Tag Archives: Lado Sarai

Vega

 Pure vegetarian, old-school Indian ♦

The owners of one of Delhi’s oldest hotels (Alka in Connaught Place, established in 1968) decided not too long ago to try their luck at the cursed spot at Tavern on the Greens in Lado Sarai, which has thus far summarily rejected Climax, F Bar and Bar Sávanh. They opened a nightclub, Lure, and not too long ago added pure vegetarian restaurant Vega upstairs. The North Indian eatery is a branch of the Hotel Alka’s no-garlic, no-onion, desi ghee-only restaurant.

The lodge-like room is a throwback to old-fashioned family restaurants, with its heavy, off-kilter glass chandelier, beige tablecloths smudged gently with oil, and steel fingerbowls. The only thing missing was a live singing troupe (handily replaced by a muzak version of “Norwegian Wood”, followed by “Oh My Darling Clementine”),
and the presence of small, screaming children and their ayahs. In fact, there were – on the Monday night we visited – no fellow diners at all, except a large family group that left as we came in.

The forlorn atmosphere meant we had the full attention of the waitstaff , who quickly brought us an intensely pink and sweet fruit punch mocktail and an overly spicy jaljeera. The veggie kabab starters were the definite highlight of the meal: tandoori broccoli with a slightly charred aftertaste and a mess of cream and black pepper in its florets was an interesting variation, and the hara bhara kababs were nice and chatpata (the greenest thing about them were a few chopped French beans, though).

Despite our waiter’s assur­ances, the malai kofta and kashmiri aloo were rather similar concoctions of the usual tomato gravy-and-cottage cheese variety, though with generous stuffing of cashews and raisins, and strong flavour. A laccha parantha was a bit greasy and the butter naan standard and overpriced. Dessert was livelier, with a nice cool matka kulfi complementing a hot, gooey bowl of moong dal halwa.

Vega is decent enough as a vegetarian option, but the food doesn’t live up to its out-of-the-way location and shabby-chic trappings. Stick to the kababs if you find yourself here.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2012.

Published: October 20, 2012

Cheese Chaplin

Quick bite ♦

Did someone say cheese?
Cheese Chaplin, tucked into the air-conditioned, office-like basement of a tiny building draped with bougainvillea in Lado Sarai, is primarily a purveyor of domestic cheeses, made by the shop’s own brand Dairy Craft (which has been around since the ’90s), and some imports. Cheese Chaplin has been delivering the curdled and coagulated stuff to hotels and other clients for about a year from this location.

But there’s a sign for pizza too…
Some months ago, mild-mannered “team member” (the company has no designations) Vikas Bharti, and his colleagues in the on-site trial kitchen, started making pizzas. There are about six kinds of thin-crust pies, but customers can ask for different combinations (the store stocks olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc). The pizzas (R90-R150), though small, are several notches above their roadside relatives – the dough is rolled out as thin as possible (and whole wheat is available on request), making for a tasty snack. The cheese, of course, is miles beyond the typical Amul topping you’d usually get for this price. Worth a stop if you happen to be tramping through the village.

Anything else?
Bharti has a couple of Cokes in a fridge, but you can get a R5 fountain soda from the stand a few shops down and bring it over. While we waited for our pizza, we tried a few Dairy Craft cheeses – the pure buffalo milk bocconcini is delightfully creamy, with a thin skin, and the smoked cheddar is a good deal at R135 for 200gms. Bharti was putting a new mascarpone through its paces by way of a few trial cheesecakes, and let us sample (or rather, finish) them.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, May 2012.

Published: May 6, 2012

Smoke House Room

Tripping the bite fantastic ♦

Being high isn’t usually associated with great gastronomic discretion. Smoking up is more likely to leave you seeing the world in a grain of fried rice than it is to get you drooling over haute cuisine. Then again, “usual” is nowhere close to what Smoke House Room is aiming for.

