As some of you may already know, I spent the lockdown checking out the delivery scene. To try and widen my choices, I invited anyone who had a delivery service whose food they wanted me to try to DM me on Instagram. If it seemed interesting, I said, I would try it.
As it turned out, some of the food came from places I had never heard of before the lockdown. And some of it came from places I already knew. And some from completely new establishments that had just opened. Here in no particular order, is my list of the best.
Best Pad Thai: I am always skeptical about Thai food in India because Indian chefs cook it as though it is just another branch of Indian curry cooking – which it isn’t – and there are very few good expatriate Thai chefs in India.
Imagine my surprise therefore when the best Pad Thai I have had in India came from a chef who did not – as far as I knew – cook Thai food.
Vikramjeet Roy is a superstar chef, well known and celebrated for his Japanese food (he started out at Wasabi) and his modern takes on Korean and Chinese food. Roy has joined hands with Anurodh Samal, in my view, the best restaurant manager in India to open Hello Panda in Gurgaon. This is a deeply personal venture. Both men are much in demand but have decided to do it alone, sinking their own savings into this restaurant.
I know Vikram’s food well so I was not surprised by his sushi rolls, his dim sum or his Chinese dishes. The surprise was the Thai food: a remarkably authentic green curry bursting with the umami flavour of Nam Pla and delicious Pad Thai rice noodles with a few tweaks to the original flavour.
I will order again (and again) but the Pad Thai will remain a must try.
Best Keema Samosa: I had been to the old Rustom’s Parsi restaurant but ever since Kainaz Contractor moved her operation to a new location, I lost touch. When I heard they were doing delivery, I ordered a large meal on the very day I got the menu. Almost all of the food was sensational: Dhansak, Salli Boti, Vada Pav, Caramel Custard etc. The only duff dish was a Podi Idli. (I guess if you order Podi Idli from a restaurant that specialises in Mumbai food, you have only yourself to blame.)
But the dish that was so outstanding that I wished I had ordered two portions rather than one was the keema samosa. It was not your average Punjabi samosa but had a thin, crisp pastry and a deliciously-spiced keema filling. I am ordering it again tomorrow!
Best Croissant: I have written at length about Sahil Mehta before so I won’t repeat myself. His baking skills are outstanding and his croissants are so perfect, you could be eating in Paris.
Best Gluten-free Cake: Caara is a brand that specialises in catering and produces high quality artisanal sauces and bread. What I did not realise was how good their gluten-free cakes were. I had an orange and almond gluten-free cake that was simply amazing.
Best Gluten-free Bread: This one is a no-contest. It is hard to find a pastry chef with the skill and experience of the Hyatt Regency’s Devendra Bungla. I had asked him to create a wheat and rice-free loaf and he came up with bread that was so wonderful that the Hyatt Regency now sells it as Bungla bread.
I would find it hard to survive without it.
Best Sandwich: It is tough to deliver a sandwich without it getting soggy so I was skeptical when Anand Kataria of Big Fat Sandwich contacted me on Instagram. But Kataria and his team have found a way around that. They deliver the components to you and let you make your own sandwich. They also delivered bagels and two kinds of sour dough, some pulled pork, oriental-style pork belly and a variety of dips/sauces. I loved the bacon jam and the kasundi mustard (all available from Bigfat.in) I made delicious sandwiches with their ingredients and thought that these guys had really cracked the sandwich delivery problem.
Best Kebabs: Jitendra Kapoor who makes delicious shami kebabs (which you fry at home) has always refused to go commercial but all of his friends hit him for regular supplies.
At some stage I hope we will persuade him to sell them to the general public; they are that good.
Best Sausages: Artisan Meats contacted me a couple of years ago on Instagram and I wrote about their products. They have sustained me through the lockdown with bacon, pancetta, pork belly, pastrami and duck confit. My favourite of their products is the Spicy Italian Sausage. It is so tasty, that I have eaten it on its own, as part of a cassoulet (with their duck confit), roasted over vegetables, paired with lentils and as part of a home-made hot dog. Their other sausages are too smokey for me but this one is perfect.
1. Fast Food Burger: I don’t think you can beat the Burger King Whopper, served with 9mm fries that taste of potato all the way through. The chain is super hygiene-conscious and delivery is efficient.
2. Casual Burger: Akriti Malhotra is a former Diva chef who now runs two burger outlets, including one near my home. She does many kinds of burgers but my favourite is the Meister Burger, which has a mutton patty, egg, cheese and sauces, and becomes a gorgeous squishing mess that smears your face with goodness when you try to eat it. It is the sort of burger that trendy food trucks would serve in the West.
3. Gourmet Burger: Every good steakhouse in America will serve a burger made from quality ground meat, an artisanal brioche and top-class fries. The closest we ever came to that in pre-2014 India was the burger at Qube at Delhi’s Leela Palace.
But I think we have a new winner now: the tenderloin burger at Tres, the Delhi restaurant run by chefs Julia DeSa and Jatin Mallick. Chef Jatin can’t use beef so he flavours and treats his buffalo meat so well that it makes a nearly perfect burger patty. The bun is baked in-house and Jatin double fries red potatoes for the hand-cut chips.
Julia is experimenting with a burger made with the same bun but with no patty. Instead she uses her own home made Goan Chorise. It’s not on the delivery menu yet but I hope she starts delivering it soon.
Best Dabeli: Sumit Gulati is part of the famous tandoori family but he and his Gujarati wife Chiquita run the Spice Market restaurant in Saket along with a cloud kitchen and cook all kinds of cuisine.
They delivered a Western Indian meal to me packed with the authentic flavours of Gujarat and Maharashtra but the single best dish was one they invented themselves. All over Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kutch (and Indore, apparently) you get a vada-pav ancestor called the dabeli, which I don’t like very much.
But Chiquita Gulati created her own version using spiced keema and combining it with the chaat-like elements of the normal dabeli (peanuts, sev etc.) It shouldn’t have worked but it did – a sort of cross between keema-pav and a vada-pav. Mouth watering.
Best Dim Sum: When Yauatcha first opened in London, I used to go there whenever I could to eat the venison puff. You can’t serve venison in India but the Delhi Royal China does a light puff filled with roast pork that brings back memories of the original puff. Everything I have ordered from Royal China has been good but this is the dish I crave because of the excellence of the baking.
Best Patty: A patty and a puff are cousins so my other favourite is the chicken patty from Yummies, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Yummies has a well-deserved reputation for desserts. But nothing comes close to the perfection of their chicken patties.
Best Indian Wine: Most food tastes better with wine and my choice for the duration of the lockdown has been Sette by Fratelli. It is a Super-Tuscan style red wine made with grapes from Akluj in Maharashtra. Fratelli makes a more expensive wine (J’Noon) but Sette is the one that’s kept me going in the last few months.
From HT Brunch, July 5, 2020
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