Hemant Oberoi was feeding diners brie and truffle naans before Gaggan Anand left cooking school; he was the Taj Group’s only ever grand-chef (no mere “master,” please note); he introduced fine dining to India the way the French chefs did for the rest of the world. After four decades with the Taj and two very successful restaurants in San Diego and Singapore, he’s home. How could we not pay our respects?
Level one – Superfan
To fans such as ourselves, everything here is charged with meaning. Old-school décor with opulent mahogany-coloured walls and lush green accents plays off a distinctly modern menu (European with inspiration from Latin American and Japanese dishes). All the servers – our little table alone is attended by four – wear pristine white butler gloves, even to dust away invisible bread crumbs we might inadvertently have scattered while mopping up the last smidge of cheese in a soufflé. And oh, that moment when Chef Hemant himself coming out with escargot! Be still, beating hearts.
Underneath the dazzle, the meal itself is bittersweet eating. It’s a dry day, so we’re forced to begin with an amuse-bouche we initially mistake for a spherical take on chevre. Delightful surprise: it’s actually creamy milk whisked with freshly grated nutmeg. Think of a savoury version of makhan malai, aka daulat ki chaat.
Level two – Overeat
With an amuse this good, we greedily order four appetizers and are punished for gluttony: only two are really rewarding. If you, too, had your life changed with a first mouthful of camembert dariole at the Zodiac Grill, this restaurant’s light-as-a-cloud brie and truffle soufflé is the best way to relive that memory. Escargot isn’t just a box to check on your culinary bucket-list: sweet, juicy and sauced with just the right amount of herbed butter, these might just be the best snails east of Paris (even if the restaurant imports them from Japan).
Encouraged by our avocado nigiri experience at The Blue, we order Peru-shi – supposedly a Latin American/vegetarian take on a maki roll, really like any other spicy tempura roll. Duck liver torchon scores a ten on presentation, but loses on flavour: the rich gamey-ness of the liver is overpowered by the sweetness of accompanying kumquat and figs.
Chef Hemant used to take pains to import Wagyu for Wasabi, but there’s no beef to be spotted anywhere on the menu. We bury our disappointment in lobster and pork belly. The belly is perfectly pressed – so brick-like and precise is the execution that this could be the building block of a second Great Wall Of China. (What? If “distract the enemy with delicious things” isn’t in The Art Of War, it should be.) Chewy black rice risotto complements the dish’s melting lusciousness well. Lobster tails are flawlessly butter-poached, and well-matched with the heat of smoky-sweet panca chilli aioli.
Did someone say dessert?
But then our server insists we try chocolate shwarma, the restaurant’s signature tableside creation. It pains us to recollect what follows: a clumsy attempt at dragging a small portable shawarma grill to our table, only to discover that a wire – even with a hastily summoned electrician and his extension cord – isn’t long enough. We are left watching a panicking chef trying to shave slivers from a wheel of chocolate-like substance that’s liquefying faster than the polar ice-caps. What finally arrives at table – chocolate cake with a side of delicious house-made rose ice-cream – is good, albeit melted.
Everyone is permitted the odd hiccup, of course, and you may be saying to yourself that this meal doesn’t sound too bad. It isn’t, and if you leave out the staggering bill, it might even be great. But considering this dinner was produced by an honest-to-goodness culinary legend at his flagship kitchen, are we wrong to want exceptional? We’ll go back to test these assumptions further – just as soon as the cousin with the black AmEx returns to town.
Getting there: Ground Floor, Jet Airways Godrej Building, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai. Call: 022 26534757. A meal for two with a round of drinks will approximately cost Rs 8,000; our meal, without alcohol, cost Rs 12,000 plus tax.
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