Monday, 28 March 2016

Restaurant Review | Dirty Apron, Safdarjung Enclave Market

Although I usually start most reviews by describing the interiors / ambience of a restaurant (it’s become habitual while adhering to magazine formats), I’ll start this one by saying that I love the name. ‘Dirty Apron’ conjures images of a passionate cook who is happy spending time in the kitchen, whipping up delicious fare to feed friends and family. And that is actually quite the image of Ruchira Hoon-Philip, who has designed and created the menu, and trained the kitchen staff to execute her much-loved dishes to guests.

Ruchira is a multi-faceted chef, sans formal training. A journalist by profession, she has designed menus of a few restaurants prior to this one, a passionate homecook who participated in MasterChef India, one of the original food bloggers (before the term got abused as it mostly is currently), the editor of a recipe aggregator website and app – Better Butter, and a hands-on cook who regularly enjoys hosting pop-ups of varied cuisines. She has also designed the menu of The Piano Man Jazz Club, housed in the ground and mezzanine floor of the same building as Dirty Apron, all of it collectively opened by Arjun Sagar Gupta. 

You must be wondering why I am going into so much depth about Ruchira’s background. It is because only a ‘foodie’ like her could have put in so much thought and deliciousness into each dish. The menu at Dirty Apron reminded me of one of my favourite food shows on TV – Eat Street. This show features food trucks across the US. The highlight of food trucks is that they serve fresh food in rather unusual combinations, often fusing different cuisines, and use unconventional cooking techniques, to offer delicious food that is comforting and just hits-the-spot! The big difference between the menu of food trucks and Dirty Apron is the sheer choice. Food trucks usually specialize in a few dishes and stick to those. At Dirty Apron, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

But before I get on to the food, let me describe the interiors. Dirty Apron is on the second floor and terrace. I think the inside seating is perfect for lunch as it allows ample sunlight, enlivened by the greenery outside. The terrace is absolutely lovely, and I think even in this weather you can sit out as the evenings are still quite cool and breezy. Both the spaces have wonderful hand-picked music by Arjun – music is quite the highlight of the entire space, as the Piano Man Jazz Club being the only jazz bar in Delhi features live music every night. We also enjoyed peeking into some rehearsal that was happening for the evening gig.

The cheery interiors and terrace seating.

I was treated to quite a choice at the blogger’s table that I was invited for. We started with a few appetisers and salads to whet the appetite. Warm Asian Potato Salad comes in a tangy Asian dressing with sesame and chilli. This is something that everyone will inevitably like. Korean Nachos feature Doritos topped with sweet spicy chicken strips and unusual toppings of kimchi salsa and peanuts. An instant hit, two portions vanish in no time and another one is called for. Then come Stuffed Mushrooms in the sweet sticky Japanese Nonya sauce. It is this dish that reminded me of food truck shows that I mentioned earlier, it is deep fried, simply delicious and prettified with beetroot caviar. 

L: Stuffed Mushroom Nonya Sauce;
R top: Korean Nachos; bottom: Warm Asian Potato Salad.

Most of the menu features comfort food, so how can soup be left out. But instead of run-of-mill stuff, there are hearty, wholesome soups. Hungarian Mushroom Soup features a rich flavour of mushrooms enhanced with sour scream. I have a soft corner for mushroom, it seems, and really like this one. Seafood Chowder (not many restaurants in Delhi serve this), is a creamy and chunky soup, served as it traditionally is, in a bowl made of scooped out hard bread. Pumpkin and Peanut Butter Soup, a luscious broth offering a wonderful combination of sauteed pumpkin and peanut butter, plays teasingly with your tastebuds. Vietnamese Chicken Pho Soup, ‘pronounced fuh’ the menu says, is light and fragrant with tender chicken pieces and noodles. So just take your pick.

Clockwise from top left: Vietnamese Chicken Pho; Hungarian
Mushroom Soup; Seafood Chowder; Pumpkin and Peanut Butter Soup.

The Mains. And we taste quite a few. It is this section that showcases the fun that Ruchira and her team have had in creating dishes that'll bowl you over. There are the usual suspects like lamb chops and pork chops, but they come in different avatars. While the former is marinated in Thai red curry, the latter is served with apricot Brandy and wasabi mash. So there is a lot of Asian influence in European dishes, making this quite a unique Eurasian bistro. My favourites include the Chicken Laksa Risotto and Coconut Rice with Sambal and Okra. The names are self-explanatory, and you just have to visit Dirty Apron to try both these dishes. These, according to me, are the perfect examples of comfort food with a gourmet touch. There are more – Mushroom Pappardelle, Thai curry and Pumpkin Gorgonzola Ravioli and Bulgogi burgers. Just go and experiment, I’d say, like I would myself when I go back next.

Top L to R:
Coconut Rice with Sambal and Okra; Chicken Laksa Risotto
Middle L to R: Pork Chops with Apricot Brandy; Ratatouille; Red Curry
Lamb Chops with Asian Pesto
Bottom L to R: Thai Curry, Pumpkin and Gorgonzola Ravioli;
Herb-crusted Sea Bass with Sweet Chilli Sambal.

After all this there’s not much scope to have dessert. Even so, we try both the desserts that are on offer. Lemongrass and kafir lime scented Creme Brûlée and Orange and Chilli Chocolate Mousse. Although I usually prefer chocolate desserts and not the crème brulee so much, the opposite is true here. The chocolate mousse is a little underwhelming, especially when compared to the rest of the meal. The Crème brulee on the other hand marks a delicious end to our hearty meal.

Lemongrass and kafir lime scented Creme Brûlée; Inset: Orange and
Chilli Chocolate Mousse. 

I must tell you that there is a good choice of cocktails, my companions were very happy with most that they tasted. I had a refreshing mocktail, so I will not go into details, but the bartender seemed to be doing a good job. Also, coming soon are a pizzeria offering wood-fired pizzas and a dessert counter called Cakeaway. Going by Ruchira’s mouth-watering dessert recipes as featured on her blog, Cookaroo, I can’t wait!

Dirty Apron, B6-7/22, 2nd Floor, Opposite Deer Park, Safdarjung Enclave Market, Safdarjung, New Delhi.
Timings 12 noon to 3.30pm; 7.30 pm to 12 midnight.
Tel 011 33106260.
Prices Soups Rs 225 onwards; Appetisers Rs 325 onwards; Mains Rs 350 onwards; Desserts Rs 295.