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At home with food



When the lockdown first began, very few people in the hotel and restaurant industry thought it would last for so long. They decided to sit it out for a month or so till life returned to normal.

The first Delhi hotel of consequence to realise that this could take longer than we realised was the Hyatt Regency. This is part of the mighty Hyatt chain but perhaps because it has been around so long (since 1982-83), most of its regulars treat it as a standalone. And though Hyatt seems to have taken a conscious decision to lower its profile and PR effort in India, the Regency’s image is unaffected because its staff have such strong relationships with their guests.

In no time at all, the Hyatt Regency swung into action, delivering its famous Bungla bread (named after the pastry chef who invented it) and the legendary La Piazza pizzas along with wonderful Chinese meals from The China Kitchen. For guests (like me) who preferred gluten-free products (like Bungla bread) it was almost as though the lockdown had posed no bakery problems. Himanshu Taneja (inset), Marriott’s top chef, aims to deliver the hotel experience to home dining tables

Bit by bit, other hotels began to take tentative steps into the food-to-go market. The Maurya did takeaway but no delivery. The Oberoi introduced a remarkably extensive takeaway menu and got its excellent delicatessen running again. The Pullman in Aero City put together a delivery menu and the Andaz soon delivered its famous cheesecake and other dishes from AnnaMaya.

But as the lockdown went on and as the Delhi government refused to let hotels open for one stupid reason after another, the chains upped their game.

The leader is ITC, which has taken care to actually design separate and distinct delivery products. Gourmet Couch brings Dum Pukht and Bukhara home, serving such dishes as Dal Bukhara, Dum Pukht Biryani and Barrah Kabab. It also has sub-products like the Monsoon Edition, which creates dishes based on seasonal ingredients with an emphasis on healthy eating.

The success of the Marriott and ITC will lead other hotel chains to create well thought-out delivery options, that’ll last even after the pandemic ends

Local Love focuses on dishes from various parts of India that don’t normally feature on restaurant (especially hotel restaurants) menus like the Bohri Biryani of Mumbai. In Delhi, you can get outstanding Punjabi food (which is outside the ambit of Dum Pukht and Bukhara) like Bhuna Gosht and Butter Chicken, and the Sarai Biryani.

There is also Flavours by ITC, which serves coffee-shop/room service food and is universally popular. Of the ITC offerings, I have had the Punjabi/Delhi food delivered and it was great, which was not surprising given that the Maurya has an outstanding if low profile executive chef in Rajdeep Kapoor. My son tried the Gourmet Couch delivery in Mumbai and said the food was restaurant quality.

ITC has a marketing relationship with Marriott, which is now India’s largest chain of five-star hotels. So, it is only fitting that Marriott should be the other big chain to launch a detailed assault on the delivery market. Masterminded by Neeraj Govil, the cerebral and thoughtful South Asia head of Marriott, the project started by analyzing 10,000 orders from Marriott hotels all over India.The Butter Caramel ice cream (inset) from Aditya Tripathi’s Cold Love is a must-try

Once they had worked out what people ordered and why, they were faced with a second problem: what would Marriott’s USP be in this market? If somebody was ordering pizza, why would he pay Marriott prices?

The final decision was to focus on Asian starters and high-quality main courses (many of them Indian). But they kept the burgers and pizzas anyway because when people ordered for a whole family they often wanted to order say, a pizza, for a younger member of the family.

The next step was to work at how to get the food to the guests. Marriott revived a brand that had been nurtured by its formidable marketing boss Khushnooma Kapadia: Marriott On Wheels.

Himanshu Taneja, Marriott’s top chef, has always been obsessed with sustainable packaging that kept the food hot till it was delivered, so he was determined that no pizza would arrive cold. Some dishes could not be transported in their finished form, so Taneja created DIY versions of things like pasta that came with links to videos of Marriott chefs showing how to cook them.

The idea, Taneja says, was not to provide just another delivery service but to make people feel that they had brought the Marriott experience to their dining tables. With this kind of research and effort, it is no surprise that the new Marriott On Wheels has been a great hit.

