Mexican cuisine yet to take off in India; Delhi’s Arriba looks to change that

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New Delhi | Updated: July 24, 2016 11:37:58 AM

ARRIBA IS thoughtful. It might be because it is the only authentic Mexican food restaurant in New Delhi or because an Odomos spray sits on your table in the outdoor section.

mexiican-LMexican cuisine hasn’t quite taken off in the country. The capital’s Arriba restaurant intends to change that.

ARRIBA IS thoughtful. It might be because it is the only authentic Mexican food restaurant in New Delhi or because an Odomos spray sits on your table in the outdoor section. Also, there isn’t a ‘reserved’ flag on your table, but a small chalk board that informs you that this table has been ‘promised’ to you. It’s this intimacy that strikes you first about this little Mexican restaurant. That, and the fact that it dares to be different. Mexican cuisine, despite the fact that it’s so comfortably familiar to the Indian palate, hasn’t quite taken off in the country. But the proprietors of Arriba, Rohan Gupta and Samir Kohli, are intent on changing that. The two school friends are around to greet you and sit for a chat, but they won’t give you the usual spin on their two-month-old restaurant. Instead, they are happy to talk about films, politics and, of course, food. The thing is they really don’t need to talk about their restaurant. Arriba is instantly likeable. Its non-fussy interiors, friendly staff, Spanish ballads on the sound system and even the imperfections—like the incorrectly-aligned mosaic mirror—put one’s OCD tendencies at ease. Clearly, Arriba isn’t trying too hard—and what a relief that is!

To be sure, the food is authentic. At one point, they repeatedly make the distinction between Tex Mex and what they serve—I am self-admittedly a Tex Mex fan and have to reveal it. So who is supposed to be the snob here, the food writer or the restaurateur? It’s all a laugh. Even the habanero prawn—habanero’s contentious position as number two or lower down on the Scoville scale does little to diminish its bite—compels one to cast all pretensions aside and swallow a fire truck. It’s that hot. The young and imaginative chef Noah tells you that Delhiites order this dish as the main course—even Noah keeps slices of bread handy while preparing the sauce for it in the kitchen.

The best way to start this Mexican meal is with a carnival of salsa, a range of six salsa dips. If one had to choose, the charred tomato one, with tortilla chips, is the best. It’s the kind of snacking that comes easy to us—the pre-meal ‘papad moment’. The sole on the tortilla is melt-in-the-mouth and the ‘guac’, an endearment for guacamole, is heaped light and heavy on the array of dishes and hits the spot.

Pork skewers, laced with habanero sauce, is the standout dish here. Beautifully presented on skewers and laced with the spicy sauce, it left my dining partner breathless, but wiping his plate clean. The panuchos is what you should add to your repertoire of Mexican cuisine must-haves. Stuffed with black beans and egg, these come with various toppings, from zucchini and yellow squash to chipotle chicken and charred pork. The portion sizes are generous.

Not to be ignored is the skill of the mixologist. Sahil Guleria worked in bartending for most of his career before moving into a managerial role at Arriba. With the chef, he has created the Frozen Coconut Margarita. It took some mixing, as the two worked with the coconut cream and lime juice balance—not to mention the meringue-like presentation complete with a softie ice-cream cone—but it’s exactly the kind of thing that will have you coming back to the restaurant.

At Arriba, the chef isn’t outdoing the mixologist or vice-versa. It all comes together in synergy as it would at home. So when Gupta and Kohli say their ambition for the next few months is to expand Arriba, one almost feels a little apprehensive about the experience that might be lost in the process. Right now, it’s intimate. It’s the kind of place where you know the names of most people by the time your meal ends. A place where you could break a pinata whether asked or not
and then not feel silly covered in confetti.

(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)

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