As we’ve heard many a top chef say, India’s fine-dining market is still nascent – but the good news is, there’s plenty of room to grow. And grow it has: from an offbeat French Canadian café to a Modern Spanish outpost to a specialized Anglo-Indian eatery, we journeyed north and south -expanding waistlines to be damned – to bring you the coolest culinary openings over the last year. Here’s our taste-tested and approval-stamped list.
The sense of space inside Café Zoe at Todi Mills in Lower Parel, makes it’s hard to believe you’re in Mumbai and not Dubai, Amsterdam, Seattle or (insert modern Western city here). Natural light streams into the airy, high-ceilinged room. Simple, unpolished wood tables, naked bulbs snaking down over an open bar, comfortable deep sofas and exposed brick walls create an informal, relaxed atmosphere not often seen around these parts.
Nattily-dressed CEOs, well-heeled South Bombay HNIs and young people in tees, cargo shorts and open sandals can be found in equal measure at the bar or seated in the dining areas. And with free Wi Fi thrown in, Café Zoe has an unhurried vibe, with guests lingering and ordering nibbles as the craving hits.
This casualness spills into the eclectic menu, which, though drawn from varied cuisines and using exotic ingredients, is really about friendly, fuss-free, comfort foods.
Using only white crockery, Zoe has kept the plating simple, too; the colourful Mixed Seafood Provincial stew is served in a soup plate with a toasted baguette on the side. Other presentations are wittier, yet still unfussy: the mushroom tea, an intensely flavoured, light mushroom broth, is served in a carafe placed on a tray along with a crusty bread and tea glass, allowing diners to pour themselves their own soup. The food is consistently good, and though the burgers have won many accolades, the true piece de resistance is actually the Salmon Wellington. You can smell the freshly baked puff pastry encasing the salmon steak as the plate is set before you. Moist and juicy, the perfectly cooked salmon pairs beautifully with the seasoned mixed-pepper juliennes and the deep-yellow Hollandaise.
All this adds up to make Zoe a great place to hang out, whether at the bar for a relaxed drink or in the deep sofas for a long, languid meal.
GQ recommends: Mushroom Tea, Burgers, Salmon Wellington
Price point: Meal for two approximately Rs 1,500
Notable chef: Viraf Patel
Vibe: Informal and relaxed
Bar scene: Zippy – early drinkers who settle down for dinner, and early eaters who retire to the bar after dinner; hard to get a spot around it on Friday and Saturday nights
Innovation: Ingredients like quinoa, salads presented in a glass jar
Classic potential: Very high. It’s a warm, friendly place where you can relax and settle in, with good, well-priced fare.
The whoosh of the high-speed burner in the open kitchen occasionally punctuates the low murmur of conversation. Bamboo steamers stream out of the kitchen to almost all the tables, releasing a puff of wispy smoke when opened. Inside sit a trio of delicate steamed dim sums.
It’s difficult to find fault with Yauatcha, the first international outpost of the London-based, Michelin-starred modern dim sum and tea house. The service staff are exceptionally knowledgeable about the menu, able to competently answer intricate details about each dish, and are attentive yet not intrusive – even before it’s brought it to their attention, a fresh plate is changed when they observe that a guest has noticed a blemish on it.
While during the day and early evening the restaurant is filled with executives and smartly dressed wives and girlfriends, at night it’s the playground for Mumbai’s beautiful and powerful. Aside from the people watching and fraternizing, they’re there, of course, to sample the exquisite dim sum selection, much of which is a combination of subtle flavour and texture. An unusual one to start with is the Truffle Edamame dumpling, where the silky edamame mousse filing is taken one notch up with a hint of truffle oil. A signature dish, the Har Gau has a filling of tender prawn and bamboo shoot shavings in a tightly pleated, translucent wonton skin. Served with a splash of soya, the complex Crispy Prawn Cheung Feung is a bite-sized rendition of contrasting textures: glutinous, translucent steamed rice sheets are wrapped around a tempura batter-coated roll containing a sweetish mixture of chopped prawn and black fungi.
Though Yauatcha doesn’t offer any Chinese sweets, their hand-crafted desserts, like the Raspberry Delice – raspberry dust sprayed on to raspberry-flavoured chocolate mousse and served with home-made raspberry ice cream – is the perfect ending to an exceptional meal.
GQ recommends: Truffle Edamame Dumplings, Crispy Prawn Cheung Feung, stir-fried French beans with shiitake mushroom, Raspberry Delice
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 3,000
Notable chef: Chef Soon
Innovation: Only dim sum focused restaurant in the city
Celeb-o-meter: Manish Malhotra, Mukesh Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan, and several other big names from the corporate, film, fashion and media world are regulars.