The super success of the Marriott and ITC delivery offerings will, I imagine, lead other chains to create well thought-out delivery options that will last even after the pandemic ends. The delicious food from Farzi Café is available for delivery

Meanwhile, the standalone sector bursts with ideas. As always, I make it a point to taste nearly everything that entrepreneurs say they want me to try – usually through DMs on Instagram. Here’s what I have been eating lately.

Varun Tuli, who runs Yum Yum Cha, has taken up baking in a personal capacity. I had his cheesecake and his sourdough bread recently, and marvelled at his abilities. If he keeps this up, he could expand beyond Yum Yum Cha’s East Asian food.

In another life, Aditya Tripathi used to be in the TV business. It was his idea to turn Rude Food into a TV show, which led to A Matter of Taste on Discovery Travel and Living.

Aditya now makes artisanal ice cream under the brand name Cold Love. It is wonderful, creamy, rich ice cream (without any eggs – which is hard to do) that uses no artificial flavours, colours, preservatives etc., and is made in small batches.

Aditya makes many flavours but my favourite is Butter Caramel. You can get more interesting flavours (I am a plain vanilla guy when it comes to ice cream) and you can buy Cold Love in the shops or you can just go to www.coldlove.in

Zorawar Kalra has finally entered the delivery market. His Farzi Café food is fabulous, which you would expect when India’s most under-rated chef, the super-talented Saurabh Udinia is running the kitchen.

But Zorawar is also planning delivery of Bo Tai food, which I am yet to try.

The former owners of Bernardo’s, for a long time the only place for Goan-Catholic food in Delhi, are now on their own but the food is just as wonderful. I got some excellent home-made Goan chorise sausage from Crescentia Scolt Fernandes. Goan chorise sausage from Crescentia Scolt Fernandez is excellent

The problem is that this is so much a small artisanal operation that she takes her stuff herself to a place called Super Mart in Gurgaon. She has no outlets or distribution. And as of now it is just sausages and masalas.

Far better to DM her on Crescentia Fernandes and ask her to deliver. She says she has couriered the sausages and masalas to Pune, Cochin, Kolkata, Amritsar and other parts of India.

I had the best gluten-free éclairs I have had in India from Baked Love by Vatsala, a small artisanal enterprise. They take orders on the net, so give them a try. The quality is very good.

I am told Baking Bad is quite a well-known pizza mini-chain in Delhi but I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of them till they DMed me. I tried their Walter White-themed pizzas and liked the Heisenberg but they also do a cool four-cheese pizza and an interesting twist on classic pepperoni. My wife liked their lamb burgers too.

I have known Rajesh Namby for years. He has now left the Leela group and is general manager of The Lodhi hotel in Delhi, where he is making the chef experiment with gluten- free cakes and breads. The ones I have had have been excellent.

Sticking with gluten-free, Tarun Khanna of Sprinng Foods, who I have written about before, is now doing immunity-boosting gluten-free bread. He was kind enough to courier me some but his main market remains Mumbai, where his bread is widely available.

I don’t know if gin boosts immunity but Aditya Agarwal of Samsara sent me a lavishly-packaged tiny bottle of his gin. It moves away from the traditional gin botanicals to give you Indian aromas like khus and rose petals. It is very unusual and he has successfully walked the tightrope between making a gin that smells Indian and one that smells like paan masala. The Heisenberg pizza from (inset) Saniya Puniani and Arjun Jaiswal’s Baking Bad is worth a try

Rishiv and Tarika Khattar come from a restaurant family but their latest enterprise is entirely their own. They have launched DIY food kits that don’t have a restaurant taste but give you the flavours of ambitious home cooking.

I tried their Khao Suey kit, which came with all the extras and it was really excellent. They do many other easy-to-make kits and I highly recommend them.

I used a small catering service called Marwadi Khana to order a full meal. The food was very good but I was blown away by their mithai. Their boondi laddoos are the stuff of dreams.

And finally, now that we are cooking more and more at home I’m getting my provisions, (Cheddar, chorizo, hot salami, Parmigiano, pancetta, etc.) from Mumbai’s Fortune Gourmet, who are on the net, and fortunately enough, deliver in Delhi.

As always, if you are an artisanal producer, DM me on Insta. I have a rule during this crisis: I won’t say anything bad about anybody in the food space at a time when so many businesses are facing bankruptcy. So, I’ll be happy to write about your product.

But I have to like it!

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