Foreign restaurant chains like Burger King, Nando’s and Carl Jr may have successfully entered the Indian market, but Indian cuisine(s) in exciting new formats still seems to be the proverbial hot bun in the capital. The mantra seems to be simple — developing new-age inventive desi chic menus that go miles beyond experimental, while making sure they taste good — offering the millennial generation some familiarity in terms of flavours, with a cool twist.
Indian Accent at The Manor was probably the first restaurant in the city to recognize the appeal of a well-crafted Indian fusion menu. The success of restaurants such as SodaBottleOpenerwalla, Monkey Bar, Farzi Café and The Potbelly Rooftop Café has only validated our belief in the idea of slickly repackaging wholesome Indian food with western influences and serving it up with a side of nostalgia.
According to Pooja Sahu, owner of The Potbelly Rooftop Café, a restaurant that serves authentic Bihari cuisine, Delhi’s palate seems to have evolved over the course of the last two years. “I remember a time when people would come to the restaurant and ask if we had chilli chicken or paneer. It used to be quite annoying sometimes. There is now a definitely a clamour for different tastes and cuisines and I find more people are willing to try and appreciate what we serve,” Sahu adds.
Regional cuisine and street food, therefore, are getting their day in the sun, a far cry from times when the ‘cool kids’ would scrunch their noses at the same. So, we have a Palak Patta Chaat from the ghaats of Benaras that sits prettily in Cafe Lota’s menu or the ubiquitous Mumbai vada pav in fanciful adaptations and versions adorning the menus of many a restaurant in the capital. Spaces like Farzi Café, serve vada pav tapas style with the pav filled inside the vada and garnished with garlic chutney, Social in Defence Colony gives Mumbai’s favourite street delicacy a Pan-Asian twist and serves it up in a fluffy Bao.
Monkey Bar too, is gravitating to our rich culinary roots and reinventing some classic Indian dishes with a modern flair. “Regional food is the main focus at Monkey Bar and traditional desi dishes have been adapted, tweaked, made hugely playful and placed comfortably in a setting at the gastro-pub that immediately puts customers at ease. The idea is to create an interest in the wide variety of regional cuisine and make it more popular with the young generation,” says Chef Manu Chandra, Executive Chef at The Monkey Bar. The Laal Maas Phulka Tacos here brilliantly marry Rajasthani sensibilities with a Mexican flair while the Sindhi Dal Pakwan gets a bite-sized makeover on the eclectic menu. In fact, lesser explored regional cuisine seems to be the new flavour of the town with places like The Potbelly Rooftop Café (Bihari nuggets), SodaBottleOpenerWala (Irani culture), Rustom’s (Parsi cuisine – check it here) and Yeti (the Himalayan Kitchen that serves up food from Nepali, Tibetan, Bhutanese and the North Eastern frontier) dishing up quirky flavours in creative and exciting ways.
The innovation though doesn’t seem to be only limited to food. Flavours of childhood compete for attention in the cocktail bars of most restaurants, with mixers experimenting with classic delights like Aam Panna and Banta. So while Monkey Bar’s Maanga (Aam Panna+Vodka) is a wonderful version of Aam Panna cocktail, Farzi Cafe has a section entirely dedicated to Banta cocktails and gleeful chuskis.
It is not easy to determine just how long a trend lasts, but with more and more restaurants stepping on the bandwagon, it seems that Delhi is only just getting started on the journey.