Classic potential: Very high. It’s a great combination of first-rate food, cool interiors and excellent service. Importantly, it’s an international brand that doesn’t shock the wallet too much.
At Red Fork, it’s all about the food. The service is vaguely efficient, and the décor of the family-run café, which comprises the front rooms and al fresco garden area of Parsi restaurant Daddy’s Deli (owned by chef Xerxes Bodhanwala’s parents), is simple yet charming and cosy. But the food, comparable to anything you’d find at a high-end, international-quality restaurant, is a different story all together.
Fans of Masterchef Australia will instantly recognize the Modern Australian style of cooking that 23-year-old chef Xerxes Bodhanwala follows. Perhaps unsurprising, since Cordon Bleu-certified Bodhanwala studied and trained at various restaurants in Sydney. Almost all the dishes display a signature combination of bold Asian and Latin American flavours and colours, with European technique and a strong accent on fresh produce.
The 12-hour braised pork belly, for instance, is glazed with a tamarind sauce and topped with a colourful Asian salad of fresh coriander, baby arugula, diced raw mango and pork fat crisps. The succulent, sweet, fatty pork is beautifully balanced by the acidity of the tamarind, the tartness of the raw mango and the bitterness of the arugula. The rack of lamb reflects more global influences, combining French with Latin American: individual cutlets sit on quenelles of sweet potato mash flavoured with OJ, while in the centre sits a pool of perfectly cooked ratatouille.
Though the menu is changed every fortnight, the lamb chops and pork belly have proved to be so popular that a version is always featured. If we were Bodhanwala, we’d market Red Fork as affordable, Masterchef-quality food available without a seriously long-haul flight involved. The short hop to Bangalore is worth it.
GQ recommends: Lamb chops, pork belly, crème brûlée
Price point:A meal for two approximately Rs 1,500
Notable chef: Xerxes Bodhanwala
Vibe: Casual, café atmosphere
Innovation: Unusual ingredients like pork belly, a focus on fresh produce, high-end café food
Classic potential: High. Fine-dining food at café prices is a winner.
In just a few months from its opening, Monkey Bar introduced the British term gastropub into the lndian diner’s lexicon, made offal sexy, sold over 12,000 burgers and created a space that is a family-friendly restaurant by day and a chilled-out pub at night.
Walk through the frosted glass doors and you enter a space that’s instantly relaxing. How can you be serious in a place where the centrepiece is a Lambretta scooter with painted red wheels sitting on a large shelf, and where the walls are covered with a medley of quirky framed posters? The subtle design is evident in the custom-made concrete-topped tables with brass piping, the distressed cement walls, the chandeliers with exposed bulbs and the faded-glass windows reminiscent of New York.
But what’s got people talking – and they’re talking – is the eclectic yet affordably priced menu where gourmet burgers share space with unconventional dishes like lamb heart skewers, brain with green chilli and fenugreek, pickled beef and the famous Irani Berry pulao and Bombay vada pav. One in four cocktails ordered is the inventive house special, Manga, made with aam panna and vodka.
Wander in during the day and find Monkey Bar in its subdued avatar, with office-goers and married couples popping in for a quick meal, or harangued drivers and peons stopping by to pick up orders. On Saturday night, though, things are cheerfully loud and wild. The foosball tables that keep children engaged during the day are now manned by skinny, long-haired boys in photographer’s jackets.
The passage running down the restaurant is thick with 20- and 30-somethings, swaying to music. And even those who score a booth can be found atop their seats, cocktails in hand, dancing and singing along. No one bats an eyelid at the clutch of girls dancing seductively with each other, or that 40-something bald man clutching his glass with one hand and easing his T-shirt over his potbelly in a faux strip act.
GQ recommends: Pickled beef, beef galouti, heart kebabs, MoBar burger, Manga
Price point: Meal for two approximately Rs 1,000
Notable chef: Manu Chandra
Vibe: Casual, and either chilled out or noisy, depending on time of day
Bar scene: Chockfull of young people; laid-back during the week, buzzy on the weekend
Innovation: Offal on the menu, vada pav outside of Mumbai
Celeb-o-meter: Businessmen, industrialists, actors Siddharth and Ramya, Manoviraj Khosla
Classic potential: Very high. India’s been waiting for a place that combines raucous energy, funky design and really good, fun, offbeat food.
