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Customised dishes and regional cuisine are tickling taste buds across India

Rediscovering recipes: Thomas Zacharias, chef partner, The Bombay Canteen, is bringing back regional cuisine to the modern kitchen.

LUXURY IS THE FREEDOM to experience new tastes,” says restaurateur Zorawar Kalra, who has gone all out to present the most delectable seafood dishes from across the globe at his newest eatery, Rivers to Oceans, in Mumbai. He travelled the world for a year, scouting the best sea bass from Chile, mussels from New Zealand, hamachi from Japan, scampi from Andhra Pradesh and black cod from the Gulf of Alaska, to curate an exotic dining experience for the discerning in India. “There was no high-end restaurant catering to seafood lovers in Mumbai,” he says. “So, we decided to introduce this concept, our most luxurious restaurant so far. We have also introduced the country’s only champagne and caviar bar here.”

Looking to capture the interest of young, experimental Indians, Kalra and his team of 28 chefs have designed a 15-course tasting menu, paired with a large selection of champagne and caviar. “The millennials are spending more money than ever before on drinking and eating out. While their parents used to go out twice a month, they party every other night and look for fresh experiences,” says Kalra. “At Rivers to Oceans, we have ticked every box under luxury. The ingredients are flown in every week from world over, and each dish is prepared with great care. Our kitchen is equipped with the funkiest gadgets, including a Robata grill from Josper that uses charcoal very effectively to smoke the food better.”

The restaurant also offers an à la carte menu for those looking for a light yet refreshing meal. And, Kalra has been smart enough to keep the vegetarians in mind, too. “One must definitely try our tiger prawn thermidor, braised mussels and the homemade corzetti with wild mushroom stuffed morsels,” says Kalra.

Luxury dining is not a hoity-toity affair anymore. Diners at the top of the pecking order are done with their Michelin-starred meals at fancy locations; they are looking for ethically sourced produce (one that is grown and purchased in a responsible and sustainable way), presented on highly customised menus for communal gatherings. So, the trend is getting celebrity chefs to think out of the box and indulge food lovers with special pop meals at unexpected venues. “Black-tie and tuxedo dinners are out of fashion now,” says celebrity chef Vineet Bhatia. “The millennials go for casual, trendy and chic five-course meals at places where they can drink with friends and then head out for dancing.”

Riot of colours: truffled lobster and caviar.

While the new generation is all for experimentation, there is a lot of importance given to the health quotient in dining. That is the reason why there is a surge in Japanese restaurants and authentic Pan-Asian eateries across India. “People eat sensibly these days. They are going slow with butter-laden curries and opting for Oriental food, which is sumptuous and healthy,” says Bhatia, who is widely known as the father of modern Indian cuisine. The first chef to earn a Michelin star for an Indian restaurant, Bhatia rose to fame with his edgy creations like khandvi with crab meat and chocolate samosas. “I experimented with traditional Indian cuisine for the sake of survival in London. If I would have offered idlis with miso sambhar podi masala to Indians ten years ago, they would have killed me for it! I appreciate how regional cuisine is coming back in vogue and that is very promising for the Indian dining scene,” says Bhatia.

A self-confessed ‘food geek’, Thomas Zacharias, chef partner at The Bombay Canteen, is one of the few people bringing back the flavour of nostalgia in modern kitchens. He has travelled the country’s length and breadth to hunt forgotten regional recipes and present them in the most enticing avatars at his restaurant in Mumbai. “As a chef, I am trying to redefine ‘cool’,” he says. “We want to show Indian food in a new light and get people excited about regional recipes. At our restaurant, we change the menu very often by bringing the good, old Indian ingredients back in the kitchen.” Zacharias has got diners hooked to stuff like flaky malabar parathas, topped with goat’s tongue sauteed with spicy onion masala. “There are over 300 dishes that I want to present, and we have only grazed the surface so far,” he says. “I am now collaborating with regional cuisine experts to bring the experience closer to our traditional eating habits.” The chef is also betting big on locally sourced produce and Indian variations instead of western influences in day-to-day dining. “We are making millets cool and offering them over quinoa, which is a western produce,” he says. “My favourite hashtag is ‘Indian Food Movement’, and I want to reach out to as many people as I can through social media to popularise the idea.”

Panellists' pick

* Heli Lounge Bar, Kuala Lumpur: This helipad-turned-lounge bar is a must-visit. Besides its heady cocktails, the bar offers a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers; if you are looking to shake a leg, head to the two floors below the bar for a rocking DJ night

* Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, Paris: The world’s most celebrated French restaurant (Michelin-starred, of course!) is known for its unique culinary experiences. Right from the presentation to the taste, everything here is absolutely fresh and one of its kind

* The French Laundry, California: Housed in a historic building from the 1920s, this restaurant in the heart of Napa valley offers a new menu every day. The ingredients are sourced from a culinary garden right outside the dining area. While guests can choose from a variety of new dishes, there are regulars like salmon cornets and cheesy gougères that one must not miss

* Indian Accent, New Delhi: Chef Manish Mehrotra’s best gift to the fine dining scene in India, this place is not for the weak-hearted. It will challenge your taste buds with fusion at its best—paneer lasagna, truffle-flavoured wild mushroom kulcha and more

* Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy: Known for its playful approach to classic Italian cuisine (think lasagna with just crispy bits), the Osteria Francescana is an extension of Chef Massimo Bottura’s artistic personality. Nostalgic flavours presented with a modern flair make the restaurant one of the top 50 fine dining places across the globe