GURGAON’S FINEST: Zorawar Kalra, Sodabottleopenerwala, Bernardo, Amaranta, Zambar & Many More
I HAD never considered Gurgaon to be anything more than a culinary desert till the Cyber Hub came up and became Delhi’s go-to destination.
My only Gurgaon favourite was Cilantro, especially because of the wines on offer with its Sunday brunch, and then, in chronological order, Spectra (Leela Ambience), MoMo Cafe at the Courtyard by Marriott, Eest at The Westin (not my favourite!), La Riviera (which has lost much of its old glory after the fire that broke out some months back) and Sen5es at the Pullman, and Amaranta at The Oberoi gave me occasional reasons to cross the border to satiate my curiosity about our neighbour’s foodie islands. With the opening of Cyber Hub, my jaunts to Millennium City have become frequent and taken me to restaurants beyond India’s answer to Clarke Quay, and I have discovered that Gurgaon has well and truly evolved gastronomically.
When my friend Pawan Soni announced the Indian Food Freak Awards to recognise Gurgaon’s best restaurants (indeed, a creditable initiative!), I decided to do my own quiet recce, exchanging notes over FB Mail with certified foodies of the Delhi Gourmet Club, F&B professionals and chefs. I compared their recommendations with my notes and realised that my favourites more or less reflected the popular opinion.
Here, then, are my personal awards, and if you find five-star hotels being poorly represented on the list, it is because most of them haven’t impressed me. The future clearly belongs to standalone restaurants powered by passionate entrepreneurs and powerhouses of young talent. I would have loved it if the Indian Food Freak Awards were given out at Cyber Hub amphitheatre as a tribute to the future of Delhi-NCR’s culture of dining out.
Restaurateur of the Year: Zorawar Kalra, Massive Restaurants
He’s a tribute to his father, India’s first and foremost food impresario Jiggs Kalra, and the tradition of Indian fine-dining he upheld. After creating Masala Library in Mumbai, a Michelin star-quality restaurant, Zorawar rolled out Made in Punjab, demonstrating the ease with which he can operate across formats.
In his next project, Farzi Cafe, next door to Made in Punjab, I believe he’s marrying Masala Library’s finesse with Made in Punjab’s mass appeal. It takes an imaginative and versatile entrepreneur to think across so many formats. He may be younger, but if he maintains his standards and his success rate, he’ll be in the league of AD Singh and Riyaz Amlani.
Restaurant Concept of the Year: Sodabottleopenerwala
Marrying quirky ambience with food you can never tire of, Sodabottleopenerwala, under Mohit Balachandran’s able leadership, has made us fall in love with Irani Cafe cuisine.
Discovery of the Year: Anahita Dhondy, Sodabottleopenerwala
She can land any international modelling contract with her porcelain looks, but this Taj product believes in sweating it out in the kitchen and producing Delhi-NCR’s most addictive Parsi food. Bring on the Marghi Na Farcha.
Gurgaon’s Pride: Bernardo, Super Mart I, DLF Phase IV
Crescentia Scolt and Chris Fernandes have had to wage a long struggle to keep Bernardo afloat, moving from one location to another because of the real estate market’s vagaries, but their to-die-for authentic Goan spread, which is better than what you get in Goa, has ensured their diehard loyalists keep following them wherever they go.
Corporate Chef of the Year: Ravi Saxena, Dhaba by Claridges, Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City
I’ve seen him from the time he turned around The Imperial’s Tuscan restaurant, San Gimignano, and it’s heartening to see his transformation from an European fine-dining specialist to the creator of a growing chain of restaurants that exudes youthful energy even as it serves the classics that have been responsible for Dhaba’s runaway success at The Claridges.
F&B Executive of the Year: Varun Duggal, Massive Restaurants
Zorawar Kalra’s right-hand man, he combines sharp business instincts, a deep understanding of the restaurant trade and a warm personality that gets him friends and new clients with ease.
Best Modern Indian Restaurant of the Year: Amaranta, The Oberoi, Udyog Vihar, Phase V
Here’s a restaurant that has achieved the impossible by consistently delivering the best fresh fish and seafood preparations from the coastal states with a contemporary twist, despite being in the heart of India’s dusty plains. A tribute to the epicurean perfection that Executive Chef Ravitej Nath seeks to achieve in this laboratory of creativity, Amaranta can never let you down.
Best North Indian Restaurant of the Year: Made In Punjab, Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City
It’s often unfairly judged because of its buffet, but you must order from its a la carte menu to understand why Palak Patta Chaat, Salmon Tikka, Beetroot Tikki and Railway Mutton Curry haven’t tasted better anywhere else.
