Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Chef Matteo Fontana’s New Winter Menu Unveiled at Le Cirque

The Leela Palace New Delhi has played host to some of the world’s most celebrated chefs in the last one year. When world-renowned chefs including Daniel Humm, Alain Passard, Gary Mehigan and Wilfried Bergerhausen visited India, some on their maiden visit, they held exclusive chef’s tables at Le Cirque, the swanky French/Italian restaurant at this opulent hotel. While celebrity chefs always travel with their core team, the in-house team of the host restaurant is expected to pitch in almost as much as (if not more) for these high-class events.

Chef Matteo Fontana

So, for all the exciting happenings at the restaurant over the past one year, the newly appointed chef de cuisine of Le Cirque, Chef Matteo Fontana, stayed behind the scenes and lent immeasurable support with his team. He has recently completed one year in India and has been elevated to Corporate Chef for Le Cirque India. We got the pleasure of meeting him as he unveiled his winter menu for Le Cirque Delhi.

Amuse Bouche
Green pea panna cotta with pomegranate, cornetto with avocado mousse,
tuna and caviar, Pâte à Choux with chicken liver pâte and blue cheese.

Chef Matteo believes in preserving the original flavours of the ingredients. The current menu celebrates some of the freshest and finest produce of the season from Italy and France. An array of beautifully plated dishes included heady truffles, creamy burrata from Puglia, French quail and the most flavourful umami-rich broth in the form of soup.

Top: Creamy Burrata with Fig Carpaccio and Balsamic glazed figs.
Bottom: Wild mushroom consommé with raviolini and fresh truffle.

During the course of his career, Chef Matteo has worked with chefs of international repute. These noteworthy exposures helped hone the depth of knowledge of his own culture and a passion to curate dishes that are a reflection of both authenticity and ever evolving contemporary aspects of Italian cuisine. He thus pays tribute to his grandmother with an eggplant parmigiana, but gives it the Le Cirque finesse by adding to it a tomato sauce emulsion and fried basil. Other delights for strict vegetarians include a beetroot tortelli filled with buffalo mozzarella and a lip smacking pumpkin and smoked scamorza barley risotto. Besides the barley that lends the perfect consistency to this risotto, the highlight is the texture of the pumpkin. Unlike a squishy puree like pumpkin that one finds in most places, this one has a bite and even a light crunch to it. Finally the real crunch comes from Amaretto crumble. A real beauty!

Left: Squid Ink Spaghetti
Right: Beetroot Tortelli.

The squid ink spaghetti is quite a classic at Le Cirque. It is now served with a lobster bisque, mint and zucchini velloute, and topped with fine scallop carpaccio. This is followed with a boneless French quail stuffed with mushrooms and truffle. The whole quail that you see in the picture below is indeed the smallest baby quail I have ever had. But don't let the size fool you. This is one filling dish and is accompanied by a sous vided quail’s leg and bite sized truffle Acacia honey popper. 

Top: Boneless French quail
Bottom: Raspberry Jelly Cannolo with Amalfi's Lemon Parfait.

The meal is rounded off with a dessert that matches up to all the fine fare that precedes it. Another Italian classic, the cannolo is presented in jelly form and filled with Amalfi’s lemon parfait and the accompanying elements like lemon meringue and raspberry sorbet balance the flavours and make it look beautiful too.

The Private Dining Room

Fine food is best enjoyed with exemplary service and a beautiful ambience. The private dining room that can comfortably seat 12 people has a show kitchen on one side where you can see the master chefs in action, and on the other there are beautiful glass windows that go all the way up to the ceiling, giving eyefuls of Delhi's diplomatic area. In fact, Le Cirque has three such PDRs should you want some exclusive space to enjoy an intimate meal with select people.

Le Cirque, Level 10 at The Leela Palace New Delhi.
Timings: 7pm to 11:30pm

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Stay | ITC's latest Luxury Offering is a Seamless Blend of Nizami Heritage and Modernist Luxury

Kohinoor is undoubtedly the most valuable diamond in the world. Befittingly, its eponymous hotel, ITC Kohenur, is the most luxurious property in Hyderabad's HITEC City.

ITC Kohenur at dusk, from across the Durgam Cheruvu Lake.

From a distance, the natural colour of the building almost matches with the surrounding boulders that make up the topography of Hyderabad. Upon entering the driveway, one is treated to a refreshing eyeful of a vertical green wall. I learn later that this ‘living wall’ is made up thousands of potted indigenous plants; and there is an almost equally expansive horizontal garden on top of this wing of the hotel. But I get to explore that later. My stay at the ITC Kohenur starts with a very warm welcome and a quick check-in to my room in ITC One, with an unobstructed view of the Durgam Cheruvu Lake.

An Ode to the City
At first glance, the glitzy lobby, bedecked with crystal and glass, wears a very contemporary look. But as the details are pointed out, it is a pleasure to note how the local crafts and heritage of Hyderabad have been amalgamated into the chic design of the hotel. The chandelier made with 1865 lac bangles, which adorns the reception area, is inspired by the ‘choodi bazaar’ in the Charminar area. There are other chandeliers too that are made with crystal but shaped like a set of sparkling bangles. The entire artwork in the hotel, from the corridors to the large banquet spaces, celebrates the iconic architecture of Hyderabad as well as the Nizams’ famous jewellery, as eye-catching photographs or life-like paintings.

The chandelier made with 1865 lac bangles.

Going back to the Kohinoor, the building itself is designed like a large uncut diamond. One also finds the diamond motif everywhere – on the walls, in the carpets and even in the sarees of the front office staff. As you may be aware, the Kohinoor diamond once embellished Emperor Shah Jahan’s peacock throne, hence there is the absolutely stunning Peacock Bar just off the lobby. Expectedly, the Bar is dressed in bright colours of ‘peacock blue’, but look up for the brilliant installation on the ceiling. Made with small pieces of crystal and coloured glass, the peacock runs the entire length of the bar. The far corner also has an ornate silver chair, as if to replicate the throne from which this entire space is inspired.   

