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The best meals I have had this year

Here is a list of the best meals I have had this year.

I recognise that it is only October so perhaps I will do another piece in January bringing the score up to date. But it’s a list that just keeps getting longer and longer.


I have eliminated the usual and obvious suspects. So I’m not going to tell you that the last meal I had at Gaggan outshone even his own triumphs; though it did. Or that the Mumbai Indian Accent is better than the Delhi original; which it was when I went. That Avartana is a breakthrough. That nothing can beat the Bone Marrow Varuval at London’s Hoppers. Or that Himanshu Saini is a genius. Because you know all that already.


The Street Food Festival: Always the highlight of my year and it happened in January so in terms of chaat, the rest of the year was a bit of an anti-climax.


   Street food vendors from all over India were flown in by Sangeeta Singh of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) to Delhi and you got the best street food in one place. Last year, the stars were the guys from Benares. This year it was Punjab that stole the show.


Chef Tonn: Tonn has been a friend of my son for many years but this was the first year I ate his food on several different occasions. His flagship restaurant Le Du in Bangkok is Michelin starred and is number one in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. But among his many other ventures is Nusara, which serves slightly more traditional Thai food. I had a stunning meal at Nusara and also had the pleasure of watching him cook at the Gurgaon Leela when he came to cook for a pop-up in January.


Varun Totlani at Masque: Varun has a difficult job. He joined Masque in Mumbai as a junior chef under Prateek Sadhu and when Prateek left last year, Varun found himself elevated to the top job. But he has found his own voice and turned the food at Masque around to reflect his own style. I had a wonderful dinner, full of fun, joy and food that did not take itself too seriously.


O Pedro: From the moment it opened Mumbai’s O Pedro has been my favourite restaurant in the city. I like food that makes me smile and so does Hussain Shahzad, the chef at O Pedro.


   Hussain has now taken over Bombay Canteen too and launched the Veronica’s sandwich shop and has done it all without putting a foot wrong. At the moment I am conflicted: which one is better; Bombay Canteen or O Pedro? I can’t decide.


Revolver: I’ve known Saurabh Udinia ever since he left Indian Accent to join Masala Library and then launched Farzi Café. Saurabh is currently chef at Singapore’s super-hot Revolver which is — for want of a better description — Bukhara’s Western-educated, sophisticated, well-travelled son.


   In his hands, the traditional techniques of fire-cooking are used to create surprising and superlative dishes in super-hip surroundings. I last ate there in March and the meal was so memorable, the flavours still linger in my mind.


Noma in Kyoto:  Of all the great chefs I know, Rene Redzepi has the strongest sense of time and place. No dish is even repeated on his menus. And every dish reminds you of the place where you are eating it. I felt that way about his Sydney pop-up some years ago and in Kyoto, he produced an entirely different menu full of Kyoto ingredients.


   When you eat Redzepi’s food you realise how much ahead of the game he is. His disciples and his imitators are cooking ‘Noma-style food’ that Redzepi himself hasn’t cooked for years. He has moved on to discover new frontiers.


Massimo in Delhi: Massimo Bottura cooked in Mumbai last year, loved it so much that he came back to India to cook at the Leela Palace in Delhi this year. It is hard to explain why but the food was actually even better this time around.


"Niyati Rao is the best young chef in India, in my opinion. Her food at Ekaa defies all description but you can tell that it springs from the heart and from her creative imagination."

   Yes, Bottura is one of the world’s greatest chefs, the man who re-invented Italian cooking but what impressed the most was his work ethic. For the Delhi dinner, he stood at the pass himself, checked every dish before it went out and still found time to go and say hello to every star struck guest.


Cote in New York: Just as the American obsession with Japanese Wagyu transformed steakhouses around the world, the Korean tradition of barbecued beef has once again made chefs rethink what a steakhouse should be.


   Cote is one of America’s most famous Korean barbecue restaurants. I went with Chintan Pandya. They knew him, were thrilled he was there, and so they served us pretty much the whole menu, including the finest cuts of meat available. How could I not love it?


Rowdy Rooster: Chintan Pandya and his partner Roni Mazumdar run the most highly praised Indian restaurants in America. But as much as I love Chintan’s food and the South Indian dishes at Semma (where the chef is Vijayakumar), my favourite of their operations is this small fried chicken shop.


   It won’t get three stars from the New York Times or a Michelin star but for me, the delicious fried chicken sandwich sums up their philosophy: intensely Indian flavours, attention to detail (just try the bread they use!) and the same obsessive quest for excellence which turns an inexpensive sandwich to as much of a classic as their much praised rabbit dish at Dhamaka.


Ossiano: This is the best restaurant in Dubai because the chef Grégoire Berger is truly gifted. Just one dish will tell you how his food is constructed. He serves an outstanding hot dog but as simple as it looks, it is incredibly complex. The sausage is made with lobster. The bun is designed only for this dish: soft and flexible enough to wrap itself around the sausage and yet firm enough to not let the three specially created sauces make it soggy.


Dinner by HB, Dubai: Heston Blumenthal is a close friend so I am not always totally objective about his food. But I can praise the Dubai Dinner by HB because Heston is not in the kitchen. Tom Allen is; and he is a brilliant chef. Small wonder then that Dinner won a Michelin star within four months of opening. Stunning food that is better than the original Dinner in London.


Mountain, London: For my money Tomas Parry is the best young chef in Britain. Mountain is his latest venture after the two Brats. The food is hard to classify except to say that it has top British ingredients cooked with a Spanish accent to original recipes that come out of Tomas’s brain. It is, quite deservedly, the hottest restaurant in London.


Alain Ducasse in Versailles: Ducasse does the food at a 14-room super-exclusive hotel inside the palace. The hotel is outstanding but Ducasse’s food steals the show. Obviously the formal restaurant is wonderful but what sealed it for me were the details: the world’s best French toast, an outstanding Bearnaise sauce, spectacular takes on Croque Monsieur etc.


   The experience of a lifetime.


Hosa Goa: I have just written about it but here goes: this is modernish (not as modern as Avartana) South Indian food in a lovely, old Goan bungalow from the owners of Indian Accent. I loved it.


Ekaa: Niyati Rao is the best young chef in India, in my opinion. Her food at Ekaa defies all description but you can tell that it springs from the heart and from her creative imagination. As I said, when I first wrote about her: she is still only in her 20s, what is she going to be like in her 30s?


Farmlore: It is hard to get a table at this farm-to-plate restaurant in Bangalore. Nor can you phone them. You have to book anonymously on the net. Which is what I did, weeks in advance.


   I was rumbled anyway but given that everybody gets the same food, it did not make much difference. What did I think? One of the best restaurants in India.




  • Upnworld 10 Oct 2023

    What a list ! Great work, Vir-ji

Posted On: 06 Oct 2023 01:27 PM
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