Sunday, 26 February 2017

Michelin Star Chef Riccardo Sculli Creating Magic at Sorrento

What do you do when you can’t visit Michelin Star Chef Riccardo Sculli’s Ristorante Gamberro Rosso, Marina di Gioiosa Jonica RC, Italy? You enjoy his creations when he is invited to curate a handcrafted menu at Sorrento, Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi!

Chef Riccardo Sculli

In town just for a fleeting four days, Chef Riccardo is serving up some of his signature dishes such as Carpaccio di Aragosta e verdure (Lobster carpaccio with seasonal salad and tomato gelè) and Risotto allo zafferano con mud granchio e ribes rosso (Saffron risotto, mud crab and red currants). Hailing from the beautiful Ionian coast along southern Italy, he finds inspiration in the sandy beaches, pristine waters and mountains of his region. “Every dish has its own story,” he says. Thus the spaghetti that he makes with black cod and truffle is an exquisite yet utterly simple dish that is currently available in his restaurant since the cod comes from the surrounding sea and black truffles sourced from the mountain nearby. And as always, after enjoying a couple of his beautiful dishes, I got a special takeaway for you: Chef Riccardo’s recipes!

Sorrento, Shangri - La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi, 19 Ashoka Road, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110001.
Dates: Till Tuesday, 28 February, 2017.    
TimingsLunch 12.30pm-2:45pm; Dinner 7.30pm-midnight.
Price: Rs 4,495 plus taxes per person for a 4-course meal curated by Chef Riccardo Sculli.
Tel: 011 41191040. 

Spaghetto Con Merluzzo Nero E Tartufo Nero
Spaghetti with Black Cod and Black Truffle

320 gm Spaghetti           
240 gm Black cod fillet         
20 gm Black truffle soaked in oil      
200 ml Fish stock            
Salt to taste
8 gm White pepper       
40 gm Extra virgin olive oil  

1.       Blanch the spaghetti in boiling water, until al dente.
2.       Add the fish stock in a pan, along with the spaghetti, and season with salt.
3.       Cube the black cod fillet, and add to the cooking spaghetti along with the black truffle oil.
4.        Toss well to combine.
5.       Ladle the spaghetti onto a serving dish, place pieces of cod and black truffle on top of the spaghetti.


Bon Bon di gambero
Bon Bon Shrimp, Pumpkin, Burrata, and Anchovy bread

400 gm Shrimps               
150 gm Burrata                           
4 gm Lemon zest              
40 ml Extra virgin olive oil        
50 gm Pumpkin puree                 
40 gm White bread                      
10 g Anchovy in oil                       
Maldon Salt to taste
Micro greens for garnishing

1.      Wash and devein the shrimps, and spread them out on butter paper and drizzle olive oil on the. Then beat the shrimp gently to flatten them into a thin, uniform layer.
2.      Chop burrata, and add lemon zest to it.
3.      Spread the shrimp on a half moon mould, fill with burrata and lemon zest mixture, and cover with another flattened shrimp and mould it into a round shape. Sprinkle Maldon salt on top.
4.      Mix dry white bread crumbs with anchovy, and bake in oven until the breadcrumbs become crisp.
5.      Now cook the stuffed shrimp in a moderately hot oven for three minutes, or until shrimps are cooked.
6.      Heat pumpkin puree in a pan.
7.      Spread pumpkin puree on a plate, place cooked shrimp on it, sprinkle anchovy bread crumbs and garinsh with micro greens.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Celebrate The End of Winters at Tian – Asian Cuisine Studio

Chef Vikramjit Roy is known to do things differently. A strong believer in progressive cuisine, he questions the validity of ‘authentic recipes’. “I have documented 182 recipes of Thai green curry from a trip to North Thailand,” he says, “so which one would you call authentic? Almost every north Indian household has its own take on the ubiquitous rajma, as do Malayali families on the meen moilee.” So it is not surprising that while most restaurants introduce menus to celebrate the start of a season, Chef Vikram even finds reason to create special dishes to mark the end of a season. 

The End of Winters menu at Tian – Asian Cuisine Studio is based on ingredients that will be available only for a short period now. “It showcases today’s food – not yesterday’s, not tomorrow’s,” he says and adds that this philosophy is also very much in line with the ITC Hotels’ endeavours to reduce carbon footprint and promote responsible luxury. From green peas to black carrots, even certain lentils from Punjab that according to Chef Vikram have a unique flavour in the current month, find pride of place in the dramatic presentation of a 10-course menu. 

Even though he claims to have gone easy on the presentation while pushing for techniques in the kitchen, his artistic inclination is sure to take you on a gastronomic experience that’s enthralling, evocative of some familiar flavours with completely surprising ingredients. So an amuse bouche that seems to have burrata and cherry tomato has neither, and Thai curry and rice is presented in a way that you would never imagine possible, yet tastes very much like one would expect Thai curry and rice to taste!

