When travelling to Jaipur by road, one has to go via Gurgaon, the hub of the expat community of Delhi. Along the highway, one comes across a series of luxury and business hotels and while the area is teeming with well-known restaurants, I feel drawn to the Courtyard by Marriott. It is a business enclave and is designed to provide the frills and amenities that only an American chain can offer. Though I am usually doubtful about the quality of service in Delhi and its environs, it is a pleasant surprise to experience a meal at the Red Zen restaurant in the hotel.
For those not in the know, Red Zen is the restaurant that serves South East Asian cuisine. The restaurant is a mainstay of many Courtyard by Marriott properties across the country. It is so designed to give travellers a sense of comfort and familiarity and the comfort that South East Asian food brings to a well-heeled and extensively travelled clientele is only too familiar to all of us. South East Asian food not only transcends cultures but, as a cuisine, is easily adaptable to a range of palates since minor modifications do not disturb its impeccable balance of flavours. The balance of lemon, lime leaves, galangal, chillies, pure coconut milk and authentic sauces give the dishes a roundness that is endearing to the Indian palate.
Along one side of the Red Zen restaurant is an open kitchen where guests can sit at the counter and watch Chef Piyawat Chatchavanhans and his team whip up magic. Or if you like to enjoy your food with great conversation with your loved ones, there is comfortable seating all across the restaurant. Chef Piyawat has a strong foundation in Thai cuisine and it’s nice to see him in action, as he first swirls the oil in the wok, then adds the spices, followed by meat or vegetables and finally the rice and noodles, with just a dash of soy at the end. It’s even better to see the Chef take a break to stroll around the restaurant greeting diners with a warm smile and personally taking care to see that they are enjoying their meal.
The new menu has been toned down to cuisines from just three countries, namely, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, making it easier for the chefs to ladle out a more sumptuous meal. I wouldn’t propose that one ask the waiter for suggestions, but rather go through the menu with an adventurous mind and delve into it by moving beyond the usual sushi, dimsums and wontons.
The new menu has several exciting offerings like the Peking duck wrapped in a tiny pancake with cucumber and plum sauce, pot stickers (steamed dumplings that stick to the pot when fried) and Thai spring rolls called Kaophod which are made with glass noodles. Our meal began on a high note with exotic dishes like crispy lotus stem that was finely shaved and cooked in a medley of spices and honey and delicious Kong Hom Pha of deep fried prawns with a plum sauce.
Also on offer is the usual range of soups like miso and laksa (the spicy Malaysian dish) along with some interesting new additions. While the Japanese Udon Noodle soup with Ebi Tempura, spring onion and seaweed sounded tempting, I tasted the Vietnamese Pho, a mix of rice noodles with vegetables, topped with tenderloin, which did complete justice to the Pot cooking style. There is something very intriguing about Pot cooking… it’s an adventure in itself. You delve into a pot which contains everything you could imagine and as you search for your favourite vegetable or protein - be it the thin slices of meat or fish – all rightly cooked with soupy broth (clear broth or coconut based). You come across hints of chilli, lemongrass and tamarind which just blow you away. Coming back to the Vietnamese Pho, the hot liquid whets your appetite but the large portion tends to fill you up.
For the main course, while the menu features usual favourites like Chilli Lamb, Phad Thai and Singapore noodles, I suggest the fresh new features like fried red snapper with black bean sauce (or, for vegetarians, Lacchew Beans - stir-fried string beans with black bean sauce) and the Sam Rod, which is fish with a beautifully balanced sweet and sour sauce, served with steamed Jasmine Rice. And though the menu states the fish is deep-fried, it is also available in a healthier, grilled version. The Sichuan Chow Fun, traditional flat noodles wok fried with vegetables is also very refreshing.
Coming to the end of the meal, I was tempted to try a dessert from the selection of jasmine flavoured bean pudding, coconut poached banana and deep fried ice cream. I eventually settled on Rambuttans ice cream and green tea ice cream. The ice creams are made in-house. The Rambuttan ice cream was delicious but the green tea ice cream was too strong, with the Macha leaving a strong, slightly bitter hint on the palate. If toned down however, it can prove to be the highlight of the dessert menu.
What: A new menu
Where: Red Zen, Courtyard by Marriot Gurgaon
How much: Rs 2,500 per person exclusive of taxes