Chez Nini makes one of the best French onion soups in the country. Served in a deep ceramic bowl, topped with a thick layer of bread and melted cheese, it’s a soup you want to curl up and fall asleep in.
Run by chef-proprietor Nira Singh who cooks every dish herself, Chez Nini is probably the only restaurant in India where you can find the very specific Canadian-French bistro-style food. Tiny, with just about 30 seats, the bistro fills up pretty quickly, and most people who don’t make reservations find themselves disappointed – even at lunch.
White walls, pale wooden floors, painted-carved wooden chairs and large picture-windows looking on to the street transport you to a country home. The design piece de resistance of the space is a metal tree installation, whose leafless branches extend from its corner position all across the ceiling. A large bird’s nest sits in the centre where the branches interlink.
The short two-page menu is supplemented by a daily blackboard selection as well as homemade confections from the pastry counter. Apart from the French onion soup, Chez Nini scores with the Duck Confit, which is worth ordering just for the perfectly crisped skin. Another winner are the crunchy yet light churros served with a trio of smooth, richly flavoured vanilla, coffee and dark chocolate ganaches. An unexpected – yet delicious – inclusion on the menu is the famous French-Canadian street food poutine: Nini makes theirs the traditional way, hand-cut fries topped with crumbled cream cheese and onion gravy.
Nini has a nice, buzzy vibe, deal for a meal with your more adventurous friends. The food is simple – but that’s why it works.
GQ recommends:French onion soup, duck burger, duck confit, poutine
Price point: Meal for two starts from approximately Rs 2,000
Snooty factor: Some – mostly wealthy Delhi businessmen in their designer outfits
and luxury accessories
Celeb-o-meter: Mostly consular crowd and diplomats
Classic potential: High – A hard-to-find niche cuisine that doesn’t mess with the classics.
Contact: 011-4905 0665/66
In Latin, the phrase Rara Avis translates to “rare bird”, and in colloquial French, to “something unique”. And that’s exactly what the Delhi-based Rara Avis is: a French stand-alone restaurant is an extremely rare and unique sight in urban India.
By offering home-style fare, Rara Avis has been able to break through the common misconceptions of French food – that it’s too subtle, or too avant-garde, or too froufrou. The food here is big, hearty and stoutly traditional – no adjustments to suit local palates here. A variety of flammenkueche – thin-crust, French-style pizzas with typically French toppings like tapenade coulis and pistou or potato and French Reblochon cheese – serve as bridge between the exotic and the familiar. But even unfamiliar dishes like Terrine de Jerome, a rabbit meat pâté, or the slightly chewy snails in garlic butter, served in the traditional snail plate, are big sellers. In another bold move in a country where people are often wary of the uncooked, they serve up classic Steak Tartare, raw beef mince topped with raw egg yolk served with chopped raw onion, garlic, parsley, cognac, capers, gherkins, Dijon mustard and olive oil.
At Rara Avis, partners Jerome Cousin, Laurent Guiraud and Rajiv Aneja have created a space that is as friendly and comfortable as the food is honest and simple. The bistro-style restaurant is split over two floors: upstairs is an al fresco terrace and grill which overlooks the verdant M-Block market; downstairs in the main dining area, wooden floors, plush leather sofas and broad stained-wood tables give the room a warm and homey feel. Smaller round tables for two below the picture window add a touch of intimacy.
Rara Avis works where other French restaurants have failed because the food is unpretentious, simple and yet all about the taste.
GQ recommends: Terrine de Jerome, rabbit meat pâté; Flammenkueche, snails in garlic butter
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 2,000
Notable chef: Jerome Cousin
Innovation: Introducing flammenkueche French style pizza to the market
Classic potential: Very high – Great value-for-money fare in a convivial atmosphere; you expect snootiness, but you get amiable service.
Contact: 011-4108 5544
On The Waterfront at the Aman
By size alone, On the Waterfront, or OTW as it’s popularly known, trumps most restaurants in the country. An expansive L-shaped restaurant, it is spread out over four areas arranged around a water body. The 132-seater includes a long, all-day, casual dining verandah, a main dining area in the centre of which is a large open kitchen, an upstairs section with an Oriental kitchen; and a quiet, exclusive, glass-enclosed cabana located at the centre of the water body.
The menu is as expansive as the restaurant, spanning the worlds of teppanyaki, dim sum, pasta, modern European, stir fry, sushi, robata, Indian cuisine and a smattering of South-East Asian dishes. Overcoming the inherent pitfall of maintaining high standards across such a vast repertoire, the team of chefs at OTW manages to ensure that all the food is suitably impressive. And despite the size of the restaurant, guests receive sufficiently personalized attention thanks to an army of friendly service staff who are admirably well-versed with the menu.
