In Persian, it means an emperor’s private dining chamber, one used on rare occasions when the royal was not breaking bread with ministers and favourites. And Kainoosh does manage to convey an air of super exclusivity — despite being located in a mall and despite serving up Indian khana to a primarily Indian audience (as yet). But then, consultant, TV chef and restaurateur Marut Sikka’s latest venture does dish out stylised portions that are more likely to remind you of an evening spent pecking at dainty tapas rather than gorging on Pandara Road portions.
But first, the look: Is it the touch of Sikka’s fashion designer wife that we see reflected in the ambience? It may not be wrong to conjecture as much. A mural by the otherwise reticent fashion designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, known more for his bandhgalas than restaurant interiors, occupies pride of place. The roof shows off dull gold foil, which I’ve always thought of as being a nouveau fad in Delhi’s papaji-land. But, it perhaps reinforces the ethnic in this otherwise contemporary space. However, the most striking touch comes by way of stone jaalis, hung out like curtains, that form the perfect, understated backdrop to this “modern Indian restaurant”. They will remind you rather of The Aman New Delhi, once again a space that’s both chic and contemporary and “Indian” at once. On the other hand, millions have been wasted by those with more money than sense on doing up restaurant interiors rather than focus on that one essential: good food. Luckily, that poses no problem for Sikka. Like his cook book and much of his cooking (not necessarily on the idiot box), the dishes are bursting with diverse flavours—often unexpected. So, don’t go looking for merely the perfect mahi (fish) tikka with an Amritsari marinade. Here, tandoored pomfret may come dressed up in Bengali kashundi, Punjabi ajwain and a third portion smeared in Goan balchao. A produce of the western waters laced with flavourings from the east, north and south each. Here is united India — on a platter!
The premise is simple. Almost like a tapas meal, you are encouraged to order as many small portions of appetizers as you can tuck in. Each portion comes in the form of a “trio” — of prawn, fish, lamb or paneer — comprising just three pieces. And each of these pieces is imbued with a different flavour. I can only imagine the headache this kind of plating must be causing the kitchen staff. Nevertheless, we succeeded in going through almost the entire menu (between three of us), helped along by some innovative cocktails — from a gulukand or pomegranate laced one (too sweet) to the bubblegum martini (refreshing).
On my must try list: The roti-wrapped roasted chicken with apricot chilli masala, actually comes covered in a crispy taftan-like bread and is an interesting take on the way a tandoori raan (whole leg of lamb) may be famously done elsewhere (Bukhara). Lamb spare ribs stewed in milk are a take on the Kashmiri tabak maaz (the only instance in Indian cuisine where spare ribs are used) but are much more tender and flavourful (they are chargrilled and infused with a green chilli masala!). But being a closet vegetarian, what I will come back for are the jumbo morels, stuffed with roasted almonds and pomegranate. That was the dish of the day for me. If you insist on a main course, there is a bespoke thali where you can customize your meal (choose six vegetarian or non-vegetarian options). Sikka’s trademark has always been his extensive use of diverse spices and the curries come infused with the goodness of cardamom, coriander, mace, saffron et al. You can’t fault any preparation. The service is gleaming silver. Yet, after the high of the “appetisers”, the thali is somewhat of a dip. If you are in a hurry, settle for one. But it’s really the Indian “tapas” that make the finest cut.
(Out of five)
DLF Promenade, Vasant Kunj Tel: 9560715544/33
Meal for two (avg): Rs 2,400