High on Thai: Zorawar Kalra Smartens Up a Familiar Cuisine and Gifts New Landmark to Mehrauli
After creating signature brands such as Masala Library, Farzi Cafe and Pa Pa Ya, Zorawar Kalra has dished up another super-hit, Bo Tai, next to Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mehrauli
FOR MOST of his life, Zorawar Kalra has lived in the substantial shadow of his father Jiggs Kalra‘s reputation as a food writer and impresario. As the late Khushwant Singh had said about his protege, Jiggs Kalra, who started life as a journalist under the wings of the more famous sardar, was truly the global ambassador of Fine Indian Cuisine at a time when the world saw it at best as a cheap accompaniment to football night lager.
At the start of his career, after completing his higher studies in America, when Zorawar launched Punjab Grill (which he subsequently sold to Lite Bite Foods), all of us thought he was out to be the good son and carry forward his father’s legacy. By opening Made in Punjab followed by Masala Library in quick succession, Zorawar only succeeded in reinforcing our view.
The perception started changing with Farzi Cafe, which announced the arrival of what I describe as Millennial Indian Cuisine — light, quirky and easy to understand, like the galawat kebab burger; accompanied by cocktails, which are seeing a blossoming around the world (my favourites at Farzi being the Banta cocktails); and turbocharged by contemporary Indian world music. In Jiggs Kalra’s time, this combination would have been considered blasphemous, but the millennial generation, being a tribe of multi-taskers, seem to love a multi-sensory food experience, where food may not necessarily be the centrepiece.
Zorawar went even farther away from familiar territory when he launched Pa Pa Ya, with expert support from Chef Sahil Singh, at Select Citywalk, Saket. Just as we had started despairing of the long hand of Punjabi Chinese offerings at ‘Chinese’ restaurants and the traffic signal curries of their ‘Thai’ counterparts, Zorawar and Sahil elevated the experience, adding also an intelligently stocked wine room to lend it much-needed gravitas.
It is the same feeling you’ll get once you walk into Bo Tai, Zorawar’s newest restaurant concept. Located in the shadow of the Qutab in Mehrauli, its personality changes from gently sunny to romantic as the day progresses, and its terrace sheltered by ancient trees heightens its mystique, especially as the evening melts into the night and the traffic on the road outside slows down. It is as much a party zone as a it is a hangout of serious foodies.
By combining the winsome flavours of Thai cuisine with an international presentation style, the food comes with a storyline. Yes, you can have the curries, and I would strongly recommend the Lamb Massaman Curry, but it is the grills section that has the standout dishes — Duck Sausages, Butternut Squash (Pumpkin) Mash and Dauphinoise Potatoes (sliced and baked in milk); Chilean Sea Bass, Herbed Pea Mash and Chilli Vegetable Ragout; and the West Pacific Lobster paired with Creamed Sauteed Spinach are my personal favourites, and they also show what Bo Tai is all about: it is the intelligent pairing of Thai basics with international influences; it is fusion minus confusion.
Neung Roi at the Radisson Blu Plaza Delhi Airport stirred the city by introducing us to the multiple layers and expressions of Thai cuisine; Bo Tai will rock the city with its magic formula of serving reinvented Thai cuisine with a generous dollop of joie de vivre. Zorawar’s next stop is St James’s Court, London’s most prestigious dining destination, where he’s launching Farzi Cafe. That is one move the whole world will be watching with bated breath.