A classic dim sum, Cheung Feung with a filling of prawn, scallop and green onion wrapped in steamed rice flour sheets, is a delicate and delightful interplay of textures, as is the steamed tiger prawn chunks topped with bright red tobiko (fish roe). Aromatic and crunchy, the lemon grass-flavoured, Thai-style lotus root salad is refreshingly different from cold dishes usually found on Asian menus in the country. But the true stars of the menu are the teppan John Dory dressed with ethereal sakebutter, the soft and crisp-skinned Canadian pork belly teriyaki and the pan roasted Chilean sea bass cooked to a rich, buttery texture with bacon and sauce verde.
Dessert is worth sampling, too – the lemon meringue pie, topped with a fluffy mound of airy meringue and served with a lime juice-spiked mango sorbet is easily one of the best sweet options on the menu.
GQ recommends: Canadian pork belly, bharwan kumbh (stuffed mushrooms), lemon meringue pie
Price point: Meal for two approximately Rs 3,000
Service: Exceptional – well-trained, knowledgeable and professional
Innovation: A staggering variety of cuisines – all done well – under one roof
Classic potential: High – Caters to Indians’ love for “multicuisine” but does it with a sophistication lacking in most other places in a pleasing, relaxing ambience.
Contact: 011-4363 3411
Southern Spice at The Taj Coromandel
An old Chenni institution, Southern Spice re-launched earlier this year in dramatic new avatar. Eschewing traditional service, a variety of rasams are served throughout the meal in small Bernudaud porcelain cups, like Chinese tea, and the pot is kept heated tableside. Western ingredients like French duck, Canadian scallops, Indonesian soft shell crabs, American Black Angus tenderloin and New Zealand lamb chops have been effortlessly adapted to traditional recipes. And the bright palace-style decor has given way to wooden temple roof, plush kolam-inspired carpets, kalamkari work on the walls and silvery fluted pillars that give the room a warm yet elegant feel.
But the changes don’t end with the decor and presentation; the real star of the re-launch is the menu. Drawn from all four southern states, the dishes manage to be homestyle – the recipe for Kair Katti Yerachi Kola Urundai, lamb dumplings wrapped with banana fibre, a Thanjavur specialty came from the home of a once-regular customer, late Tamil actor Sivaji Ganesan – while also pushing the envelope as as far as innovation goes. The Karandi Omelet Varutha Kozhambu, a dish from Madurai, takes on a unique twist with a boiled egg placed inside the traditional omelette that’s cooked in a ladle and served in roasted chilli and coconut curry. Even more impressive are the non-vegetarian rasams, one of which uses scallops in a spicy Mangalorean-style sukka. The experimentation works, without the dishes tasting alien or strange – instead, they break the myth popular in most parts of North India that South Indian food is dominated by vegetarian fare.
The transformation of Southern Spice has been well-received, with both new customers and old dining here. At dinner it’s often impossible to get a table, and for good reason.
GQ recommends: The rasams, Karandi Omelet, Varutha Kozhambu
Price point: Meal for two approximately Rs 3,000
Innovation: Chinese tea-style rasam pot; ingredients like scallop and asparagus in South Indian dishes
Vibe: Exclusive, power-dining
Celeb-o-meter: Heads of business houses like MRF, Tollywood actors, cricketeres, Amitabh Bachchan
Contact: 044-66002827; tajhotels.com
Yeti is a happy place that serves delicious, home-style food that spans hard-to-find Nepalese, Bhutanese and Tibetan cuisines. Popular with college kids and the young professional set, the restaurant – situated in trendy Hauz Khas Village – has a noisy, casual vibe with conversations spilling over the tables packed closely together. Brick walls display artifacts like prayer bells and khukri knives, and that along with the judicious use of stained wood give the 50-seater eatery cozy feel. The tables are often occupied by regulars, many of them enthusiastically introducing friends to one of their favourite places to nosh.
The menu is quite extensive and, unlike in most restaurants in India, offers an astounding variety of buffalo and pork dishes. But there’s no cause for alarm among veggies, there’s also plenty of good non-meat options on the 96-dish strong menu.
Among the signature dishes are the Tibetan Shapta, a deceptively fierce-looking stir fry of thinly sliced buffalo; the thick, cheesy Bhutanese Datchi curry; and Thupka, a filling, noodle soup popular across the region. Of course the meal is not complete without an order of dainty momos served with spicy garlic, chilli dips. A good – and popular – way to sample the fare is the generous set Nepali thali.
