Modern Indian food: London luxury edition – The Hindu

By on July 13, 2019

“What do you think of Indian restaurants here as compared to India?” asks Camellia Panjabi, grand dame of Indian restaurants, author, and director of MW Eat, which owns London’s feted luxury eateries Chutney Mary, Amaya and Veeraswamy, and the casual Masala Zone. It is not a social conversation. We are discussing the restaurant business in India and London. Panjabi’s question is in the context of the perception that Indian restaurant food in London is better than back home.

Given the spectrum of regional restaurants that exist in India, that is not true. However, as I concede to Panjabi — over an exceptional lunch at the glamorous Amaya — luxury Indian dining in London is indeed ahead of the curve. At our Amaya lunch, for instance, there are plump oysters served in a coconut sauce — an idea that seems to have been much copied. There’s perfectly tandoored raan, venison kebabs, and whole baby cauliflower procured from a single field in France.

Most high-end Indian restaurants in our country do not match up to the kind of experience I have at Amaya for more reasons than one: exclusive high-quality ingredients are rarely sourced with the same zeal; minute attention to service (warm but not deferential) and design is often missing. Finally, research into classical Indian food isn’t as prevalent in India these days, where most chefs seem focussed on presentations without rigour.

Modern Indian food: London luxury edition

What aids London’s appetite for luxury is, of course, a market that is far more evolved and deep: global travellers, high-paying domestic customers and well-heeled Indians who are increasingly staying for longer in the city. In India, where millennials spend the most, high-paying tourists are largely missing and purchasing power is less. Most people can only afford between ₹500 and ₹1,500 per person, even for “upscale casual” meals, as per various industry estimates.

  • This kind of detailed flavours are on an upswing in London now. At Indian Accent in Mayfair, where I recently collaborated with chef Manish Mehrotra on a Kayasth food pop-up, the idea was to explore this and give global diners a chance to savour recipes from a community that traces its gastronomic heritage 500 years. Thus kulle, a disappearing chaat from Shahjahanabad, yam tahiri, sweet green peas with khoya, takey paise (besan rounds), all homely dishes, made stylised appearances in a nine-course tasting menu paired with Dewar’s whisky cocktails (because Scotch is as intrinsic to Kayasth hospitality as food). “But this is not like the Indian food we know,” said Ashanti Omkar, the popular London-based BBC radio presenter who champions South Indian films and music through her show. However, as we tasted badam pasande, an old dish of special occasions, it was another boundary breached.

From the 1990s to now

Modern Indian food, as we dub it today, was born in London. In 1990. Namita Panjabi, who worked in fashion, and her husband Ranjit Mathrani, who worked in high finance, started what would become the iconic Chutney Mary, with Camellia, as an informal advisor. “We called it Chutney Mary because we thought the food should be like chutney trying to be Mary. Traditional but elevated,” she recalls.

This became a blue print for other influential restaurants in the next three-four years. Chefs Vineet Bhatia (he joined Star of India in 1993 and then Zaika, which got a Michelin star) and Atul Kochhar (whose Tamarind also got a Michelin star) presented food that married Indian spicing with luxury ingredients, serving these in “posh” settings. Salmon tikka and chocomosas (chocolate samosas) started connoting luxury Indian in London and had no counterpart in India.

Then, in 1999, Sriram Aylur, the first chef of Karavali in Bangalore, was brought in by the Taj to start a modern Indian restaurant devoted to Southwest coastal food. Dining at Quilon is still a revelation. My server is Italian but waxes eloquent about badam ka halwa. The tasting menu is paired with craft beers selected by the chef personally. And star dishes include scallops with poppy seeds, batter fried prawns and Malabar biryani. As you taste them, the provenance is clear. Nuanced spicing and detailing that come from Aylur’s vast experience in learning traditional recipes are elevated. This is modern Indian but with a classical soul.

Modern Indian food: London luxury edition

Ditching the curry

Luxury Indian dining in London is being redefined by this sense of “authenticity” and going back to roots. Restaurants like Brigadiers, Jamavar and Kochchar’s latest, which focusses on food from the Northeast states, are all attempting menus with regional nuances. Indian restaurant companies such as Indian Accent and Farzi Café, a recent entrant, also help beat the curry stereotype because they are making food that is “really” being eaten in India and not some notional version of it. It is an important effort. London’s always eaten more luxuriously, now, it is time to appreciate the nuances too.

Source Article from https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/modern-indian-food-london-luxury-edition/article28408097.ece
Modern Indian food: London luxury edition – The Hindu
https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/modern-indian-food-london-luxury-edition/article28408097.ece
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