Best South Indian Restaurant of the Year: Zambar, Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City
Arun Kumar TR’s return with an all-new Zambar has been the best thing to have happened to Cyber Hub in recent months. The decor turns all notions of a South Indian restaurant on thjeir head and the menu is refreshingly different — dig their Cauliflower Bezule, Andhra Chicken Vepedu, Squid Rings with Seafood Filling and Pork Sukka to understand why.
Best Small Restaurant of the Year: Pintxo, DLF Galleria Market, DLF Phase 4
Besides introducing a new word into our vocabulary, which means ‘small snacks’ in Basque country, Pintxo has proved that a restaurant can be a hole-in-the-wall and yet have an army of admirers, because what really matters is the food you’re served. Can I have the bacon-wrapped prawns?
Best Multi-Cuisine Restaurant of the Year: Spectra, Leela Ambience Gurgaon
International variety and goodness, when combined, can be the recipe for a real winner, which is what this all-day restaurant with the best view in Gurgaon has to offer.
Best Sunday Brunch of the Year: Sen5es, Pullman Gurgaon Central Park
Its crab omelette isn’t the only reason I am in love with Sen5es. The restaurant’s Sunday Brunch, judging by the turnout for it, is clearly Gurgaon’s favourite because it goes beyond the obvious offerings and makes an effort to do things, to borrow an expression from Pizza Hut, ‘zaraa Hut ke’.
Best Italian Restaurant of the Year: 56 Ristorante Italiano, Vatika Atrium, DLF Golf Course Road
Located uniquely between two business towers, this restaurant combines a good menu and wine list overseen by an Italian chef with friendly and efficient service and a business-like atmosphere just right for corporate lunches. It’s the best dining option on Golf Course Road.
Best Chinese Restaurant of the Year: Nooba, DLF Cyber City, Tower C
Restaurateurs in Vasant Kunj may be complaining about how their businesses have been hit because of the Cyber Hub, but this place bang next to India’s first food mall continues to be the favoured ‘canteen’ of Chinese executives working at DLF Cyber City. What does it tell you about the food of this silent star among Rahul ‘Indigo’ Bhatia’s trio of restaurants?
Best Japanese Restaurant of the Year: Raifu Tei, Dia Park Premier, Sector 29
Ask any Japanese expat where he hangs out with friends and he would say ‘Raifu Tei’ without blinking his eyes (yes, if you go to a Japanese hangout, as opposed to a horribly expensive restaurant favoured by desi moneybags, you’d think all Japanese men are single!). If you wish to have Japanese food the way the Japanese do, this is the where you can savour the experience without burning your wallet.
Best Dim Sum of the Year: dimsumbros, Ambience Mall
A leap of faith by the Yo! China trio, dimsumbros dazzles you with its array and quality of ‘little hearts’. Ask for their Almond Prawn with Wasabi Mayo, Laksa Crab Dumpling and BBQ Pork Pastry to find out what has got me eating out of their hand!
Best Korean Restaurant of the Year: Gung The Palace, City Centre, Near Crowne Plaza, Sec. 29
Here’s a restaurant whose only competition is itself, but it is on this list because of the consistency of its offering and the authenticity of its preparations, which is why it is the social magnet of Delhi-NCR’s Korean community. Its Beef Bulgogi will have you, like Oliver Twist, asking for more.
Best Pizzas of the Year: Fat Lulu’s, Arjun Marg, DLF Shopping Centre, DLF Phase I
This is where your search for Delhi-NCR’s best pizzas should end. The base, sauce, cheese and toppings of each of the 22 pizza varieties are textbook perfect. You can choose from an array of choices in each of the four categories, making every order a new experience.
Best Comfort Food of the Year: [email protected]’s, Cross Point Mall, DLF Phase IV
Joe Baath romanced the spotlight on MasterChef India, but he’s not the kind of guy who basks in past glory. He’s an engaging fellow and his Chicken Wings, Jalapeno Cheese Shots and BBQ Chicken Hotdog keep bringing back his growing horde of loyalists. And his tie-up with Pradeep Gidwani’s The Pint Room keeps us well supplied with brews of the best kind.
Best Cocktails of the Year: Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy, Behind Galaxy Hotel, Sector 15
This is the creative laboratory of Yangdup Lama and if it doesn’t serve Gurgaon’s best cocktails, then Millennium City has no hope. Fortunately, the maestro of mixology has been able to live up to his reputation and keeps giving the world an unforgettable high.
Best Patisserie of the Year: The Oberoi Patisseri and Delicatessen, Udyog Vihar
From croissants, cakes and chocolates to sausages and sandwiches, to freshly baked breads and olive oil, you get them all here, the standards notches higher than the competition and the prices, surprisingly, about the same as, and in some cases lower than, L’Opera.