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I’m amazed by the new talent and enterprise in the F&B sector

Ever since I rashly declared that I would be happy to feature artisanal products and delivery foods in Rude Food to help businesses hit by the lockdown, all I seem to do is eat.

I have been so inundated with DMs on Instagram from people telling me about their products, that I must apologise to those who are still waiting for a reply. It has been a hectic time.


Funnily enough, some of the most interesting things I have tried reached my home, not because of any producer telling me about his or her products, but through word of mouth.


   My friend, the diplomat and global gourmet Vikram Doraiswami, enjoys cured meats as much as I do. He tipped me off about a small Delhi restaurant called HMan run by a guy called Harman (geddit?) that does barbecue. Vikram’s son Arjun is a barbecue fan and he said that the food was as good as high-end barbecue in Canada. Harman has his own smoker, marinates, makes rubs and grills the meat on his own.


   Owing to the lockdown, Vikram said HMan had started delivering its uncooked meats. Vikram had bought sausages, tossed them in butter till they started to brown and then cooked them covered for four minutes. They were, he said bluntly, “much better than the usual sawdust sausages available online and in stores.”


   So, I called up and ordered lots of things. The buffalo burger patties were excellent: nicely seasoned and moist. The sausages lived up to Vikram’s praise. They had done their best with the buffalo steaks, which we cooked over an open fire (nice) and in a cast iron pan (not so good), but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do with buffalo meat. I have still to try the bacon I ordered from HMan.


   I wrote some weeks ago about the excellent ice cream made by Cold Love, run by Aditya Tripathi (the man who made me do my first food show). That reference led to a lot of interest on social media and to a message from Ayesha Kapur, whom I know from her Diva days.


   Ayesha has launched her own brand of artisanal ice cream called Chubby Cheeks and she sent me some. My wife Seema loved the Salted Caramel (one of Chubby Cheeks’s most popular flavours) while I stuck to the Coorg Vanilla, which had the distinctive flavour of real vanilla.


   I tweeted about it and was startled when so many people tweeted back saying they loved Chubby Cheeks. Obviously Ayesha has a large fan following (including many well-known people) for her artisanal ice cream.


   The conversation about ice cream led Shivam Bhagat (who I know only from Twitter) to tweet to me that he liked vegan ice cream. I avoid lactose (but make an exception for ice cream, despite the abdominal discomfort this sometimes causes). Shivam, who is lactose intolerant and has avoided dairy for the last two years insisted that he had found a great almond milk-based brand. Not only were the ice creams vegan, they were also sugar-free.


   He sent me some and recommended the Dark Chocolate, which was, as he had said, excellent. Almond milk ice cream can be a little thin but the chocolate flavour was strong enough to make up for that. Only later did I realise that the ice cream (Minus 30) was made by the granddaughter of my old friends from Kolkata, Naresh and Sunita Kumar. Life can take you by surprise sometimes.


   Sticking with desserts, I have been dealing with Divya Sreeji for nearly two months now ever since she first DMed me. I finally ordered a gluten-free chocolate cake from her De Cakery. It was very good.


"I also recommend masalas by Nina Doshi, a Gujarati with a Kolkata connection. They have a wonderful home-made flavour about them and if you like Gujarati food, you should try them."

   Two of the best chefs I know are Kayasths and justly proud of their cuisine. (Manu Chandra and Suvir Saran.) But to the country at large, Kayasth food remains a mystery, mangled by hotels at useless pop-ups and rarely available to the general public. So, I was delighted when Vrinda Mathur, who offers Kayasth/Mathur food cooked by her mother, DMed me.


   I ordered three meat dishes: a dal meat, a biryani and mutton parsinde. All of it was outstanding. The dal meat was her nana’s special recipe and the biryani was very Delhi: the family is from Old Delhi. Nothing was too heavy and it had the flavours of home cooking.


   Nitin from The Gravy Kitchen also got in touch with me on Instagram with his tale of woe. “We are a start-up in Gurgaon doing North Indian food: delivery only. Started last year in November, we were badly hit by the pandemic and had to close shop in mid-March. We have restarted from July 7.”


   I ordered some gravy dishes and though all of them were good, the standout was the Chicken Rara Masala. Rara Gosht is a Punjabi dish much favoured by an older generation of chefs. It has suddenly come back into vogue.


   I had a wonderful version at Sukh Vilas three years ago when Simran Singh Thapar was the chef. And the Maurya, which has always had a tradition of very gifted Punjabi chefs (from Manisha Bhasin to Rajdeep Kapoor) does some terrific Punjabi dishes (including Rara Meat), which remain under-recognised because of the fuss about ITC’s Awadhi food. I had Rajdeep’s Rara Meat and it was truly outstanding.


   So I was skeptical about how good Nitin’s Rara could be when it arrived days after Rajdeep’s, but he blew me away with his terrific chicken version which I had never had before. If you live in Gurgaon, give The Gravy Kitchen a shot.


   Sticking with Indian food, I have been enjoying pickles, spices and masalas made by small artisanal operations. The most notable, of course, is run by Aditya Bal who found fame first as a top model before launching a second career as a TV chef. Aditya shifted to Kolkata but his products are available all over India and I recommend them highly.


   Sticking with Kolkata, I also recommend masalas by Nina Doshi, a Gujarati with a Kolkata connection (sounds familiar?). They have a wonderful home-made flavour about them and if you like Gujarati food, you should try them.


   Radhika Singh wrote to me on Instagram to say, “My brother and I are farmers in Uttarakhand and have recently launched our range of handmade mustards under our brand Kuninda Mustards… They are made using ingredients that we grow ourselves or source locally, excluding a couple of spices that come from Kerala.”


   She sent me pictures of their range, which included fancy, gluten-free Bavarian mustard and something like a French country mustard.


   I am a Kasundi kind of guy when it comes to mustard, so I asked for something more desi. She came up with options and I bought her garlic mustard and the mirchi mustard, both of which were good.


    I have known Jamsheed Bhote since he worked at Tres. In fact, it was Julia and Jatin, the chefs who run Tres, who recommended that I visit Plats, the restaurant that Jamsheed and his wife Haneesha have started in Lajpat Nagar.


   Then the lockdown intervened and I had to wait till Plats started delivery.


   Jamsheed and Hanisha’s forte is artisanry. Nearly everything, from the bread to the raw pasta, is made on the premises and their most popular dishes seem to be their pastas, for which the pasta is freshly handmade each day. But I ordered the sandwiches and they were sensational. I loved the Cubano and they do a wonderful hamburger − in fact, it might be one of the best hamburgers in Delhi except for Jatin’s classic version at Tres. I am going to try the pastas next.


   This is the sort of restaurant that Delhi needs, small, family-run, artisanal, everything house-made and lots of love and care in cooking the food.


   I wrote last week about an Indian gin. Well, Bengal Bay is an Indian tonic water. The company was founded in 2018 by Rishabh Gupta and his basic tonic has “notes of sweet orange and cardamom and is sweetened with organic cane sugar.” It adds a different dimension to your gin.


   As I said four weeks ago: there is just so much talent and enterprise out there that I am constantly amazed by the range of the newly-emerging food and beverage sector. And especially by the guys who don’t usually get written about.



Posted On: 29 Aug 2020 02:40 PM
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