Subtlety in opulence

Updated: Jan 5 2014, 07:11am hrs
Dining out has never felt so much like dining in, especially given that I am speaking of a world-famous restaurant like Le Cirque, rumoured to be the most expensive restaurant in India. And that is the first thing that strikes you about Le Cirque at The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri, New Delhiits casual chic vibe that is synced with an understated decor-style, giving the restaurant a muted air of intimacy. A stroll through the wine cellar, tucked discreetly behind the bar, reveals an impressive collection of new and old wines from around the world, not to mention the Chateau Petrus waiting to be picked. And that is the first impression one gets of Le Cirque and its philosophy of subtle opulence that rises above commonplace elegance. However, unlike other fine-dining restaurants, it doesnt overwhelm and that has to be its USP.

With 144 covers, three private dining rooms, a bar and an option of al fresco seating, there is space for every kind of mood and entertainment. A special chefs table may be reserved for a one-on-one interaction with Le Cirques chef, Mickey Bhoite, who brings his Indian roots and Italian upbringing to the kitchen, creating one-of-a-kind dishes like the masala tea tiramisu and a chikoo dessert.

For dinner, I am given a course-wise set menu that extrapolates the culinary range of the restaurant. I turn down the foie gras for my own ethical dining reasons, but the rest is hard to resist. Courses that range from a double-cooked mozarella starter to a delicately-flavoured Dover sole that melts in the mouth are brought to the table with charming precision. The plate presentation is understated (I am beginning to see this as a signature) and doesnt detract from the food. The cover layout and cutlery is minimalistic and doesnt intimidate with a show of multiple course-wise knives and forksthese are replaced at regular intervals and before the next course is served. So discreet is the service that one doesnt realise you are being guided to eat with the right dining instruments without having to make a choice, lest you should err. And havent we all It is this gentle sensitivity that underlines the service sequence and re-enforces my belief that for a fine-dining restaurant, Le Cirque is remarkably comfortable.

For me, the standout dish is one that most would define as comfort food Italian-stylethe risotto. In this instance, it is the Risotto Acquerello with Verona Radicchio. Reminiscent of Romeo + Juliet You may be forgiven, for the romance that one spoonful of this mind-bogglingly delicious dish releases is something I am yet to experience in all my years of eating and having worked in Italian restaurants. The risotto and pasta being the most common after meal bite that temperamental Italian chefs are willing to toss your way. Believe me when I say this, in all my risotto-eating experience, this is, quite simply, the finest I have ever tasted. And it is most appropriate that something as familiar as the risotto would sway me this way to a restaurant that is increasingly becoming a place of comfortable indulgence.

I can now see why the stressed-out corporate executive or businessman would choose this as an option for after-hours (formal/informal) entertainment. The non-intrusive service style, the extensive bar menu and wine list coupled with a no-fuss, but highly innovative culinary repertoire that promises a unique dining experience would indeed check all the boxes when it comes to entertaining in style.

Small things like the distance between the tables, should you choose not to book a private dining room, ensure privacy and give this 144-cover restaurant an expansive feeling, lending a whole new meaning to the subtle art of table alignment. A view of the open kitchen is an interesting conversational diversion and the simple food presentation that underlines the gourmet experience titillates the taste buds, making the experience memorable.

In the end, Le Cirque is a revelation. I must admit to being a little skeptical of fine-dining restaurant chains and the standardisation of what makes them truly unique makes me suspicious and almost always prepared to be disappointed. I am far more likely to try a standalone gem. But when food philosophy is transported in a way that Le Cirque manages to do, without the requisite pretensions, I am charmed. And a little more open to the idea of going to another iconic restaurant and discovering for myself, if anything has been lost in translation.

Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in

India and abroad.