Star chefs Himanshu Saini, Sujan Sarkar return home to treat India with their delectable master pieces
The internationally acclaimed chefs are returning home to cook modern Indian tapas.
Saini will open his restaurant Tresind in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), Mumbai. And Sarkar’s Baar Baar will open in Khan Market, Delhi.
There will be no foams and airs, no activated charcoal or faddish gimmickry. Instead, pan-Indian flavours will come with international twists and top-notch cooking. With these two star chefs heating up the space, modern Indian cuisine, a genre of food that seems to be mired in confusion and derivative dishes, is likely to get a lift. Or, so we hope.
Here’s the first peek into what to expect when you dine at the top openings of this winter.
Baar Baar: New York to New Delhi
Two of the hottest openings of Indian restaurants internationally have been Rooh in San Francisco and Baar Baar in New York in the past year and a half. The chef behind both of them is Sujan Sarkar.
He was part of the Olive Group before he had enough of the Indian market and packed his bags for San Francisco.
Rooh, which opened in 2017 as one of the first modern Indian restaurants in California, has been an undisputed success, with waiting list for a spot in its 90-cover premises stretching even for three weeks.
Earlier this year, Sarkar, emboldened by his success, decided to venture into the treacherous New York market where perceptions about Indian food have been notoriously hard to change. Even veterans like Floyd Cardoz and Manish Mehrotra have not had it easy.
Sarkar opened Baar Baar, a 180-cover “gastrobar”, which serves only tapas-style food. Though it is not easy to fill such a large space, Baar Baar has been buzzing.
Now Sarkar is bringing it to Delhi as a first-of-a-kind, long-term pop-up.
The restaurant, which will come up in Khan Market next week, will be a fivemonth pop-up, where the look and feel of the New York restaurant will be recreated — if not exactly then “somewhat”, says Sarkar. The menu will feature East Village’s star dishes — a selection of kulchas, done partly with kulcha dough and pizza flour to make it lighter, which are stuffed with braised duck and apricot-chilli jam, ham, charred pepper and manchego cheese and so on.
“I am going to focus on simple things with big flavours instead of showy plates,” says Sarkar, who plans to put a range of chutneys and achars made inhouse on the menu. Think gooseberry-mustard pickle and gongura-jalapeno chutney.
Drinks that have worked in the Big Apple — like a cocktail of caramelised coconut water and rum — will also be on the menu. The format remains strictly international, with no main courses on offer.
“If it works, we may just extend it and make the restaurant permanent,” says Sarkar.
Tresind: Dubai to Mumbai
When Tresind opened in Dubai four years ago, it redefined Indian food for an international crowd used to biryani and butter chicken. Credit for that must go to Himanshu Saini, widely regarded in restaurant circles as one of India’s most talented younger chefs.
“He is exceptionally talented,” vouches his mentor chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent where Saini started out as the latter’s understudy. It’s a judgement I agree with as I spoon up Saini’s interpretation of the pao bhaji.
Saini has done a delicate dumpling with a warm vegetable soup full of “bhaji” flavours. It’s reminiscent of southern China’s soupy dim sum that requires exceptional dexterity to make, and is just as flavourful. A tiny pao crisp tops the dish, adding texture to it.
This is modern Indian where clever thought and flavours pack a punch instead of a facile presentation.
There are other dishes too that Tresind has built its reputation on. A ghevar mille-feuille decorated with dipped-in-sugar rose petals, a cedar-smoked tandoori chicken and even a no-fuss kosha mangsho served with hearty, peas-stuffed kachori.
Saini's inspirations are home foods and pop dishes from the bazaars but their hallmark is spot-on flavours. Mumbai gets to savour these trademark dishes plus a tasting menu as Tresind opens in the competitive BKC November end.
Tresind restaurants are run by Dubai-based, Indian-origin entrepreneur Bhupender Nath's Passion F&B Management Consultancies. Nath is building a hotel-and-restaurant empire in the Middle East alongside his fisheries business in Africa. Incidentally, his paternal family owned a hotel in Patna, bang opposite a restaurant owned by chef Manish Mehrotra's family.
He says these early associations triggered a fascination with modern Indian food. He wants to take it to the world, like the Zuma restaurants that stormed the globe with modern Japanese.
After Kuwait, where Tresind opened last year, and Mumbai, there are plans to open in key cities in the Middle East.
Delhi boy Saini remembers his formative years in Daryaganj, digging into paranthas and chicken changezi at popular eateries in Old Delhi. The robustness of these flavours often inspire his own plates--there is a riff on Agra's Ram Babu Paranthas, for instance, in a creation. "I do my menu in a way that I don't miss home," he laughs.
How Mumbai takes to these creations is, of course, another matter.
(The writer looks at restaurants, food trends and culinary concepts.)