'Star'gazing in India

Written by Anoothi Vishal | Anoothi Vishal | Updated: Oct 30 2011, 07:49am hrs
The Michelin Red Guide has to be the most anticipated (and reviled) of gastronomic publications annually. Despite its haiku-like reviews, a non-transparent way of judging restaurants that has been successfully used to build its brand, and the widely-held perception that it tends to favour only white-tableclothed, Frenchified restaurants, the guide holds unparalleled sway over the imaginations of chefs, restaurateurs and the eating-out populace.

This October has been notable for two reasons: one, the publication of the Michelin guides to restaurants in various cities around the globe has been brought forward (from January next year to now). Two, for the first time in history, Japan has overtaken France as the destination with the most Michelin stars. The latest edition has 29 three-star restaurants in Japan as compared to Frances 25. (There are a total of 296 Michelin star restaurants now in Japan.)

The rise of the Land of the Rising Sun as the worlds gourmet capital is expected. We all know that like money, gourmet-chicness, too, is moving east, to Asia. And though the Michelin people have been relatively slow in recognising, say, Indian and Chinese restaurants, these grand cuisines and markets undoubtedly deserve to be on the hitlist.

The Indian market for one has been rapidly acquiring sophistication and as a top young chef, who runs two of Indias most stylish restaurants, says, he can think of at least 30 restaurants in the country that can be serious contenders for a star if not more. I do agree with the argument that when it comes to a) the quality of ingredients, b) skill in preparing these, c) creativity, d) consistency and e) value for moneythe five criteria on which anonymous Michelin inspectors supposedly judge any restaurantan increasing number of Indian restaurants make the cut.

So if the Red Book does come to the country todaythere seem to be no plans yetwhat would (or should) be its top picks We did a little stargazing after consulting some chefs/critics/restaurateurs:

l Dum Pukht, Delhi: Regional Indian food is the toughest category to crackanything from Trishna/Gajalee to Punjab Grill or Kainoosh, or five star favourites Konkan Caf or Karavalli of the Taj or ITCs Dakshin (in Chennai) make for honourable competitionbut the Delhi Dum Pukht is a cut above the rest.

In fact, if there is a restaurant that deserves a three-star rating, it is the newly-refurbished Delhi Dum Pukht. (The brands other outlets elsewhere in the country may not leave you so excited though.) The service is impeccable, dignified and transports you into a nawabi era without seeming like it has come out of a Bollywood Muslim social set. I love the new-look crockery and cutlery; the lighter, contemporary interiors and the wine collection. Most importantly, the food lives up to expectations. The new menu has an excellent fish in mustard dressing and apart from the old stellar disheskakori kebabs, raan, et ala surprising choice is mung dal with spinach!

l Indian Accent: If creativity is a criterion, Indian Accent at the Manor in Delhi, deserves to be on this list. The restaurant merits a special journey, as the Michelin inspectors would call it, to the leafy residential area where it is hidden. Contemporary Indian food by chef Manish Mehrotra is innovative and delicious; much above others in the genre vis--vis Ziya in Mumbai and the Tajs Varq.

l Hakkasan: The first of the big international brands to come to India, Hakkasan, which serves Cantonese cuisine in a contemporary style, is a one-star Michelin restaurant in London. The Mumbai outlet is proving to be just as popular (judging by the recommendations it received for this column) and has an extended vegetarian repertoire apart from the London classics, and some super-exclusive wines to make it a contender here.

What didnt make the cut: Given its popularity Wasabi should have expectedly been here. But it now seems to be losing steam.

Rising star The Michelin guide also lists rising stars; standalone restaurants like Isakaya (in a Delhi mall) may just have that potential.

l Vetro: Though the Indian middle-class market tends to stick to safe pizzas and pastas, there are some top-notch, non-caf-type dining options when it comes to Italian/modern European food. Vetro at the Oberoi in Mumbai has been able to retain its standing and goodwill and comes highly recommended. Delhis Diva would be its closest competitor.

One-star worthies: Bangalores Caperberry, the Olives in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

l Diva caf: This year, the Red Guide has hailed the return of gastro-pubs in Britain. So, casual dining, especially in India which has the highest growing segment, deserves to be listed too. Toss a coin between the steadfast Indigo and the new Diva caf.

The writer is a food critic