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Features

India’s buzziest restaurant dishes

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Every once in a while, restaurant food gets elevated from the passable to the sublime, and we get truly outstanding dishes that don’t just satiate hunger, but create lasting memories. That’s what iconic restaurant dishes do. Nobu’s black cod miso, Momofuku’s pork belly bao, Le Beccherie’s tiramisu, Yauatcha’s truffle and edamame dumplings and, in India, Dum Pukht’s kakori kebab, Indian Accent’s take on daulat ki chaat and kathal tacos, Gajalee’s tisre, Nelson Wang’s chicken manchurian, Monkey Bar’s café-ised vada pao and, of course, the dal at Bukhara.These days, we complain about the seeming absence of big, brave dishes that capture the imagination and seduce the palate. But there are some delicious outliers in a restaurant-scape flooded with second-hand and derivative fare. What are the dishes on recent menus — not more than two years old —that have created a buzz? Which are India’s top plates that will be remembered long after the fads are forgotten?Here’s my strictly subjective list that spans cities and restaurant categories — some already garner attention, others deserve to. Dig in!

Pear Petha, Almond Yoghurt, Amaranth Candy (Indian Accent, Delhi)

Chef Manish Mehrotra’s genius lies in refashioning the familiar in unexpected ways. He has a stunning new dessert: the traditional pumpkin sweet petha gets elevated with pear, while amaranth candy that dots the almond yoghurt is cunning take on the ramdana pattis and laddoos that Delhi so loves in winter. The commonplace becomes haute.

Poee with Chorizo Butter, O Pedro, Mumbai

Poee with Chorizo Butter, O Pedro, Mumbai

In a country stacked with packaged white bread, we don’t often realise the fine art of breadmaking. At O Pedro, it’s treated with the respect it deserves. Chef Hussain Shahzad, who trained with a traditional south Goan baker, makes the perfect poi. Baked in a wood-fire oven, when the temperature is at its peak, the poi is fluffy and browned outside, and divinely soft inside. Scoop it up with butters in flavours like chorizo, balchao and lard. If the Goan bread is becoming fashionable in restaurants even outside the state, it’s all thanks to O Pedro.

​Chandraji’s Kayasth-style Stuffed Andaa Ek Bar, Delhi

Chandraji’s Kayasth-style Stuffed Andaa Ek Bar, Delhi

This is a dish close to my heart because I witnessed its inception. For a lazy family lunch, chef Manu Chandra assembled this as a substitute for egg curry from handy ingredients in the kitchen: boiled eggs, pureed winter greens, Amul cheese slices and some fish curry masala. I couldn’t stop eating it. The restaurant dish is more refined but layers all these flavours in a bar snack that has since become very popular.

Jamun Kulfi Jamun, Delhi

Jamun Kulfi Jamun, Delhi

Is it a kulfi? Is it a sorbet? It is, for sure, the coolest thing you can eat this summer — and perhaps the next. In a sea of Instafamous but insipid dishes, Jamun Kulfi stands out not because it is so pretty and popular but because it is truly delicious and fresh. The rock salt grated on top is the perfect garnish, reminding you of childhood chuskies and berries. A simple idea, brilliantly done. You wonder why no one thought of it before.

​Kabocha Custard Bo Tai, Delhi

Kabocha Custard Bo Tai, Delhi

Restraint is a good quality for chefs when it comes to flavours and plating. Sitting in a half-tart shell, this kabocha custard is a study in that.

Bibimbap, Pumpkin Tales, Chennai

Bibimbap, Pumpkin Tales, Chennai

The restaurant created a stir because of its all-woman staff when it opened last year. Pumpkin Tales has now established itself as a destination for “continental breakfasts” and healthy dining. People rave about its bibimbap, even the Korean expats in the city. Done authentically in a hot and heavy stone bowl, has a perfect crust of rice at the base — the best way to judge a good bibimbap — and crunchy veggies, which have been cooked separately in sesame oil, at the top, with gochujang tossed in.

​Som Tam The Blue, Mumbai

Som Tam The Blue, Mumbai

The tiny Bandra restaurant has become the city’s most talked about since it opened a year ago. Co-owned by Seefah Ketchaiyo and Karan Bane, the former Thai and Japanese chefs at the Four Seasons Asian restaurant San-Qi, this one has the best Som Tam in Mumbai, crunchy and flavourful.

Red Velvet Chicken Hoppery, Hyderabad

Red Velvet Chicken Hoppery, Hyderabad

What happens when a faddish dessert meets American-style fried chicken? You have to bite into this clever dish of crispy fried, buttermilk-marinated chicken, topped with red velvet puree and garnished with cupcakes crumbs to know! The unusual combination is bound by buttermilk, an ingredient in both the cake and the chicken fry. Food for the soul and mind.

