The West made us believe that there is an entity called ‘Asian food’. So ridiculous is the idea for this notion to exist even as a collective noun, and yet it reigns on. It decrees that all food from Turkey to Japan is to be deemed Asian, with the only sub-division being to accommodate Middle Eastern, Indian and Oriental. Again, these are extremely vague generalisations, especially coming from a continent, where they choose to name a cuisine every few hundred kilometres!
Then, they went a step ahead and told civilisations predating them by a few thousand years how to enjoy all this food with wines. Namely, one wine—a fairly pronounced grape often made in off-dry style—the famous Gewürztraminer, for it was the only wine deemed fit for cuisines that were the culmination of a good few millennia’s worth of evolution.
Alas, for the longest time then, we believed that to truly enjoy food and wine, one had to dine French or Italian. Not true at all. Fine-dining Chinese eateries to Indian speciality joints have shown in recent times how food is but about flavours and all wine is fair field to deploy alongside.
Taking this philosophy forward is the new eatery in town, 888. The three 8s possibly denote something like triple fortune (the number eight in Chinese rhymes with the word for prosperity/wealth), but given the quality of the fabulous meal that I was served there, I don’t think luck will have much to do with their sure-shot success.
The chef, Vivek Rana, honed his skills in the top kitchens of the most lauded restaurants before deciding to venture out on his own. To his credit, he hasn’t tried to play safe, serving up a full crab in shell and goat brain starters. By not catering to the chicken-loving masses, he risks losing out on a certain volume of business, but this daring move to make a menu that doesn’t read like a compilation of usual suspects makes for a refreshing dining experience. Even the newly-launched BaoShuan at The Oberoi can’t claim to have such an avant-garde menu.
That said, they also have the usual suspects: a range of sushi platters and some good ramen to fill you up. But what tops it all for me is the preview that I got to their upcoming beverage programme. When I visited, they were only doling out cocktails (which were pretty good), but brothers Mandeep and Jaideep Anand plan to be extremely focused with their wine programme.
Not only are they putting together a fairly exhaustive selection, they are going all out to position it as the most aggressively-priced wine list in town. This shouldn’t be hard, considering just how expensively wine is priced around the country, not as much due to taxes, as due to the fat margins that restaurateurs exact from us consumers.
But will it pair with food? I am assured that it will. In fact, in a few preliminary behind-the-scene exercises that I was privy to, the food seemed rather amenable to wine. The flavours, although diverse and layered, were never too overwhelming or pronounced to be lost in the mix.
Finally, they are listing sherries and ports along with a few sweet wines. I feel desserts are a much overlooked space and anyone who can get Indians trying wines with the entremets course would be definitely a pioneer. And here again, 888 doesn’t disappoint: the mark of a good sweet course is when, in spite of a big meal prior, one still finds space to gobble down the dessert!
The writer is a sommelier