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Culture of tasting menus has finally come of age in India



The view of the Mehrauli greens from the restaurant’s window is soothing on a hot summer day. The imposing Qutab Minar is also clearly visible. Rooh, a new restaurant in Delhi, is perfectly located to catch some stunning glimpses of the historic city.

It is a testimony to the chef’s prowess and therefore, as the evening progresses, it is the food on the table that holds our undivided attention, not the pretty setting. Inside the kitchen, chef Sujan Sarkar and his deputy, chef Priyam Chatterjee, are busy orchestrating a 12-course tasting menu.

Dishes arrive in quick succession: pork vindaloo set atop a light, flaky doughnut, baked aloo parantha made with fermented dough and accompanied with a gently spiced tomato pickle, duck shami kebab with apple sauce and a parmesan biscuit and then comes what I think is the star dish — scallops “sixty five” with what is described as rice hollandaise. As you taste the hollandaise, all the flavours fall into place.

Here is a creamy riff on curd rice drizzled with curry leaf oil and sprinkled with podi — a fitting accompaniment to the plump scallops in a gentrified “sixty five” masala reminiscent of chicken 65.


Comforting, elegant and chic, all at once. Tasting menus are designed to show off a chef’s skill and imagination and this one is a gourmet’s delight. Sarkar has hit it out of the park. Rooh is one of the most remarkable new restaurants to have opened anywhere in the country, not just because of this quality of cooking but also for a remarkable menu.


Given how little tasting menus are understood in India and how scant the demand for them has been till now, it is not an easy business decision. However, these new menus underscore how serious certain chefs are about placing creativity over business.


Not Omakase, Not Prix Fixe
Tasting menus have become trendy as a mark of exclusivity and luxury dining the world over. Expensive restaurants such as those on the World’s 50 Best List usually offer only these to show off the chef ’s prowess and philosophy. Guests, who may fly in from different parts of the globe, sometimes do not even know what the menu will be apart from some star dishes known from Instagram feeds of these restaurants. They do not know the order of the courses (which may range from a dozen to two) and when and how a few surprises will be popped in between. Needless to say, these are pricey dinners costing between $200 and $400 per person.


While patrons of luxury dining internationally seek out these exclusive menus, it is common for many others to be confused about what these are. Many people, for instance, confuse tasting menus with prix fixe, which are just fixed price menus of three, four or five courses. The intent is to give several courses for a relatively reasonable sum of money instead of a menu tailored to show off a chef’s creativity.


Omakase, another term loosely thrown about as a substitute for tasting menus, is typically when Japanese chefs offer sushi and sashimi depending on the day’s fresh catch. So while a diner does not know what he is getting next (similar to how many chefs work their tasting menus), the courses depend on what is the fresh catch that day.


In India, this idea of dining is hardly understood. At Masque, chef Prateek Sadhu has been offering frequently changing tasting menus without any physical menu for two years. But it is only now that customers have started getting comfortable with this.

“When we started, people used to be perplexed because there was no menu to refer to. It is only now, thanks to social media and because we have so many international travellers who come specially to eat, that people are more comfortable. A restaurant going with just a tasting menu needs to be patient in India and not be disheartened if there are just two tables on a Saturday night initially!” says Sadhu.


Price is a deterrent for most in India. People do not want to spend nearly Rs 7,000 per person on a meal (though less than at most international restaurants). Then there is some resistance to the idea of long and structured meals, “since in India, people come in large family groups, where not everyone is equally interested in food,” says chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent.

While Mehrotra was among the first to introduce tasting menus in India, he continues to have a la carte options too.

“Because in India, we depend on repeat clientele unlike abroad, where top luxury restaurants have a larger pool of tourists and foodie travellers booking in,” he says.

However, the times may be changing. At Indian Accent now, 75% of sales come from tasting menus. Then, there are younger chefs like Rahul Pereira Gomes of Jamun who also offer tasting menus to small groups of foodies who pre-book. Gomes combines French techniques with Indian flavours at his recently launched restaurant — “not for any commercial gain but just an exercise in creativity, for a chef to grow,” he says. With the chefs dishing it up, foodies at least have better options to try tasting menus and experience high-quality dining.

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