Though the food at Yeti is heavy and often extremely spicy – this is not for the faint of heart, or waistline – it’s dangerously addictive. Definitely worthy of several repeats.
GQ recommends: Momos, Nepali thali, Datchi
Price point: Meal for two is approximately Rs 800
Vibe: Lively, with the crowd skewing young
Classic potential: Very high – A second outlet is already slated to open soon
Jyran at the Sofitel
While it’s practically mandatory in India for a five-star hotel to have at least one restaurant serving Indian fare, creating one that stands out amongst a sea of worthy competitors isn’t easy. Jyran at the Sofitel has managed to pull this off with panache by incorporating a subtle French touch into highly refined Lucknowi flavours – without in any way comprising the robust character and complexity of the food. No mean feat.
We can put it down to the inventiveness of masterchef Shaukat Ali Qureshi of the famous Qureshi clan, a family of butchers tracing their lineage to the Mughal era, who popularized Nizami dum pukht cooking among luxury hotels. Meticulously adapting his cooking for the restaurant, his short, focused menu is a revelation of light yet flavourful food. While paya (trotter) soup is usually greasy and heavy, his version, Paya Yakni Jyran, is velvety and delicate; the signature Murgh Shan-e-Shaukat, a deep-fried chicken breast filled with cheese, onions, green chillies and pomegranate offers layers of flavour with minimal ingredients. Similarly, Bhagu ke Kebab, Jyran’s answer to the galouti uses the same spices, but substitutes olive oil for the usual heavier animal fat. Qureshi’s talent shines through in the Tabhakh Jamun, but even more in the Tukra Shan-e-Shaukat, his version of shahi tukda. While this dessert usually lands a calorie-intensive punch after the meal, Qureshi’s interpretation, though served with a generous lashing of rabri, has a puff pastry-like airiness.
The on-plate delicateness extends to the decor as well, where simple chandeliers brighten up the room and the seating is mix of low charpoy-esque seats, work tables and benches and some regular tables and chairs. Semi-private dining spaces are created by drawing a gossamer curtain around either individual tables or around an entire, slightly raised section.
Jyran also offers a carefully curated wine list, making this is one of the best places in the country to pair Indian food with wine.
GQ recommends: Murgh Shan-e-Shaukat, Tukra Shan-e-Shaukat, Gucchi Kesari Curry
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 2,500
Notable chef: Shaukat Ali Qureshi
Vibe: Mostly corporate, with families over the weekend; quiet and serious
Innovation: Beautiful Lucknowi food without the attendant greasiness
Snooty factor: Slight.
Celeb-o-meter: Hindi fiIm actors are known to drop by.
Arola at the JW Marriott
A double shot of gin is poured into a glass the size of a small fish bowl, followed by a splash of the British boutique tonic Fever Tree. A two-inch piece of Mandarin peel is seared with a hand-held jet flame lighter till the volatile oils under the skin burst into flame. The peel is then rubbed on the rim of the glass and dunked into this twist on a G & T.
But this drink, along with the gin bar offering 30 types of the spirit, is merely the sideshow. The main attraction is Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola and his take on modern Spanish cuisine. Influenced by his renowned Catalonian compatriot, the godfather of Modernist Cuisine, Ferran Adria, Arola’s uses simple, often locally sourced ingredients and modern techniques to create dishes with traditional flavours, presented with a contemporary touch.
Fascinated by Indian breads he has incorporated them into his menu, so the table bread platter consists of pieces of naan served with chopped garlic, a lightly seasoned tomato puree, sea salt and olive oil. For his signature tapa, patatas bravas, spicy tomato sauce is filled into a scooped out portion of deep-fried potato cylinders and topped with a tuft of aioli. The salty Berenjenas involve tandoor-roasted brinjals, served with pine nuts, black olives and a dressing of balsamic and olive oil, imparting to the dish a smoky undertone.
The influence of Modernist Cuisine shines through in the baby lamb dish, Cordero Lechal Asado En Tandoor, in which the meat is vacuum-sealed and slow cooked in its own juices for almost 16 hours before it comes meltingly soft to the table. For the Huevos y Canela, the Catalan cream is hidden under an airy layer of lemon-flavoured foam, lightly caramelised to deceptively resemble a meringue.
Arola’s food is a witty introduction to the dynamic word of contemporary Spanish cooking – and its bar will help the city discover that staid, old-fashioned drinks (G&T, for instance) can be sexy.