Instead, restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani is advertising his newest high-end establishment as Delhi’s first dedicated home for molecular gastronomy. The restaurant imports its serious playfulness from the Fat Duck, but adds (appropriately for Delhi) a nightclub (Shroom) and a scene (stilettos, popped collars, sunglasses indoors). And while the focus of top Michelin-starred “molecular” joints such as Fat Duck or erstwhile El Bulli tends to be squarely on the food, Smoke House Room is part of a bigger rhizoidal network of reception area, club, lounge and rooftop, intended to be an immersive experience, from stalk to spore.

The complex is perched atop Crescent Mall and has a fine view of that other shroomy structure, the Qutab Minar (blinds are drawn for dinner though). Glass doors swish open at the touch of a button onto a part-Star Trek, part-Naked Lunch-inspired world of psychedelic lights, pleasantly monotonous electronic music and holey walls that could be described as fungibionic. The dining room is conservative compared to the rest of the area, but it’s open to the music and lights from the trippy lounge.

All of this – plus the large tables (none are really couple-sized) – can make it difficult to pay attention to the food itself. Our enthusiastic waiter was good at refocusing that attention, and his informed, eager attitude reinforced the notion that Smoke House Room is not a place for a meal, but for a guided adventure. And there is plenty of guidance to be had. Restaurants with a focus on cutting-edge cooking techniques don’t usually offer à la carte menus, and while Smoke House Room does, it’s really pushing degustation. It has three tasting menus: the Hunter, which we ordered, the Gatherer, for vegetarians, and the Grand Degustation, which requires an advance order and very deep pockets.

While dipping arm-length breadsticks into the cutest pat of mushroom butter, made to resemble a wee tuffet of wild earth, we chose our molecular cocktails. These were slightly less son-et-lumière than we’d hoped, but still tasty, potent and chilled to unnaturally cold temperatures: a vanilla sky with vodka, pineapple juice and jhaag; and a superior “deconstructed” watermelon caprioska with an impossibly thin slice of melon hugging the bottom of a long-stemmed glass.

The adventure began in South America, with a snack of pão de queijo, a sort of upscale Brazilian cheese ball made of tapioca flour bursting with hot Manchego and Parmesan. Then to France, via a tiny tureen of extra buff boullion, reduced overnight and laced with foie gras and truffle oil. The highlight of these palate teasers was chef Gresham Fernandes’ take on Heston Blumenthal’s famous medieval meat fruit (pâté made to resemble fruit). In this case it was two large grape-coloured and shaped globules of chicken liver, plated with two actual shriveled grapes. It was delicious and delightful, even though the crostini came oddly stuck in Lego blocks. The first course, a “gathering” of half a dozen mushroom varieties, differently marinated and cooked, strewn across a plate with three types of “soil”, evoked an early-spring country ramble – a perfect example of presentation complementing ingredients.

The following courses included a meaty cinnamon-honey-marinated quail with smoky cream cheesestuffed chorizo “ravioli”; a standout smoked salmon tartare sandwiched between sesame crackers with roe-flecked sour cream ice cream; black cod with incongruous coconut miso and eggplant curry; and a five-spiced duck confit served with strawberry fruit leather and braised shiitake. The portions are generous, the kitchen almost too efficient, and we were satiated before the final course. No dish disappointed, though taken as a whole, the palate was a bit skewed towards briny tastes: salt, soy and vinegar.

The first dessert – a wonderfully smooth, chocolatey porcini ice cream with a coffee-flavoured marshmallow – was a sweet departure that snapped us right out of impending food coma. The second, a beet cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry sauce, introduced an unexpected home-made note. But the last, strawberry “petit fours”, were the most fun: a lollipop of chocolate that cracks open with a gush of juicy fruit liquid.

They’re an exuberant ending to a meal that is eager to astonish. And astonish it does. Our only reservation was that, from its discombobulating lighting to its desperate trendiness, Smoke House Room seems caught between wanting to be sophisticated and wanting to never grow up. This self-contradiction isn’t uncommon in our city, and probably very much in sync with the sentiments of SHR’s patrons. It’s not clear what the place will morph into, but with its brash self-confidence tempered with an earnest desire to please, Smoke House Room has cooked up a perfect recipe for Delhi success.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, November 2011.

Published: November 4, 2011