetarian side includes corn, olives, jalapeƱo, asparagus, mushroom, spinach, tomato, cherry tomatoes and artichokes and the non veg side has all that plus smoked chicken, pepperoni, chicken meatballs.

Clockwise from Top Left: Half n Half Pizza; Cottage Cheese Steak; Chicken Skewers; Pan Grilled Salmon.

At this point, we don’t really need the mains, but we do sample a couple. The Grilled Cottage Cheese Steak is stuffed with spinach and served with sweetened bourbon sauce. The sauce is delicious and really lifts the flavour of this dish. The Pan Grilled Salmon Steak on the other hand doesn’t quite work for me. Served with ratatouille, mash potato, lemon tobiko cream, I find the fish a tad dry. I even prefer my mashed potatoes to be smooth and creamy even if it makes them more sinful.

Top: Schengen Style Tiramisu; Bottom: Blue Berry Cheese Cake.
A word regarding the desserts – they all sound too sweet even for desserts! To give you an example, the chocolate fondant comes with honeycomb and the red velvet is served with a crushed macaroon. We go for the Schengen Style Tiramisu that is served with a strawberry macaroon and coffee froth and the Blue Berry Cheese Cake served with blue berry compote. Honestly, I would be just fine with a good tiramisu or a cheesecake, without the extra accompaniments.

But overall, I would recommend you to try out Schengen. One, its away from other congested areas of Delhi. Two, the food and ambience are good. And three, there’s enough choice from Italian to Greek and Turkish, the traditional fish and chips to a range of burgers and pizzas. I would go back for the pizzas and to try their breakfast.  

Schengen – Deli-Bistro-Pub, 22/48, Malcha Marg, New Delhi.
Timings  8am –1am.
Tel +91-98103 03445
Prices Soups Rs 225 onwards; Salads Rs 325 onwards; Sharing Plates Rs 185 onwards; Burgers Rs 255 onwards; Pizzas Rs 475 onwards; Mains Rs 425 onwards; Desserts Rs 225 onwards.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Restaurant Review | Diva Spiced: Simply Delicious

One can’t miss Chef Ritu Dalmia’s inimitable magic in the recently opened Diva Spiced. The original diva for Italian food in Delhi, Chef Ritu’s passion for good food finds suitable expression in oriental fare at this outlet. This all-day dining serves modern Asian cuisine made with fresh ingredients and often an unpredictable twist to traditional favourites. Take your pick from Tapas and Salads, Rice and Noodle Bowls and an extensive choice of mains. Although a liquor license is expected soon, there is a good choice of mocktails, smoothies, fresh juices, tea and coffee.

Diva Spiced has opened in the same space in Meherchand Market that earlier housed the French restaurant Chez Nini. Not only is the basic layout, along with the mirrored wall and bay windows, the same as the erstwhile restaurant but one even finds familiar waitstaff from Chez Nini, now serving Oriental fare with a smile of recognition. The muted colours of the former restaurant have however been replaced by brighter shades of yellow and red. And as with most Diva outlets, one finds Anita Damlia’s signature ceiling lamps bathing the restaurant in their warm glow.

The Vibrant Interiors. 

I appreciate restaurants that serve vegetarian fare that is delicious enough for non-vegetarians to order it as well. Most places fail on this account, but not this one. Inspired by Bomra’s in Goa, the Bomra’s Tomato Salad features “fresh tomatoes massaged with sesame, tamarind and jaggery dressing” according to the menu. Topped with crunchy peanuts and garlic chips this cold salad is mindblowing in its simplicity and certainly something that I’ll go back for. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the Fresh Beetroot and Gaucamole Salad. Although I’m quite a fan of both beetroot as well as guacamole, the combination in this salad doesn’t quite work for me despite the added zing from the Thai red chillies and shredded coconut.

Top: Bomra's Tomato Salad; Bottom: Fresh Beetroot and Guacamole Salad.

