The Exacting Epicurean – Chef Vineet Bhatia

Just like his food, Chef Vineet Bhatia is precise, divergent and a little self-indulgent. His bearing is calm and humble as if designed to deflect attention—a trait indispensable for his profession as a Michelin-starred chef. One afternoon, this past Lent was spent in his company; tasting the Gourmand Menu at Ziya, at The Oberoi Hotel, in, Bombay. What had my taste buds go up in a godsent tizzy was that there was no foam, or gels, no molecular experiments: nothing vague and otherworldly. There were skillets and saucepans and not siphon guns and silicone tubes. This (six hour) South Bombay sojourn saw nothing but beautifully cooked food served on plates and slates. The food was a credible indicator of India’s culinary expansiveness to which Chef Vineet brings in a contemporary inventiveness that demands your attention.

Let me gush over the food before proceeding to gush over the chef, after which I shall insert a grumble for good measure. So here’s what I ate amidst the excruciatingly gold laden restaurant decor (gold plates, ceiling, mosaic, wall panels!), thankfully the muddy sea behind me helped balance the majestic splendour of Ziya.

I dove into the seven-course tasting menu beginning with the South of India. Holy smokes, mini idlis fried with prawns that have a distinct bite to them, slivers of coconut and oily curry leaves. Made me feel like dancing and reminded me of my last vacation with the ‘rents in Kerala. Food that invokes good memories is a keeper.

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Macadamia Machi, Beetroot Saar, Green Pea, Upma – if you know me you’d know I love fish and loathe upma. Trepidly examining this upma made me realise that it tasted like a creamy polenta-met-saffrony risotto at a flavour disco and made sweet love to it. I ate every last pea and wiped the Rani Pink beetroot saar with the ivory white flesh of the fish. Even baby Jesus would be proud of the second course.

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Lasuni-Til Chicken Tikka Chowpatty Bhaji, Crisp Idiyappam – the only part of the third course that I liked was the red petal on top. This comes from a personal dislike towards all things pav and bhaji and street food. Next.

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Chilli Burnt Butter Lobster, Chickpea, Spring Onion Tawa Pulao, Crab and Red Pepper Chutney. Sapid. Satiated. May I please have some more? The meat on that lobster was eaten with a smile plastered on my face. The art lover in me rejoiced at the splatter and the unholy mess!

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Achari Tandoori Lamb Chop, Raiwaale aloo, Spinach Tikki, Saunf Makhni – The North of India was represented on these black slates. Slice into the gingery lamb chop, insert into mouth, chew (gracefully), keep eyes shut as you teleport into *insert place of gratitude*, smack your lips and thank the heavens your mother didn’t bring you up a vegetarian.

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Soon after this lamb chop situation, another well-cooked part of a goat was served. Nothing short of a miracle this plate of food! I always imagine this would be the first thing I have for lunch when I reach heaven, along with tall glasses of gin and tonic. I’m certain Jesus and Angel Gabriel rear their own flocks in heaven.

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Edible Betel Leaf, with Chocolate and Paan kulfi, Rose Caviar, Litchi and Gulukand Cheesecake, Rose Rasmalai with Pistachio Crumble. Hallelujah!

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Mausam-E-Gajar was a celebration in Carrot! Cream Cheese and Carrot Kulfi , Gajrella Cream, Gajar Halwa and Cinnamon Soil.

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Warm Marbled Chocolate Samosa, Caramelised Nutty Chocolate Delice, Jaggery – Pecan Chocolate Kheer, Chocolate Expresso Lollipops and Chocolate Cola. The petit cake was the last dessert served on board the Concorde as it flew from New York to London. 

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“Vineet Bhatia is that rarity, an Indian chef who invents; his cooking is clear flavour, robust, gimmick-free”. Jonathan Meads, The Times

Chef Vineet Bhatia’s humility can be safely pinned on his humble beginnings. I love his no-smoking policy between a tasting menu, I love his enthusiasm for the Grand Prix and all things aviation, I loved his quirky green spectacles, I love that cooking for him is a matter of passion, season, and profit, I love that he artistically plates fish sticks at home for his kids, I love that he didn’t know who Marco Pierre White was till he became buddies with him, I love that he can make a tandoor oven in a foreign country from scratch (almost!), I love that he feeds crown princes, food bloggers and ordinary mortals with graciousness and affection, I love that he’s building a new Rasoi in London where he’s breaking crockery and gluing it back together. Most of all I loved his courteous – joie de vivre, now with all these pleasant attributes, it’s no wonder his food is spectacular.

If you can’t make it to Ziya, in Bombay you can try Chef’s food on Qatar Airways, or Rasoi in London and Bahrain.

*insert grumble* Bombay and India at large desperately need tasting menus. It’s a great way for connoisseurs and greedy Bengalis, to well, taste many things but it’s a greater way for chefs to celebrate, share and showcase their culinary repertoire.

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Thank you Ziya for your hospitality, the privilege of an excellent meal and the opportunity to meet Chef Bhatia. #ZiyaMoments #TheOberoi #Bombay

And finally, a round of applause for Kashvi Gidwani who took all these lovely pictures and shared this meal with me. Look her up, book her up at www.kashvigidwani.com 

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