Coming back to the 10-course extravaganza, I am wondering whether to reveal the details of my experience or if I should leave you with just a few glimpses so that you may enjoy the show as much as I did. Yes, you read right! I did call it a ‘show’. It is in fact story telling in its most creative form with dishes named as Grass, Fog & Smoke, Cyclone, Aftermath, Snowfall and finally Sleep. From prawns, Bay of Bengal bekti, steamed chicken tartar, lamb chops, halibut and crab, non-vegetarians are well taken of, as are vegetarians with corn cakes, sweet potato, herbed tofu, soya chops, braised daikon and seasonal vegetable dumplings. 

I will now leave you with a collage of pictures that is enticing enough to make you want to try this menu for yourself, without divulging the details of the dishes so that they may be revealed to you as dramatically as they were to me.

Tian, ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi. 
Timings: 7pm –11.30pm.
Phone: 011 2611 2233.
Prices: Starting from Rs 2,500 plus applicable taxes, 10-course menu for 
Rs 5,000 plus applicable taxes.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Tales of an Exquisite Japanese Meal at Megu

There are grand chef’s menu tastings, and then there are those that are grand in every possible way, yet when each bite is savoured, it leads you to a tranquil state, beyond the chatter of co-diners. The latest menu at Megu, The Leela Palace New Delhi thus transports one to a zen-like space while each course showcases culinary artistry, visual beauty and precise techniques that have obviously been used in the kitchen.

The primary theme of the menu that was introduced a month ago is inspired from Japanese winters. Thus most dishes use root vegetables, dry vegetables and cold water seafood. After being served chilled sake our gastronomic journey starts with some appetisers. {But before I get on with the details, I’d like to share with you that after enjoying the meal I sat down with kitchen executive, Shubham Thakur, who patiently answered my many queries regarding the ingredients and cooking techniques. Hence, you’ll find a load of info on Japanese cuisine, ‘cos after all we do live and learn! And for me almost every meal is an opportunity to learn more, and this particular one unfolded a wealth of knowledge.}

Top to Bottom: Nanohana; Tokyo Iri Hijiki; Hokkaido King Crab.

Appetisers come as three small plates. Hokkaido king crab, one of the most expensive fetch, is deshelled, blanched in salt water and served chilled with soy and salmon roe, also known as ikura. This beautiful, translucent orange-coloured roe just pops in the mouth in all its salty glory that complements the sweet meat of the iconic crab. What looks like broccolini is nanohana, Japanese rapeseed or mustard flower. Here it is simmered in dashi, soy and wasabi and is served over soft bonito flakes. As is widely known, seaweed is a high dietary vegetable cultivated beneath the sea by fishermen and is famous for its super nutritional value. Tokyo Iri Hijiki looks like a simple mix of julienned seaweed but I am informed that the seaweed is simmered in dashi broth for 45 minutes and finally dressed with roasted white sesame sauce that makes all the difference. The appetisers set the tone for the rest of the meal that showcases complex flavours, yet highlights the quality of ingredients that clearly shine through in each dish. Needless to say, ingredients are the key for any meal but especially important in a Japanese meal that requires many fresh ingredients. For instance, the fresh wasabi that is served at Megu is exclusively cultivated for them at a fourth generation family owned farm in Japan that provides clear flowing water to each wasabi plant. This wasabi has an intense flavour but it leaves a sweet aftertaste. 

Sushi and Sashimi
Left to Right:
Namerou Miso Chicken Roll; Peony Shrimp; Blue Fin Tuna;
Hokkaido Scallop; Sea Bream; Tiger Prawn Sugata Sushi.

Next up is the part of Japanese fare that is most popular: sushi and sashimi. It is suggested that we have the Namerou miso chicken roll with fresh avocado soy sauce. Even though the farm-bred chicken used in this sushi is prepared in Namerou style that’s a confit of chicken leg steamed with sake and salt, and then marinated with a homemade miso sauce, it does little to impress me. But then things only get better. Peony shrimp is a sweet Alaskan shrimp that is so buttery and just melts in the mouth. The temperature has to be maintained perfectly for this gorgeous shrimp to reveal its inimitable taste. The bright red coloured Blue fin tuna is as delicious as expected. One of the finest variants of tuna, I am told that Megu is probably the only restaurant in India that serves it. Then there’s lightly seared Hokkaido scallop that is served with a slice of yuzu lemon. Sea bream is another Japanese farmed fish known for its buttery texture here it is served with Sevruga caviar. Again, a superior quality, the smaller the eggs of this caviar the more expensive it is. Finally, the Pacific tiger prawn sugata sushi. In This sushi type, the fish used is stuffed with vinegared rice. This course is followed by Zoni Soup, a light bodied but very flavourful dashi broth that is enhanced with yuzu, braised French duck, Japanese mochi rice cake and organic spinach. 

