Post a year-long refurbishment when they reopened, the much lauded 360 was flocked by patrons who had missed it like oxygen for the last 365 days or so.
Today I am writing about two favourite eating spots of mine in the capital: one which recently completed a 25 year run and the other, which has remained a place to eat for more than half a century even though the kind of eatery that exists there may have changed over time.
First off the bat, congratulations to La Piazza for a spectacular 25 years, consistently serving some very fine yet effortless rustic Italian food to the Indian diaspora from a time when even pizza and pasta were relatively new dishes for most of us.
And then, for the main story today, we move to The Oberoi, New Delhi, a veritable institution that defined luxury and haute-living in a newly independent India. It has stood the test of time and not once withered, but a few years back, it was time to make thing more contemporary. Post a year-long refurbishment when they reopened, the much lauded 360 was flocked by patrons who had missed it like oxygen for the last 365 days or so. And then, what used to be Travertino, an upscale Italian fine-dining establishment, opened doors in a new avatar of Omya, a contemporary Indian fine dining outlet with the kitchen brigade helmed by none other than chef Alfred Prasad from London, a man who among his many accolades was the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star for his efforts back in the early noughties.
Now, for some of you who may remember, long before there was 360, there was Longchamp, India’s first and still ahead of its times French dining outlet and right next to it was the quintessential Oberoi coffee shop, The Palms, occupying the space that is Omya today. For someone, who has seen the space through its many different looks and incarnations, sitting down at Omya for a meal for me, was extremely nostalgic.
Back to today, I don’t think The Oberoi has made enough noise about chef Prasad and his fare at Omya, but in rather Oberoi-esque style, they have not made noise ever about anything much really. They define class and subtlety even in a city that is known for its brash and unapologetic glitziness. But here, pitched right across from Indian Accent (India’s only entry into the World’s Next 50 list), is yet another rather fine desi eatery, one which is quite different from the former and also definitely worth more than a visit.
In a time when evolutionary Indian cuisine is becoming all the rage, (again), it takes a seasoned chef to not go for the loud and obvious and stick to the elegant and restrained. Chef Prasad is clearly of the latter type for he has steered clear of the usual tropes which basically take a classic Indian dish and serve it up Western and think it’s a job well done. His food doesn’t pander to any one genre—he isn’t just trying to revisit Delhi street-side chaats, or only revive lost heirloom recipes, neither is he going for unusual ingredients for their shock value. Instead, his food is based on his philosophy of the 3Hs—heritage, health, and happiness. His menu will leave you satiated but not full, happy but curious, and it will make you think about the history of how it all possibly came together. Lastly, he is also a lot about sustainability and not just the type that garners ‘likes’ on social media. Some of the memorable plates that he served us up the other evening included the duck sham, the gunpowder best and the pumpkin mulligatawny. Even his take on the dessert was quite unique (and daring I say) for he served up ‘ghewar’, something that isn’t usually to be found in fine-dining confines. And he completely skipped the black dal to go with more homely yellow version, again a rare play.
All in all, a satisfying evening with a chef who is a trove of knowledge and information on the cuisines of India. If you haven’t given Omya a shot yet, it is the place that you cross on your way to 360. Next time, turn left for a change and thank me for it later.
(The writer is a sommelier. Views are personal.)