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The most enjoyable meals over the last fortnight

I’ve spent the last fortnight mostly on the road.

But what this means is that I have also got to eat at restaurants in three cities.


Not all my meals were very good but there were enough enjoyable meals for me to put them into this column.


Italian Cultural Centre Café, Delhi


The Italian embassy runs a cafe at its Cultural Centre. You have to be a member to get in but I gather this is easy: you just go on the net and pay the membership. (My wife is a member).


   Though the food is authentic enough to please the many Italians who eat there, it is cooked entirely by Indian chefs who work for Ritu Dalmia who runs the cafe as part of her Diva group. I’ve always wondered: if Indian chefs can turn out authentic Italian food at the Cultural Centre Café, then why is so much of the Italian food in India so bad?


   The answer, I guess, is the nature of clientele. The Cultural Centre’s membership expects authentic Italian food. Most restaurants in India are aimed at guests who want red-sauce pasta, dismal fast food-style pizzas etc.


   But the success of the cuisine at the Cultural Centre Café proves that if Indians put their minds to it, they can make Italian food that has Italians lining up to eat it.


   Most people go to the Cultural Centre Café for the pizzas and (especially if they are Italians looking for a quick lunch), the panini. I go for the pasta and for the outdoor location which, in the Delhi spring, is unbeatable.


ITC Rajputana, Jaipur


I go to the Jaipur Literary Festival nearly every year and I always stay at the Rajputana, which is not a palace hotel like its competition, but is better-priced, extremely well-run and has great  food.  As somebody who went to school in Rajasthan and goes back several times a year, I loathe the touristy bogus Lal Maas-type dishes in most hotels and restaurants. At the Rajputana, even if you eat room service, the Rajasthani food is authentic and delicious. Even the street food (my favourite of all of Rajasthan’s cuisines) is lovingly recreated.


The Johri, Jaipur


This is a tiny boutique hotel in the jewellery district of Jaipur which hosted one of the hardest-to-get-into parties during the Jaipur Lit Fest. The restaurant is large, serves modern Indian food and is justly popular. My favourites were the cocktails, though. They do a killer Rajasthani version of a Negroni.


Masque, Mumbai


This is one of India's most hyped restaurants and I wondered how it would cope when its star chef Prateek Sadhu left. (He will open something of his own in Delhi by the autumn.) In fact, Varun Totlani, who was Prateek’s number two in the kitchen has effortlessly taken over and lightened the tone of the restaurant.


 "Purshottom is based in Bangalore but he was cooking at the Leela Palace in Delhi for a few days so I went and had all my favourites: egg roast and appam, an Alleppey fish curry and Andhra Mutton Pulao." 

   One of Varun’s dishes has stayed with me: a take on Goa’s ros omelette. He dispenses with the omelette, makes a perfect poached egg instead, places it on a bed of shelled clams and pours a Xacuti sauce over it. Varun is clearly a gifted chef and will shine in the years to come.


O Pedro, Mumbai


Almost from the day it opened, O Pedro has been my favourite restaurant in Mumbai. Its joyous take on Goan cuisine hides the technical dexterity of Chef Hussain Shahzad, one of the greatest chefs in India.


   This time the food was different and even better. Hussain has re-jigged many of the dishes and tweaked the recipes. The Chorise Rice was so good that I ended up doing a whole column about sausages and rice because of it. (In Rude Food this weekend.)


Mizu, Mumbai


Lakhan Jethani is a young chef who spent time cooking in Japan. When he came back to India, he found that all guests wanted to eat were masala sushi rolls. He has tried to take his food beyond that and to everyone’s surprise, he has succeeded.


   It is the gutsiest, most authentic Japanese food in Mumbai. And if you insist on eating sushi, he will do that too. I had a terrific Tuna Maki Roll and an enjoyable salmon nigiri, topped with foie gras and torched.


Masala Library, Mumbai


They are international stars now, but when they left Indian Accent, both Himanshu Saini and Saurabh Udinia first found their own voices at this restaurant. It has been a little quiet lately but a new chef has put the oomph back into this, Zorawar Kalra’s most prestigious restaurant. Rahul Punjabi, the new chef, has worked in Sydney with Peter Gilmore, the celebrated Australian chef and restaurateur and will follow in the footsteps of Himanshu and Saurabh.


Jamavar, Delhi


Chef Purushotham Naidu is the culinary star of the Leela group. Though he is from Andhra, he was trained by Mrs. Leela Nair after whom the group is named and cooks her kind of Kerala food.


   Purshottom is based in Bangalore but he was cooking at the Leela Palace in Delhi for a few days so I went and had all my favourites: egg roast and appam, an Alleppey fish curry and Andhra Mutton Pulao (or Biryani, if you like).


Dhilli, Delhi


Vineet Bhatia, an ex-Oberoi chef came back a decade ago to take over the Indian restaurant at the Mumbai Oberoi but ignored Delhi. Now, he has finally taken over the old Omya at the Delhi hotel. He is calling it Dhilli.


   As the name suggests, he is not reproducing the Mumbai menu or cooking the dishes that won him Michelin stars in London and Geneva. Instead, this is a totally new menu offering Vineet’s takes on the food of Delhi (Old Delhi chaat, Mathur cuisine, Punjabi staples, Muslim food from both Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin and even Bengali food from CR Park).


   I went for lunch just before the formal opening and thought that the food contained many dishes that will become Vineet’s signature classics. These dishes really stood out: keema parcel which was Jama Masjid style keema in a pastry case, a fried chicken which was also inspired by street food in the Jama Masjid area, and a very fancy shahi tukda, constructed so that it almost became a Napoleon pastry.


   This may well be the opening of the year. So do try and go.



Posted On: 07 Feb 2023 01:43 PM
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