Top to Bottom:
Arimayaki glazed Chilean Sea Bass
Cod with lotus root, tofu and wakame dashi sauce.

The mains include two types of fish – Chilean Sea Bass and Black Cod. The former is glazed with Arimayaki, a homemade sweet soy and mirin sauce and fresh sansho pepper. Cooked over a robotayaki grill using Binjotan, a special kind of coal that is equally aromatic and nutritional, this fish has a refined smokiness that incorporates the flavour of the coal. It is then garnished with homemade daikon pickle and ginger root. The cod, sourced from the Sea of Okhotsk, is steamed with lotus root, tofu and wakame dashi sauce. It is more complex and offers a range of textures in each bite.

Petit Fours
Left to Right:
Black Sesame Macaroon; Sake Granita;
Flambeed Yuzu Lemon Tart; Truffle with Ichimi; Matcha Macaroon;
Raspberry Wasabi Cheesecake.

Finally, I have to admit that I am glad that the team steered clear of traditional Japanese desserts that require a serious acquired taste for appreciation. The grand finale for this spectacular meal is a platter of Petit Fours or bite sized desserts comprising black sesame macaroon, sake granite, flambeed yuzu lemon tart, truffle with ichimi spice, matcha macaroon and raspberry wasabi cheesecake. So while the flavours are Japanese, the desserts are appreciated by all. The tangy yuzu lemon tart with its crunchy top layer turns out to be my favourite and I’m glad that I save a tiny bite for the very end to round off an exquisite meal.

MEGU, The Leela Palace New Delhi, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110023, India.
Timings: 7 pm to 11:45 pm.
Phone: +91-11 3933 1234.
Price: Rs 5,500 plus applicable taxes, per person for a pre-set meal.

This article first appeared on on February 25, 2017. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

6 Reasons to Visit Bella Cucina Now!

Just when one thought that Delhi NCR now has a great choice of fabulous Italian restaurants spread across five star hotels and stand-alones, comes another gem. Despite reading the fantastic reviews on Bella Cucina, Le Meridien Gurgaon, I waited for the initial hype to settle down before visiting the restaurant on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. But before my meal ended I only wished that I had gone there sooner. So here I present to you six irresistible reasons to book your table there at the earliest.

Top: Australian lamb rack with red wine jus.
Bottom: Prawn ravioli; Pumpkin risotto.

1.     Delicious Food 
No matter how amazing a restaurant is in any other way, good food always has to top the list. And going by my first experience at Bella Cucina, I can’t wait to head back to try the rest of the dishes. Right from the flavour-packed mushroom cappuccino that is served with a porcini brioche to the refreshing compressed beetroot salad with goat cheese snow and the succulent Australian lamb rack with creamy spinach, the food simply tastes good! So yes, there is a bit of molecular fun and trendy twists to classic dishes, but the essence of these dishes is maintained and the end result is ‘tasty’. And of course, being an Italian restaurant, there is a range of pastas and pizzas. The prawn ravioli that I try is handmade and the bisque emulsion and sauce made of young tomatoes simply enhances the flavour of the delicious prawn inside a pillowy ravioli. Besides a choice of classic pizzas there is an option to create your own pizza, which I am sure excites adults as much as the kids. Because after all, we all have our favourite pizza toppings!  

Chef Amit Kumar
The bright interiors offer ample sunlight and view of the pool. 

2.     Young and Spunky Chef
Chef Amit Kumar who heads this ‘beautiful kitchen’ (since that’s the literal translation of Bella Cucina) is young, straightforward and very clear about the kind of menu he wanted for this restaurant. His youthfulness is translated onto dishes that are inspired from classics, but are far from boring. The seared tuna salad that is served with a poached egg and spinach hollandaise is his interpretation of the Nicoise salad. An honest approach to his guests ensures that the menu highlights not only the non-vegetarian dishes from the vegetarian ones, but also dishes that use egg have been marked so. “We get plenty of vegetarian guests who don’t eat egg, I don’t want to fool them by serving egg hidden in dishes,” he says. I am already looking forward to the next idea that he is working on, something that he claims “no one else in India is doing yet”.

Top: Freshly baked breads.
Bottom: Bellini and Martini; Mushroom Capuccino with Porcini Broche.

3.     Uncomplicated Menu
In a day and age where specially sourced foreign ingredients lead to fancy names of dishes, it is a pleasure to read an unpresumptuous menu that distinguishes pasta as “short, long, handmade’ and so on. While there are many who are exposed to world cuisine from their umpteen international trips, there is also a large number of people who simply don’t know farfalle from fettucine. Bella Cucina welcomes them all. But in my opinion, an easy to read menu also gives one the comfort of dining in a relaxed space unlike a stiff, formal restaurant where you might look ‘uncool’ if you aren’t on top of the ‘fancy-food’ game. 