The choice of Asian Tapas is great, and if you order a few of these you can easily make a complete meal of it, without venturing to the mains. Although the Crystal Dumplings only offer four types each of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options I can assure you that there are no boring fillings. The thing about restaurants that do not specialize in dimsum often get the wrap all wrong. But you won’t find that at Diva Spiced. The thinly wrapped dumplings with liberal filling are made well and do not break; they are also a little sticky so they don’t slide off the chopsticks just before you put them in your mouth! I love the dumplings with Root Vegetables With Chili Oil and Chinese Greens, Asparagus And Garlic. From the non-veg dumplings, I really like the Pork Confit And Chilli, though I had no complains from the Prawn And Japanese Ginger or the Chicken Celery And Scallion as well.

Delicious Dumplings. 

The other delicious offerings in the tapas menu are the croquet-style Fried Zucchini Flower filled with tofu and feta, Phyllo Pastry Samosa with glass noodles and shiitake mushrooms, the melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly skewers, the fantastic Kerala style Calamari (I love the garlic pods and kadhi patta in this one) and Lepcha Special Chicken wrapped in homemade katifi (Lepcha being the chef who came up with this delicious appetizer!).

Top: Udon Noodles with Garlic Butter; Bottom Left: Zucchini Flowers; Bottom Left: Phyllo Pastry Samosas. 

The Rice and Noodle Bar is interesting. You can choose your veggies, tofu/meat, choice of noodles/rice and sauce for this meal in a bowl. While I have the udon noodles with vegetables and tofu in garlic butter sauce, you can pick from black bean, chili garlic, black pepper, soy ginger, bamboo shoot or laksa sauce.

The mains offer a fairly extensive choice for vegetarians from a Young Papaya Curry to Caramelized Lotus Stem, Stuffed Baby Eggplant to a Red Curry and a Spicy Taro and Root Vegetable Burger. For non vegetarians, there’s a Chili Caramel Fillet of Sole with orange peanut Namjim and wokfried greens – my favourite from Diva Kitsch that shut down recently! I just love the combination of flavours and textures. The Maple and Chili Pork Ribs are served with wilted spinach and a kidney bean mash. While the overall flavour is great, I would prefer lesser fat on the ribs.

Clockwise from Top Left: Pork Belly Skewers; Maple and Chili Pork Ribs; Duck Burger; Broiled Salmon in a Miso Marinade served with Soba Noodles.

Remember the Duck Burger from Chez Nini? Well, you’ll be happy to find it here, although with Chef Ritu’s twist it is served with a green apple chutney and pickled cucumbers. I find the new avatar to be bigger and juicier than its original version. There’s of course a lot more choice in the mains. I’d love to go back for the Goan Prawn Curry, New Zealand Lamb Chops with tamarind and port wine reduction and the Blackened Tiger Prawns with coconut chili rice and spicy mango relish.

Left: Spiced Mess; Right: Black Pepper Infused Chocolate Fondant with Basil ice cream.

I always look forward to dessert at any Ritu Dalmia restaurant. Although my favourite Tiramisu is not on offer here the Spiced Mess – Chef Ritu’s take on Eton Mess – features lemongrass meringue with mascarpone cream and berry compote. Heavenly, I say! Perfectly balanced, with no single element overpowering any other. And not being a huge fan of black pepper, I hesitatingly order the Black Pepper Infused Chocolate Fondant for the want of a chocolatey dessert. I’m glad that I can barely taste the black pepper but the accompanying basil ice cream is perfectly loaded with the refreshing flavour of the said herb.

The casual yet buzzing ambience and enough delectable choice to not order the same dish each time I go back will definitely see me visiting Diva Spiced repeatedly.

I love the table mats!

Diva Spiced, 79-80, Meharchand Market (Ground & First Floor), New Delhi. 
Timings 11am - 11.30pm. 
Tel 011 4905 1837.
Prices Tapas Rs 310 onwards; Mains Rs 540 onwards; Desserts Rs 395 each.