The F&B community will have to find truly unique ways to entice us to return
It's a tough time. First, restaurants lost business & now the onus of bringing it back also rests entirely with them
So all these months have gone by and most of us have forgotten what it feels like to complain about the airline’s onboard wine programme or how to vehemently fight to pay the bill when out with friends. In other words, once we start going out again and more regularly, these “skills” may return, but till then, the F&B community will have to find truly unique ways to entice us enough to return to their premises. It’s a tough time really. First, they lost business and now the onus of bringing it back also rests almost entirely with them. Well, recently while out for a working lunch, I was regaled with a good many measures by the restaurant team, which made me realise that the road back may not be that long or arduous.
I was at Comorin so, yes, this is something of a shameless plug for one of the finest eateries in the country. It’s the one reason I will happily trek to Gurugram, a distance of nearly 28 km from my place. For a person who only ventures beyond a 3-km radius to catch flights or run/cycle a loop around Lutyens’ Delhi, this remains a feat.
But it was one of the places I found myself truly craving during the lockdown. Sure, there were other addresses with a similar draw—Americano, The Table, O’ Pedro (all in Mumbai), Nostalgia (Goa)—but they were mostly in other cities. Delhi, for me, in spite of all its culinary diversity, still has very few places that serve up a truly unique and worthy brand of fare. Outside of Pandara Road, a few chaat and parantha addresses, it’s slim pickings really. Many of you will enthusiastically object, but how many places that opened in the last five years still hold your attention? Before this column is over, I will share the other names that I think do a laudable job in the capital.
Meanwhile back to Comorin, they started me off with tasters of their home-made Vermouths and flavoured sodas. Now, these guys were on to this do-at-home trend long before the lockdown made chefs and bartenders out of all of us, cooking and cocktail-ing for social media like participants on some unannounced reality show. But the thing is that now, since most of us know how to fix ourselves a basic Negroni, roll home-made pasta or make sourdough croissants (okay, most of us minus me for that last one), the restaurants have to dish out something truly exceptional and fantastical to keep us hooked and coming back for more. They need to up their wow factor to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory levels.
Under Varun Sharma, the head mixologist, Comorin’s bar programme has evolved as an intricately-detailed manifesto. Most drinks were the stuff that I would normally order at bars in London and New York, employing local ingredients, but techniques (sous-vide, clarification) that made them undeniably novel and almost unrecognisable. There was lemongrass soda and a rose and bergamot soda, which turned up bottled like regular soft drinks, crown cap and all. Now, home-made can make for good marketing ploy, but this no-human-touch hermetic sealing is the specific assurance of a contaminant-free experience I seek now when dining out. Next, the absolutely colourless (clarified) whisky sour was one of those drinks that you want to order again even as you keep wondering how can something so colourless be so flavourful. I was fortunate to sample a few from the upcoming menu too: try the Moonraker when there next, mixing lavender and honeycomb like you never knew you wanted so bad.
But mind you, the experience wouldn’t have been complete without food to match both in terms of variety and complexity-in-simplicity, something I define as preparing a dish that leads you to believe that you could make it yourself and yet, if you were to try, you’d end up nowhere close. It’s this fine art of taking an otherwise commonplace dish that’s dripping with memories and then revisiting and reinterpreting it in a manner that heightens the curiosity without detracting from the nostalgia of it. The Comorin team executes it flawlessly every time and this is what I was craving from 28 km away.
As promised, other easy-food joints/deliveries I’d seek out specifically for their brand of F&B (in no particular order): Mahabelly, Burgerama, Asian Farm Shack, Leo’s and Nomad Pizza, Noshi, Mood (in Delhi) and Mjöl bakery. All of you are my F&B heroes-please take a bow and keep doing this service to us through these trying times. The writer is a sommelier