A version of the following article was featured in Time Out Delhi’s special wine edition ‘The Grape Escape’, under the title Veni, Vidi, Vino. I am posting the original and unedited version here for the benefit of the readers of this blog.
Gone are the days when dining out in cosmopolitan India was mostly about the cuisine served in a restaurant. With fast evolution of the country’s F&B scene, that status quo has long been done away with, for good. Today diners seek much more than an aesthetically presented or even a sensuously delicious dish. And among all the added pleasures that make up great gourmet experiences, wine has emerged on the top of the savvy customer’s wish list.
Delhi has long been home to some of the country’s most iconic restaurant brands serving choicest of cuisines. While wine has been a part of the city’s restaurant scene for quite some time, the quality and variety of wine offerings have come of age in true sense in the last five years or so. Wine lists now not only boast of choicest international brands of the most desirable vintages, but are also thoughtfully designed to complement the cuisine, concept and theme of the restaurants. All these have been the result of the hospitality industry’s unflinching vision of cultivating a thriving wine culture in the country.
This steady evolution of world-class wine destinations has come as a boon for the city’s gourmands and its wine lovers in particular. But at the same time the proliferation of these ‘wine hubs’ has also resulted in a pleasant dilemma among wine consumers about the most suitable places to satiate their vinous senses along with their taste buds.
Whether you are looking for a sophisticated fine-dining experience featuring an exhaustive collection of wines from virtually every region of the wine world or wish to be pampered with a customised menu paired with wines, Delhi has many places which should be bookmarked in your dining itinerary. Let’s explore each of them individually.
In the first part of this article, let’s have a look at three restaurants which offer the best wine selections in the standalone category. The second part deals with restaurants in five star hotels:
M8, M Block Market, GK2, New Delhi
A shining star of Delhi’s standalone restaurant scene, Diva has long been one of the torchbearers of the city’s reputation as the gourmet hub of India. With one of the country’s most talented chefs at the helm, it has redefined the concept of dining out by inspiring foodies (and winos!) to think beyond five star hotels and upmarket, overly hyped restaurants.
Many Delhiites may not be aware of the fact that apart from being a ‘Chef Extraordinaire’, Ritu Dalmia is also a keen wine aficionado and possesses vast knowledge about the subject. This reflects in the wine list of the restaurant which stands out as much for its variety and attention to detail as the careful selection of labels to accompany the authentic Italian cuisine.
The wine list here is unpretentious albeit so well thought out that you will hardly find a dish on the food menu which cannot be paired with multiple wines. The highlight has to be the wines-by-the glass selection which features more than 30 different labels sold at extremely affordable prices. Additionally, and quite logically, the list smartly captures Italy’s wine portfolio by ensuring representation from almost all the country’s wine regions. There are also several other international wines, making it a well-rounded list.
The wine list:
Main Features: Extremely affordable pricing. Food-friendly international wines specially chosen to accompany Diva’s signature cuisine.
Strength: Wine selection from almost all the wine regions of Italy.
Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 30 odd labels offering excellent variety and depth. Very competitively priced.
What to look out for (specials): Weekend wine pairing with specially crafted dishes.
Food & wine recommendations: One of the must-try dish is ‘John Dory fillet dusted with Polenta, pan grilled, served with Celeriac puree and crispy Prawns’. Pair this with a bone-dry, fresh, floral and minerally Michele Chiarlo Gavi.
Another recommended dish is ‘Phyllo pastry bundles filled with Artichokes and Taleggio cheese, baked golden and served with a creamy Spinach sauce’. A light but pleasantly fruity Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino will partner the dish perfectly.
Price range: Moderate and extremely pocket-friendly. Meal for two, on an average, costs about Rs. 2000, plus taxes. A couple of glasses of wine consumed with the meal per head would cost another 1500.
77, The Manor, New Friends Colony, New Delhi
If there is one Indian standalone restaurant worthy to be among the top Michelin star restaurants of the world, it undoubtedly has to be the Indian Accent. In this highly competitive business, such distinction can only be earned if there is a genuine passion to create a unique product of highest quality. And if passion indeed is the key ingredient in deciding a restaurant’s popularity and success; this place oozes plenty of it. No wonder, in a short period of time it has created a niche for itself in Delhi’s fine dining market.
