By Vishnu Makhijani
Gurugram — It can’t get any more niche than this: A curated eight-course meal, accompanied by four different wines, only on Saturdays, within a tony club, arguably the swishest in this tech hub adjacent to the national capital, restricted to 14 diners and one that doesn’t really burn a hole in the pockets of those who want to raise fine dining to the next level.
“We aim to appeal to the Epicurean palate and deliver a unique fusion of flavours, textures and taste in epic proportions,” says Executive Sous Chef Abhishek Gupta of the Leela Ambience hotel here who has been serving out the special Epic Global Cuisine at the otherwise members-only Elitaire Lounge.
“Food is a journey, we create our stories with food for your eyes through our belief and for your palate,” explained Gupta, who has worked in Copenhagen’s Noma eatery, a Michelin two star-awardee and one of the world’s leading restaurants.
“My close work with the research and development team at Noma led me to understand the nuances of their unique dishes. Creatively using local and international produce, I have prepared a signature menu in which the ingredients are given a flavourful progression keeping the global nature of the cuisine in mind,” he said.
To this end, using both ancient and modern cooking styles, he has achieved a perfect balance in cooking, thoughtful flavours and imaginative presentation.
What adds to this delectable menu, enticing the five senses, is soothing music, soulful aromas and delicately decorated table spreads with a touch of luxury.
Without much ado, Gupta came up with the first course, freshly squeezed juice of fermented beetroot — served in a largish, hollowed out beetroot with the stem of a spring onion serving as a straw.
“A batch of beets takes 72 hours at 25 degrees Celsius to evolve in an anaerobic atmosphere,” explained Gupta, who believes in gathering influences from global food cultures to make his cooking unique.
Then, in a bowlful of grain, came a finger millet tart — edamame beans and green peas cooked in their own juices, sour bread sauce, picked roses and seaweed dust, all this in a tart the size of a Rs 10 coin.
“Flour from the millet crop, common to many cuisines, compressed to a small bite,” Gupta explained.
Next up was fresh milk curd and stewed carrots — home-style-cooked yellow and black carrots with fenugreek, fermented black carrot syrup and a small methi parantha.
Nice and crunchy, with the parantha being the perfect accompaniment, this certainly reminded me of something.
“Inspiration from gajar-methi vegetable cooked at home,” Gupta wondered. Spot on!
A Sileni Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand was served with the first three offerings and it was then time to switch to a Grover Vijay Amritraj Viognier from India for two courses.
First up was tawa chicken brulee — tender chicken braised with yoghurt, coriander and chilli, served with crisp borage leaves and celery salt. The crisp caramalised crust provided quite a contrast to the tender chicken under it, almost like a paste.
“The core from poultry should never go wasted. The flavour lies within, so we should respect each part,” Gupta explained.
Up next was an idli podi spiced preserved garden of pickled courgette, cucumber and roasted young shallots arranged around the plate with a smoked quail egg at the centre.
“The thought of breakfast in bed was what inspired me to create this on the plate,” Gupta offered. It made for quite a visually pleasing sight.
A South African Niel Joubert Pinotage then took over for the next two courses, beginning with delicately crispy Maharashtrian Koliwada shrimps and lamb in the forest — grilled lamb with duo of fennel and barley; roasted pumpkin and ginger; and nasturtium and parsley emulsion.
The portions were reasonable but more than adequate for a small eater like me; so I only picked at the eighth course — three varieties of desserts accompanied by a Chandon Rose from India, to which, needless to say, I did full justice.
What, then, was for dessert? A sea salt, jaggery and cape gooseberry lolly; lacto fermented berries, citrus soil, fresh mint sorbet and cotton candy; and Indian plums four different ways.
In sum, quite a meal, quite an experience.