GQ recommends: Patatas Bravas, Filet Mignon, Huevos y Canela, Gin and tonic
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 4,000
Service: Attentive and friendly
Notable chef: Sergi Arola
Vibe: Very chi-chi, makes you want to trot out your designer wear and accessories
Innovation: Modern Spanish, using modernist techniques
Snooty factor: High
Celeb-o-meter: Akshay Kumar is brand ambassador, ‘nuff said.
Classic potential: Medium. Despite the marquee name, it’s hard to say if an unfamiliar cuisine like Modern Spanish has enough takers.
The tiny Anglo-Indian community residing in the Bow Barracks neighbourhood of Kolkata is little known outside the city, and it’s cuisine even less so. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like the ideal theme around which to create a successful restaurant. Yet, the eponymous Bow Barracks, whose menu is centred around this simple, but highly unusual home-style food, has not only captured the attention of Bangalore where it’s based, but has already developed a loyal fan following among those who know, regardless of where they live.
A significant part of its success is owed to the charming character of the two-storeyed restaurant. From the street, a short flight of stairs leads to a faintly distressed, white door, which opens into a compact, unpretentious room with plainly adorned tables and polished brick walls. Sunlight streams in through large windows, and sitting at one of the tables looking out on to the street any day transforms into a good imitation of a lazy Sunday afternoon. The seating on the narrow verandah upstairs is favoured by younger diners – and smokers.
The menu was conceived when, after much persuasion, owner Sujoy Das and executive chef Norman D’Silva, were able to cajole traditional recipes out of reluctant housewives and relatives residing in Bow Barracks in Kolkata. These recipes were translated for the restaurant and we enjoyed dishes like Beef Pantheras, which are crepes filled with minced beef that’s crumbed and deep fried. Aunty Pamela’s Pork Vindaloo, a fiery looking but deceptively mild and tangy vindaloo was cultivated from a recipe given to Chef Norman by – no surprises here – his aunt, Pamela. Another interesting preparation we hadn’t encountered elsewhere was the dry Beef Jhalfrezie, served with a thin pepper water that has to be poured over steamed rice.
What makes Bow Barracks eminently worth visiting, especially if you’re in the market for a unique culinary experience, is that you won’t easily find this food anywhere else in the country. And that’s worth something.
GQ recommends: Beef pantheras, Aunty Pamela’s Pork Vindaloo
Price point: A meal for two approximately Rs 1,000
Vibe: Relaxed, families and office execs
Innovation: First restaurant to be doing Anglo-Indian food from Kolkata
Classic potential: Very likely. Despite the style of food causing some heartburn to Bangalore local Anglo-Indians, Bow Barracks is such a quaint and cheery place, it’s a shoo-in to become a neighbourhood favourite.
Food from the Persian Gulf is usually a hard sell to Indian palates. The cuisine includes a lot of soups, red meats, lightly flavoured rice preparations and very few types of gravy with the exceptions of stews, which rely more on herbs than spice for flavour. That’s why few stand-alone restaurants across the country offer Iranian food – the traditional old cafes in Mumbai are the exception – and to find one located in a five-star hotel is close to impossible.
That did not deter the minds behind Persian Terrace, a restaurant focused on the food, allowing its beautiful al fresco location on the terrace of the Sheraton Hotel to hold up the “design” aspect. After overcoming the initial hiccups, the restaurant now attracts a steady stream of Indian and expats customers.
The food though primarily Iranian, draws lightly on its Mediterranean neighbours, at least in its mezze selection. While the hummus is predictably creamy and smooth, it’s the crisp Spinach Fatayer with a lush filling of pureed spinach and goats’ cheese, and the Kibbeh, a crunchy deep-fried croquette of minced lamb, burghul wheat and pine seeds that has you reaching for seconds. Iranian cuisine is well known for its soups, and the warm, comforting options in the menu at Persian Terrace are the perfect antidote for Bangalore’s often-chilly weather. The Soup e Murgh, a creamy chicken soup tastes like a rich savoury custard, while Ash e Sabsi is a more traditional soup containing a base of slightly mashed green lentils with spinach, parsley, coriander and noodles – thick, heavy but intricately textured.
The deliciousness continues into the main course with two of Iran’s most famous dishes, the minced lamb Chelo Kebab Koobideh and the minced chicken Jojeh e Kabob, both brushed heavily with melted butter before serving. Thekebabs, completely unlike its Indian cousins, are light, with the flavour of the meat shining through.
Persian Terrace has taken a hitherto unapproachable cuisine and, without compromising on its essential character, managed to make a success of it.
