A change of taste
From no-gas kitchens and farm gardens inside hotels to traditionally cooked dishes, here’s how restaurants in metropolitan India are adapting to new dining experiences
The last five years have been nothing short of a turning point for the Indian dining scene and the Indian food lovers. Courtesy the surge in concept-based restaurants, the average Indian diner has experienced almost every international trend – from progressive and modern cuisine to experiential table-to-farm dining. And not just in the food segment but in dessert and beverages as well. The cherry on the cake is how chefs have not only adopted the trend but have reworked the same to make it more relevant to the Indian palate. An excellent example of this is the multi-award-winning restaurant Indian Accent, New Delhi, which began the inning of revisualising soul food. This trend inspired many chefs and restaurants to follow suit.
Another path-breaker was the modern-day eatery Pluck at Pullman, New Delhi, the dream project of the hotel’s culinary director chef Ajay Anand, who grew the first-ever farm garden inside a hotel. The launch of Pluck with its Indian cuisine presented in French style, became an example of good fusion food and minimalistic cooking. For chef Anand, however, it was a successful creation of a “new dining niche” that was border-less and could take inspiration from every part of the country. Pluck, which worked with a series of local food producers and other farmers deliberately kept the menu open. This, says the chef, “worked well, given that our menu changes every season and can have a modern interpretation of any dish taken from all Indian states.”
It was considered a radical move considering that most restaurants followed a set pattern of success by investing in tried and tested cuisine and styles. But that wasn’t the only reason Pluck was considered a trendsetter. It successfully bought back two distinct concepts that were popularised in the 1990s – the samplers, or bite-sized portions of every dish, on a plate to showcase a chef’s range and the sophisticated styles of plating and menu pairing.
While Pluck and Indian Accent spearheaded the rise of modern Indian cuisine on one side, on the other, chefs like Sabyasachi Gorai revived the trend of lesser known, sub cuisine-based restaurant with Lavaash By Saby in New Delhi, a restaurant that largely focusses on lesser-known Armenian cuisine. Today, the establishment serves as a destination to explore the culture and cuisine of Armenia. Inspired, the dining scene, over the years, saw the brewing of a few more food culture-based restaurants like Mineority By Saby that serves cuisine of the mining community and Bob’s Bar, which offers traditional Karnataka cuisine. Although it wasn’t the first time that a cuisine-based restaurant was created.
Chor Bizzare, New Delhi, that serves Kashmiri delicacies, has completed nearly three decades. Restaurants like Potbelly, famous for serving Bihari cuisine in the capital and Meeraki, which serves plant-based cuisine, have given modern relevance to a heritage cuisine through the perfect marriage of ambience and relatable plating. These outlets also led to another culinary movement – hyperlocal dining, where chefs use indigenous produce to create interesting dishes. An excellent example is the current menu of Bombay Canteen in Mumbai, where chef Thomas Zacharias uses ingredients such as ponk (Gujarati snack) and bombil fish to create delicious dishes.
With local produce and traditional food becoming popular, the path was open for concepts that now showcased not only the cuisine, but also the founding principles and techniques like Royal Vega in Chennai, which was based on the principles of seasonal eating and Ayurveda; and Tuskers in Mumbai that revived the healthfulness of a traditional Indian thali.
Mumbai’s Arth, an award-winning restaurant, took the concept a step ahead with a no-gas kitchen and became the first-of-its-kind to go pan-India with its menu to bring in dishes that were cooked in the traditional way. The response of urban diners to these evolving trends has been overwhelming across metropolitan India. With more chefs and restaurants joining the bandwagon, the Indian foodie can expect more tempting surprises in the days to come.