​Karara Roti The Wine Rack, Mumbai

Karara Roti The Wine Rack, Mumbai

A widely Instagrammed dish, this one is quite a good bite too. It looks like a giant saucer and is super crisp: the perfect accompaniment to vino.

​Biscuits and Gravy Sly Granny, Bengaluru

Biscuits and Gravy Sly Granny, Bengaluru

The Southern American dish has been making waves in Indiranagar — airy, light buttermilk biscuits and chunks of pork sausage in a sageand-bacon gravy. Hale and hearty.

​Millet Pizza The Kitchen Table, Goa

Millet Pizza The Kitchen Table, Goa

Millets are healthy and trending. This one is a winner — instead of flour and processed cheese, it has a thin, cracker-like base of millets and fresh bocconcini. Holiday bingeing hasn’t been this healthy.

​Kachumpuli and Amchoor Cures and Aged Ham The Smoke Co., Bengaluru

Kachumpuli and Amchoor Cures and Aged Ham The Smoke Co., Bengaluru

Gautam Krishnankutty’s restaurant has to be Bengaluru’s most exciting opening in the past year for carnivores and fans of smoked meats and sausages. These cures with traditional Indian souring agents like dried mango and the aged, fruity-sour kachumpuli of Kodava cooking make the flavours even more layered and delicious.

Miso Baked Bhetki with Broth Toast and Tonic, Bengaluru

Miso Baked Bhetki with Broth Toast and Tonic, Bengaluru

It’s goodbye to black cod in miso that waddles with its heavy carbon footprint, say hello to bhetki from Indian waters. This dish uses delicious Indian ingredients and indigenous sensibilities in a cheeky nod to the international classic at Nobu’s. The vegetable-peel broth is full of umami. Bold flavours all around.

​Sungat Diya Misa Maas Bankaahi, Assam Bhawan, Delhi

Sungat Diya Misa Maas Bankaahi, Assam Bhawan, Delhi

The last time I was there, Assam MP Gaurav Gogoi was encouraging diners to try this from his home state. Prawns in mustardbased sauce are cooked in bamboo stem. Light and fragrant.

Beef Momos Shim Shim, Kolkata

Beef Momos Shim Shim, Kolkata

A new “Himalayan” café run by chef and restaurateur Doma didi, this one is already the talk of the town for its Tibetan food and beef dishes. The momos, juicy, fatty and made from the finest undercut, may be the best in the country, and have even fussy Kolkatans queuing up.

​Butterfly Pea Flower Rice, Nara Thai, Mumbai

Butterfly Pea Flower Rice, Nara Thai, Mumbai

I hate the black food trend, which dumps activated charcoal in everything, but who can resist blue? The Thai flower called butterfly pea was used in tea decoctions as a medicinal cure. At Nara Thai, it becomes the most talked-about ingredient. The blue fried rice — which turns purple if you squeeze lime on it — may look gimmicky and is, but it is surprisingly delish too with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, wok-tossed young peppercorns and fried red chilli giving the rice its mouthful of flavour.

Fermented Chilli Chicken POH, Mumbai

Fermented Chilli Chicken POH, Mumbai

Chef Vikramjit Roy combines Asian flavours in extraordinary ways but often gets unfair criticism because of the “modernist” tag. Here he elevates a Chinjabi dish with sous vide cooking, and made-from-scratch fermented chilli paste.

​Haleem SodaBottleOpenerwala, Hyderabad

Haleem SodaBottleOpenerwala, Hyderabad

So if you are a food snob hungry for haleem, you would hunt for the best hole-inthe-wall Hyderabadi eatery during Ramzan, right? Wrong. For the last two years, SodaBottleOpenerwala in the city — its only outlet to serve haleem — has been serving a version that is more “authentic” than what you may find on a midnight crawl. A recipe of entrepreneur Shaaz Mehmood’s grandmother, a true-blue Hyderabadi, this one’s a must-try.

​Kabargah Fire, The Park, New Delhi

Kabargah Fire, The Park, New Delhi

The Kashmiri Pandit-style ribs preparation (ribs are soaked in milk overnight and then fried till tender) is different from the fattier tabak maaz. Fire has one of the best versions I have come across.

Guac-a la Table, Xico, Mumbai

Guac-a la Table, Xico, Mumbai

If avocado is a millennial fixation, Xico has the buzziest guac in the country. Here you have the perfect guacamole — creamy, chunky and balanced. Finding the right, ripe avocados is not easy in this country, where domestic quality is inconsistent and imports are expensive. Xico mixes the guac on the table, with a mortar and pestle, for the right texture.

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