GQ recommends: Spinach Fatayer, Ash e Sabsi, Chelo Kebab Koobideh
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 2,500
Vibe: Relaxed, casual
Classic potential: Medium to low. History is against it – in India, high-end Middle Eastern restaurants start off well but rarely survive in the long-term.
Elma’s Bakery, Cakes and Tea Room
Getting a table is always a challenge at Elma’s. The tiny, 16-seater tea room which has become as famous for its cosy setting as its range of delicate teas and lush desserts witnesses a steady stream of customers through the day.
And no wonder. Warm and naturally brightly lit thanks to a panelled-glass window, the interiors are closer to a modern patisserie than a Victorian tea room: A row of teacups lines the large white piano at the back of the room while neatly arranged painted cups, saucers and pots of myriad colours and sizes fill an open cupboard. The tables are usually occupied by young LV- and Gucci-toting (and attractive) women, fashion designers, boutique owners, expats and other members of the stylish set. Conversations are muted and using mobile phones is not permitted nor is laptop usage encouraged.
Everything on Elma’s menu is freshly made or organically grown, from the cakes and breads to the condiments like home-made ketchup and mustard. Highlights of the menu include the traditional High Tea served in a three-tier tray, and the Cream Tea – both of which include a tea or coffee press of your choice and a selection of cakes and biscuits, and most importantly, absolutely addictive scones with summer berry jam and thick, luscious clotted cream. The desserts are all first rate: the Red Velvet Cake is moist and light, the crumbly shortcake beautifully dense and the cookies buttery and rich.
Open from breakfast onward, Elma’s has recently introduced a supper menu. It’s the perfect place to get away to any time of day.
GQ recommends: High Tea – don’t miss the scones, Red Velvet Cake
Price point: Meal for two is approximately Rs 700
Notable chef: Shelly Saha
Vibe: Casual, but slightly stiff
Snooty factor: South Delhi’s beautiful people like to hang out here
Celeb-o-meter: Delhi’s fashion designers can be often found at one of the tables; Krsna Mehta is a regular
Classic potential: Very high – Quality of the food is excellent, and it’s managed to make the concept of a tea room fashionable, accessible and fun.
Contact: 011-2652 1020/22
In a city that’s home to some of the country’s finest North Indian restaurants, creating one that has a distinctive character is a daunting proposition. But, with Spice Art, Chef Aditya Jaimini has successfully risen to the challenge by offering familiar foods but with a playful twist. The menu draws on popular foods from Old Delhi, Punjab, Awadh, the North West Frontier and Kashmir, with a strong accent on vegetarian options, but the flavours and plating have been tweaked for a modern setting. With dark wood panelling and mood lighting, Spice Art is a comfortable, smart-looking restaurant suited to a relaxed meal.
A recommended way to start is with thechaat platter – usually a hard sell at upmarket restaurants, the one at Spice Art flies off the kitchen counter. The four dishes that comprise the platter include a particularly innovative dahi puchka, where, in place of water, the thick-bottomed puchka is filled with chutney-topped yogurt with a single raisin hidden at the bottom offering an unexpected sweet finish.
Many of the other dishes on the menu display the same tongue-in-cheek playfulness. The Gulabi Salmon Tikka served with a cream cheese dressing on the side immediately recalls the popular combination of smoked salmon and cream cheese. The channa masala with Amritsari kulcha is an intensely flavoured street version of a common home-style dish, while the Bhindi Singhara combines the ordinary with the exotic. Cleverly served in a green coconut shell, the Sarson aur Nariyal Jheenga Curry is reminiscent of the Bengali daab chingri. The meat of the Chukander Gosht Roganjosh literally slides of the bone, and though it tastes completely authentic, the colour and flavour surprisingly come from the addition of beetroot.
A clever play on the traditional – maintaining authenticity while giving the food a signature twist – Spice Art manages a fine (dining) balance.
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 2,000
Innovation: Traditional North Indian fare with a modern twist
Classic potential: Very high – Has already been co-opted as a signature brand for all Crowne Plaza hotels
Chophouse at the Biere Club
Mixed grill. Bangers and mash. Fish ‘n’ chips. Prawn cocktail. The food at the Biere Club’s Chophouse is a celebration of famous British dishes that were once typical of clubs and restaurants serving Raj-era fare. Though the restaurant gets its name from English chophouses – establishments that served only chops prepared in only one way – this Chophouse has extended its repertoire to include pub grub and British home-style food. Put together by Chef Shaun Kenworthy, a well-known British chef residing in Kolkata, the menu is his homage to the foods of his childhood.