The gorgeous peacock installation.

Dining In
Adjacent to the Peacock Bar is the all-day restaurant, Golconda Pavilion, that offers a clear view of the Golconda Fort. Its pillars wear wallpaper that is designed like the traditional Hyderabadi bidri work. This restaurant offers an array of fine international cuisine as well as delicious local food. From the lipsmacking prawns gongura to the pan-grilled fish with chillies, spicy, tangy curries, a delicious moong dal tempered with garlic and coconut or the simple ridge gourd cooked in fresh milk and chillies are sure to give you a taste of home cooked food of this region. While I had the betel leaf fritters for the first time, I have been quite familiar with Andhra Kodi Biryani and Haleem, and can safely say that this Haleem is one of the finest. Sharing this meal with executive chef Yogen Datta makes it even more memorable as he casually shares his wealth of knowledge of local as well as international cuisine that the hotel serves to perfection. The passion with which he talks highlights the respect for ingredients as well as traditional recipes, a motto that is followed across the kitchens of all ITC Hotels.

The beautiful hues of Dum Pukht Begum's.

Then there’s Dum Pukht - the famous Awadhi restaurant at a few ITC Luxury Hotels. It is known for its subtly spiced, highly nuanced cuisine - melt in the mouth kebabs, aromatic pulaos and biryanis cooked on dum, extremely flavourful curries and some special breads like khameeri roti, taftan dum pukht, rogani roti and more. Here it has taken on the avatar of Dum Pukht Begum's. It has the usual suspects along with some family-owned recipes of a few Hyderabadi Begums to incorporate a local flavour of Hyderabad. Dakhni chowgra, a melange of local greens, baghare baingan, shahi qubooli and Hyderabadi gosht biryani are just a few of the finger-licking additions. With touches of lavender, the decor too wears an elegant, feminine look. The chandeliers are inspired by Nizami palaces, like the Chowmahalla Palace, to complete the royal dining experience.

Yi Jing, the plush oriental restaurant.

Moving away from Indian fare, Yi Jing, the Chinese restaurant serves traditional fare from the Mainland such as Hunan, Canton and Sichuan. With 130 dishes, the menu is rather extensive. While the dimsum look very pretty and are filled with assorted fillings such as carrot and wasabi, sake and edamame, the mains clearly steal the show. Steamed sea bass with ginger and soy and Lobster in XO sauce and even the humble beans in hoisin sauce are absolutely fantastic. Don’t miss the hand-pulled noodles or the sliced, hand-made noodles tossed in some chilli and oil. Desserts too match up to the rest of the fare with anise custard and porcini icecream (a first for me!) and jasmine tea tart with Madagascar milk chocolate and apricot sponge.

The rooftop has a terrace bar, Sky Point, that is set to attract the millennials and, Ottimo, a plush Italian restaurant that serves handmade pastas, grills and the freshest salads and cheese platters. Besides resident guests, the food at ITC Kohenur seems to have hit the right spot with city-dwellers too. All the F&B outlets were packed and buzzing all through the couple of days that we spent at the hotel!

In Room Luxury
As a luxury business hotel, ITC Kohenur has left no stone unturned to provide the ultimate experience for business travellers. There are many lounge spaces, business center, business networking spaces and an exclusive ITC Prive Club to make your stay comfortable as well as productive.

A room in ITC One.

In keeping with technology trends, every room is equipped with a tablet to control all the facilities – from a variety of mood lightings to the television and entertainment regulator, a camera viewing option before opening the door to requesting for an unobtrusive laundry valet – at your finger touch.

But what impressed us most is that despite all the high-tech gadgetry this is the first ‘radiation protected’ hotel. Every emitting device has been installed with an anti-radiation chip to create general well-being. The quiet rooms are further appointed with best in class mattresses, optimal water and air quality, a special sleep kit, indoor plants that give out oxygen at night to ensure that people have better sleep and wake up more refreshed. Additionally, there are 13 wellness rooms that have even more amenities to enhance wellness such as a rejuvenating vitamin C shower. “We realise that some weary business travellers are too busy to drag themselves to the spa, so we take care of their well-being right in their room,” shares Tejinder Singh, general manager, ITC Kohenur.
With 271 spacious rooms, you can pick from categories like Tower rooms, ITC One, suites, serviced apartments and of course the gorgeous presidential suite named after the second most famous diamond in the world - Daria i Noor.

Must take a guided tour of the Goldconda Fort.

Local Experiences
·      If there’s one thing that we enjoyed in Hyderabad more than spending time at ITC Kohenur, it was exploring the most intrinsic experiences of the city with guided tours organised by the hotel. Take your pick from the shopping trail and buy some local bangles, traditionally woven fabric, pearls after which the city is named or the traditional bidri crafts or explore Qutub Shahi Trail that includes iconic sites like the Golconda Fort and Qutub Shahi tombs or simply revel in Nizami splendour with a tour of Salarjung Museum, Nizam’s Museum and Chowmahalla Palace.
·      If you like tasting local food, take the Food Sherpa Trail and taste the famous biryanis and kebabs, some Telugu specialties or Irani bakeries that are as much a part of daily life in Hyderabad as they’re a must-do for tourists.  
ITC Kohenur, Plot No 5, Survey No 83/1, Hyderabad Knowledge City, Madhapur, (HITEC City) Hyderabad – 500081.
Ph: +9140 67660101.

A version of this article first appeared in Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, www.luxurylifestylemag.co.uk on 21st October 2018.