Chef Manish Mehrotra and his team’s brilliance aside, Indian Accent also deserves a special mention for its outstanding wine list which can rival the best in the city. A quick look through the list is all it takes to realise the minute attention to detail that has been employed in selecting the labels. It is also apparent that this selection, in addition to the designing of the list, is entirely influenced by the cuisine and a style of modern cooking where international ingredients are innovatively married with Indian spices. A ‘Fois Gras stuffed Galawat’ or ‘Achari New Zealand Lamb Shank’ married with wines may sound too adventurous for the uninitiated but you will be surprised at the sensory delight of such combinations.
On the one hand, you will find a healthy number of fresh, crisp and aromatic white wines to accompany the light-on-the-palate dishes, on the other there are also a good collection of red wines across a wide spectrum of body, mouthfeel and weight on the palate to pair with the comparatively heavier items. Overall, the balance, variety and compatibility to the cuisine make it one of the best wine offerings in the capital.
The Wine list:
Main Features: Variety, balance and affordable wines.
Strength: Food inspired wines – in other words, each and every wine very carefully handpicked to accompany the nouvelle Indian cuisine
Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 32 labels selected with careful attention to the food menu, which is almost 50 % of the total wine offerings. One of the best wine-by-the-glass selections in town.
What to look out for (specials): Chef tasting menu paired with wine – fantastic way to sample the chef’s magic.
Food & wine recommendations: Among the classic food & wine pairings suggested in their Chef tasting menu, I really liked the idea of marrying the ‘Meetha achaar chilean spare ribs, sun dried mango, toasted kalonji seeds’ with a glass of Peter Lehmann Shiraz from Barossa Valley in Australia.
Another equally chef-recommended combination is ‘Tempered ricotta vada, pao bhaji, kafir lime butter pao (Chowpatty in a bowl)’ with a glass of Miguel Torres, Santa Digna, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.
Price range: Moderate and affordable. Meal for two, on an average, costs about Rs. 4000, plus taxes. A couple of glasses of wine consumed with the meal per head would cost another 1500.
3rd Floor, DLF Emporio Mall, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi
In spite of Delhi’s reputation as a major gastronomic destination of India, the burden of serving soul-stirring food and world-class beverages in an upmarket and chic environment always rested with the five star hotels. That was until Set’z (earlier avatar Zest) appeared in the city’s hospitality horizon, especially in the multi-cuisine segment. Since then it has acquired a reputation of being a game changer of sorts, inspiring a wave of independent F&B outlets trying to emulate its success as one of the most happening dining addresses in town.
Apart from the vast array of cuisines, the concept and theme of Set’z is perfectly suited for wine consumption and quite expectedly, the restaurant management has made it a prime focus in its overall service offerings. The customised and well-appointed wine cellar and tasting room at the entrance is one of the very few of its kind in Delhi and adds to the ‘wine ambience’ of the restaurant. The wine list is extensive (about 180 labels) and contemporarily designed with country-wise and varietal categorisation, making it easily navigable for most. It offers an excellent regional and style variation and one would be hard-pressed not to find a wine that cannot partner its vast selection of Indian and international food. Although, considering the size of the food menu, one would expect to find more wine-by-the-glass offers. Currently, the list only features 14.
The wine list:
Main Feature: Contemporarily designed menu with a wide selection to partner with the large selection of dishes.
Strength: Wines from classical wine regions.
Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 14 across types and styles, that are replaced with new labels every three months.
What to look out for (specials): Weekend brunches accompanied with Champagnes and sparkling wines. Alfresco dining at the terrace. Wine sampling at the customised cellar cum tasting room.
Food & wine recommendations: For fish lovers, the ‘Persley Crusted Sea Bass’ is not to be missed. The carefully cooked fillet retains the all-important moisture and juices while the light herb crust adds to the texture and flavour. A racy Burgundy like the Domain Hamelin Chablis will complement the dish perfectly.
Another good combination to indulge on is the ‘Braised lamb shank’ with moderately priced but elegant Bordeaux Blend, Chateau Malmaison.
Price range: Expensive. A meal for two with wines on an average costs about Rs. 12000 to 14000 plus taxes. This price will vary according to the type of wine ordered.
Part two of this review article, which focusses on restaurants in five star hotels, can be accessed here.