Though sandwiched between the noisy ground and second floor of two-storeyed microbrewery Biere Club, the mood at Chophouse is distinctively formal and reserved: soft, mood lighting; jazz playing quietly in the background; tablecloth-covered tables with crockery and cutlery carefully laid out.
The style of presentation and plating at the restaurant is more contemporary British gastro-pub than traditional pub. For instance, the chicken liver pâté is set in a covered ramekin and arranged on a rectangular plate accompanied by pickled onions, gherkins and a serving of crisp Melba toast, all of which in turn sit neatly inside a larger dinner plate. Classic roast pork chops with peaches gets an international touch: it’s served with morels, and the peaches are cooked with balsamic to create an elegant, sweet-sour glaze. The rich, sweet puddings make up the one area that’s remained largely traditional. The very British Banoffee Pie is a meal in itself.
Though quite distinct in concept from the rest of the Biere Club, Chophouse is perfect for the serious diner who enjoys microbrews yet wants to pass on bar food for a “proper” plated meal.
GQ recommends: Banoffee pie, Fish ‘n’ chips, Bangers and mash, washed down with fresh beers
Price point: Meal for two approximately Rs 1,500, not including beer
Notable chef: Shaun Kenworthy
Vibe: Casual but quiet. As suited to a romantic dinner as to a catch up with friends
Classic potential: Very high. Few places offer fresh artisanal beer and great food for a mature clientele.
Classic potential: Very high – Has already been co-opted as a signature brand for all Crowne Plaza hotels
From the moment you walk into Megu, you can tell that they aim to impress. Near-obsessive attention to detail has gone into everything: the interior design, the ingredients, the cooking and presentation techniques, and the selection of exclusive sakes.
A low-ceilinged, wood-panelled passageway winds past a warren of rooms, each with its own unique design, and ends in the airy, Buddha room that towers upward. The centrepiece of the restaurant is the tall, 650kg replica of the sacred Bonsho bell from the Todaiji temple in Nara, Japan, which is suspended from the high ceiling over the crystal Buddha sitting above a pool of water.
Pegged as Modern Japanese, the food at Megu goes back to the roots of regional Japanese cuisine, focusing on certain key ingredients and presenting them in a contemporary way. Heavy emphasis has been placed on plating and every dish has a unique presentation plate. In fact, every kind of sake – including the unusual sparkling version – has its own, personalized glass.
Every dish reflects the kitchen’s detail-orientation. A simple dish like the Yellowtail Carpaccio is lifted to another level with the brushed-on Chili Kanzuri sauce – Kanzuri means chilled and the chillies that are used have been laid on ice beds to reduce their pungency. Delicate flavours are also used to create complexity in the foie gras-encased Wagyu Croquettes and the Salmon Toro Tartare filled with Osetra caviar, sitting on a pool of salmon roe purée and topped with a soy wasabi jelly.
There’s drama in one of the signature techniques: In Sumibi Aburiyaki, the food is grilled on palm-sized pieces of Bincho-Tan, a special charcoal found only near Kyoto and prized for its superior purifying properties. The wagyu prepared in this manner tableside is then flamed with Hennessy to complete the spectacle. A meal here is more than just a meal.
GQ recommends: Wagyu cooked tableside, yellowtail carpaccio, sparkling sake
Price point: Meal for two starts at approximately Rs 7,000
Notable chef: Chef Saito
Vibe: Understated, elegant
Snooty factor: You’re only a regular if your paycheck’s of a certain size; dress down and risk feeling out of place
Innovation: Bincho-tan grilling, sparkling sake
Celeb-o-meter: The who’s who of Delhi’s social scene, top industrialists, ambassadors
Classic potential: Very high – every detail at this restaurant epitomizes luxury – in a market that worships luxury.
Contact: 011-3933 1360
Published GQ India October 2012
Read the print version here
5 replies to “The Best New Restaurants In India”
When a feature on “best” anything begins with Cafe Zoe the rest is usually more style than substance. Once I got past that below average speed bump the rest of the ride was fantastic.
Looking forward to rediscovering dining out in India.
I’ve realised that people either hate Zoe or love it. But I’m glad that you didn’t dismiss the rest of the article on the base of one speed bump.
It would have been nice to clearly identify the City the restaurant is located in. (I have to guess from the phone number)
You’re quite right Gaurav. Hadn’t noticed the omission. Will get it rectified shortly
super article , now you should one on the top bars /l ounges