Heading out to a fine dining restaurant is an exciting experience but what makes it even better is the thought of indulging in fine Indian cuisine. What exactly is Indian Modern Cuisine and what makes it different from what we eat everyday? Modern Indian is all about playing with the flavours that we know so well, avoiding the use of a myriad spices and focusing on the taste of the proteins and vegetables. Combined with the plating skills that are so well accepted in western countries, the play on plating takes Indian food to newer heights, but it moves away from the old concept of “family portions”.

Walking in to Ziya at The Oberoi is an experience that one won’t forget easily. The mild lighting and well-spaced tables all create an ambience of opulence. Whilst I have always respected The Oberoi’s sense of style and décor, I found it strange that they would partner with a chef that’s so different from their tastes. I was there to experience their new whisky paired menu. The restaurant is not overly done up and the white textured walls and elegant panelling make it easy on the eyes. The setting is romantic and with a view of the Arabian Bay on one side, you can sit and enjoy yourself without any intrusions. The white linen, gold textured cutlery and gold presentation plates all indicate that you are in for a treat. The meals are designed by Vineet Bhatia who has two Michelin stars to his credit and has worked at The Oberoi group before moving to the UK.

Whisky pairing

When one hears about dishes like Makhani Ice-Cream served with Rice, and Tomato Soup with Bloody Mary Jelly served with Grilled Asparagus, one wonders at how Modern Indian cuisine has progressed and will be received. It was a pleasant surprise to witness a great combination of good whisky and Indian food. With the ‘Whiskey Prestige Menu’ you can do both and yes, it is a novel and delightful experience. Glenfiddich is a scotch that blends well easily with Indian food. It is a good single malt that comes from a single distillery from Scotland and is aged for years in wooden casks which give it its distinct “oakey” and slightly oily feel. Good malt must be drunk from a glass that tapers at the mouth, trapping the aromas and sending them straight to your nose as you sip. You never down it in one gulp but roll it around your palate and imbibe all the flavour distinguished by a salty and smoky aroma which only increases with the age of the scotch. These warm flavours linger on your tongue and being so complex, are usually difficult to combine with the spiciness of Indian food. If done wrong, the clash of flavours on the palate can easily ruin the experience – however I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case here.

Modern Indian cuisine

Coming to the food we enjoyed, the amuse bouche was a sabudana wada daintily served with a light tamarind sauce – though a bit oily, the sabudana was perfectly cooked but a bit down market for me. The fiery Hirvi Fish - tandoori grilled fish marinated in coriander paste - was artistically plated with a sauce which would have been ideal had it just been sweet enough to break the spiciness of the fish. With the fish, which had been plated on black slate, a dollop of sun-dried tomato flavoured upma was present. It was a beautiful twist on the usual tomato upma, and the dish was a bit of a surprise feature on a fine dining menu. The robust 12 year old Glenfiddich paired with the fish contrasted with the chilli of the marinade, but complemented the upma pretty well. I had opted for the chicken main, and I found the ‘Dhaba’ Punjabi Chicken Masala with Potato tikki delicious! Not only was the dish a well-presented one, but the flavours were not too strong and the subtle nuances of clove and cardamom were heightened by the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old. The ‘Smoked Bevda Prawns’ (Drunken Prawns) or rather prawns spiced up and then flambéed in whisky made me wonder why one would want to flambee with a single malt, specially as the flavours didn’t reflect in the dish and gave the impression of a waste of great spirit.

The most refreshing delight was the sorbet made of ginger and lychee which went very well with the scotch and Darjeeling tea that was used to prepare it. The revitalising notes on the palate certainly prepared one for the final course. The slivers of raan mussalam cooked in the tandoor and served upon a cake of spinach and wheat were excellent. The vegetarian options of paneer served upon a potato tikki and a beetroot galauti with a smoked tomato sauce also had interesting flavours.

I waited with anticipation for the dessert and was a bit disappointed to find a mousse served as an end to an Indian meal. However, the whisky and coffee mousse served with candied walnuts and truffles was delicious and being paired with the musky and warm Glenfiddich 21 Year Old, it did indeed turn out to be a fine end to a perfect meal.

What: Modern Indian cuisine and The Whiskey Prestige Menu

Where: Ziya, The Oberoi, Mumbai

How much: A meal for two costs approximately Rs 4,500 without alcohol; the seven-course gourmand meal for two is priced at Rs 6,700 without alcohol. Whiskey Prestige Menu: Rs 4,825 for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus.

You can also try:

Tuskers, Sofitel Mumbai

Masala Kraft, The Taj Mahal Palace

(The author is a Cordon Bleu chef and Food Stylist)

(This article was published on August 13, 2012)
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