Top: Compressed beetroot salad with goat cheese snow.
Bottom: A unique take on the Nicoise salad.

4.     Value for Money 
Being in a five star hotel, the pricing comes as a pleasant surprise. While pasta dishes start from Rs 550, risotto from Rs 625, and the most expensive pizza priced at Rs 800, these prices are comparable, if not marginally lower, than even a few upmarket stand-alone restaurants. This of course makes it easier to go back to Bella Cucina repeatedly. A recent addition has been a three-course express lunch menu at Rs 1150 (all-inclusive).

Top: Tiramisu
Bottom: Espresso chocolate mousse.

5.     Fabulous Tiramisu
While Chef Amit proudly showcases his espresso coffee mousse that comes in a chocolate dome and splattered with raspberry coulis, I tend to stop at a good tiramisu (even though the other dessert tastes fabulous). And having recently returned from Italy where I had ‘authentic’ tiramisu almost everyday, all I can say is that this one is as good as what I had in the land of the tiramisu.  

6.     Charming Ambience
And finally, when you go out to a nice place it just makes the entire experience very special. While the afternoon lets in plenty of daylight and a view of the swimming pool and greenery beyond the high glass walls, I can imagine this space to be equally ambient for a romantic evening out. So Bella Cucina also gets a thumbs up for both, a casual meal out as well as for celebrating special occasions.

Bella Cucina, Le Meridien Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, MG Road, Sector 26, Delhi-Gugraon Border, Gurgaon, Haryana, India. 
Timings: 12.30pm-3pm; 7pm-11.45pm.
Tel: +91 124 499 2008

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Kashmiri Wazwan at Tamra

Kashmiri cuisine is clearly the flavour of the season. Such is the popularity of this fare that an average Delhiite now even knows the nuances of this regional cuisine. Most people know, for instance, that there is a distinct difference between a Wazwan and Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. While the latter is cooked without onion and garlic even in meat curries, the former uses an abundance of both. There is thus an increasing demand for the variety of dishes from the Valley.

Deepak Negi serving the kahwa with aplomb.
Kashmiri handicrafts for sale at Tamra.

With practically every five star hotel in the city curating a pop up, Kashmiri food festivals are a dime a dozen. What sets one festival apart from the other is obviously the quality of the food. The all-day dining at Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi, Tamra, has a Kashmiri Wazwan on offer currently as part of their regular lunch dinner buffet. Special Wazas have been flown in from the Valley. They have brought with them spices, ingredients and even traditional equipment - the 'takhat' on which the meats are pounded have been brought in from Kashmir. Executive Chef Neeraj Tyagi along with his very capable team has of course provided complete support to the Wazas for creating an authentic experience for guests. I am told by Chef Gagandeep Singh Sawhney that everyday four full goats are brought for the festival and the Wazas cut the meat according to their requirements since each dish requires a specific cut. Since frozen meat lacks the appropriate texture and eventually the flavour, fresh meat is procured at temperature, especially to enable the pounding as required for rista and goshtaba.

A Waza chef showcasing the pounding of meat on a traditional takhat.
Many spices and dry ingredients have been brought in from the Valley.

Waza Mushtaq Sofi, who lives close to Laal Chowk in Srinagar, explains to me that the shallots used in Kashmiri curries are known as ‘pran’ impart a unique flavour. While showing me the thin, elongated bulbs he says that these are finely chopped and sauteed in desi ghee till they soften and then ground into a paste. This paste is then used to make different curries. While I have to confess that I the tabak maaz is a tad chewy, the goshtaba is one of the best that I have ever had. The curry is not as watery as is normally served, and the tang from the yoghurt is enhanced with saunf powder, ginger powder, green cardamom and the pran paste. Dhaniwal korma is a lighter curry but it too is very aromatic and flavourful. The roghan josh is rich with saffron while the mirchi korma has the distinct flavour of Kashmiri chillies that are ground and missed with water to make a paste and then strained and used in the curry.  

Top: The daawat - dhaniwal korma, roghan josh, goshtaba,
methi maas, rista, haaq saag.
Bottom: Seekh kebab, tabak maaz, mirchi korma.

While the Kashmiri food is of course the highlight, it is good to know that it is part of Tamra’s popular multi-cuisine buffet. So you can venture to the Japanese or Italian counters if you so wish. But do round off your meal with a refreshing bowl of phirni and a cup of kahwa.

The Kashmiri Wazwan till 12 February 2017.
Tamra, Shangri - La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi, 19 Ashoka Road, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110001.
Timings Lunch 12.30pm - 3.30pm; Dinner 7.30pm – 11.30pm. 
Tel 011 41191010. 
Prices: Lunch Buffet Rs 2100 plus applicable taxes; Dinner Buffet Rs 2300 plus applicable taxes.