It is great to twine along with a plus one at the recently re-launched Diva Spiced, chef Ritu Dalmia's love song to Asian food. There is an element of amiable twinning in the way the chirpy, colourful images of fresh fish on white cutlery compliment tropicana leaves and birds cheerfully painted on the walls. Allusions to ocean breeze, fresh catch, palm fringed beaches or jade-green waters are never too obvious or exuberantly there. Even the trippy artworks on display have been hemmed in by white borders girded by white frames on off-white walls; the kitschy fascination with "quirky decor" and that "beaming, joyful" vibe—the bane of most pan-Asian restaurants—is thankfully missing at the sparkling new Diva Spiced. So, no matter how hassled or irritable you may be on your way to the restaurant, you can calm down and breathe once you come in. Savour the blues and jazz while waiting for your plus one. It's like prepping up to revisit familiar flavours with the anticipatory warmth of a long-overdue reunion.
And a warm, cosy reunion it is. Better known for her exemplary Italian food, chef Ritu Dalmia started experimenting with Asian cuisines during her travels. The result was the first Diva Kitsch in Defence Colony. The second iteration of the restaurant—Diva Spiced in Meherchand market—despite creating a buzz, had to close down due to a sealing drive. A revamped Diva Spiced is now back in business in a new address at GK1 as a 46-cover cafe. Like a dear old friend who hasn't changed much but is still a better version of their previous self, the menu retains some of the favourites from the erstwhile Diva Spiced with new additions like Kadhi Samosa and Crispy Duck, to name a few.
One should not overlook the salad section here, it almost seems de riguer with the tone and tenor of the dining space. The Citrus Prawn in Orange Chilli dressing is a sweet-sour sensation playing off textures against the chilli oil, which despite being on the sweeter side, is a pleasing combination on the whole. The crystal dumplings filled with Chinese greens, water chestnut and sesame is a must try for vegetarians; if they want to play along with the chef's more individualistic style, the Kadhi Samosa is the hidden "beaming, joyful" diversion—Dalmia's homage to her Marwari roots in Kolkata. The Ubudh style papaya and lychee curry with wok tossed glass noodles explodes with natural flavours with just the right seasoning, although one is left craving the crunch of peanuts. But it is the dessert you will be left dreaming about long after the fleeting encounter. Missing out the coconut and lemongrass panna cotta is a sacrilege; it is gorgeously light, with a slight wobble, and offers the perfect finish to a light and airy evening. The chocolate mousse with salted caramel and Matcha merangue is a glorious medley on the plate, barely a grouse there.
The food menu, mercifully, does not run into reams and the selection of cocktails is indulgent with gin which is great; it is the most low-fat, most refreshing and the most on-trend alcoholic beverage. The narrow balcony swathed in fairy lights is perfect for those smoke-addled private conversations in between meals. So next time you are planning to catch up with a long-lost friend, you know where to go.
Diva Spiced, casual dining, GK1, meal for two: Rs 2,000.