Features

Dining decoded

19 Feb 2021 by Nisha Shroff
Food plating

Even amidst the pandemic, the one industry that was frequently innovating and reinventing itself was the F&B sector. From new ways of serving and dining to cuisine transformations and chef collaborations, the culinary industry was on its toes, devising new ways to sustain and expand.

Plant-based meals 

Now, the F&B industry has been experimenting with plant-based products, a concept that has become more mainstream recently.

Nicholas Dumbell, general manager, The St. Regis Mumbai says, “We have observed that non-vegetarians are opting for healthier lifestyles and choosing vegetarian options. Plant-based food, faux food or vegetarian substitutes with meaty textures such as jackfruit has seen a rise as well. When it comes to beverages, a lot of guests are enjoying immunity boosting drinks or hot beverages with healing herbs.”

A similar trend has been observed at The Leela Palace New Delhi. Rishi Mehra, director, food and beverage tells us that nowadays, immunity-boosting dishes/beverages have gained attention; it is something that everyone is connecting with and looking for.

Plant-based dish serving

Back in the restaurant industry, restaurateurs say that there has been an increase in the number of plant-based dishes served to customers. A case in point is Pebble Street Hospitality. Keenan Tham, their director says, “I was pleasantly surprised to know that at some of our outlets, 60 per cent of dishes sold are plant-based. This has inspired my chef team to create more dishes in this space. High protein items such as red bean sesame dumpling and spicy pine nut tofu seem to be gaining popularity amongst our clientele.” Keeping this in mind, the brand is also launching a health- focused menu in mid-2021. Expect healthy options infused with Chinese herbs such as ginseng!

Companies such as Impossible Foods might soon be providing their products in India and restaurateurs like Tham plan to create some dishes with these plant-based meat substitutes in the future.

Many new distinct retail products are being introduced to the plant-based, vegan, environmentally friendly markets of India. Sameer Uttamsingh, founder, Acme Hospitality and co-founder Bun & Only says that a number of restaurants and delivery kitchens too are stepping up and introducing plant-based dishes on their menu. Last year, the brand launched Atom Box, which includes plant-based dishes such as zucchini pad Thai, Thai curry laksa and vegan toona poke bowl (made with dehydrated watermelon in place of tuna and the mayo is made with soy milk).

Atom Box

Sweet cravings 

There has been a rise in dessert bars and dessert-only restaurants. Due to the popularity of shows like Masterchef and Chef’s Table, there has been an increase in knowledge and intrigue in people about the art of plated desserts. This has brought about a number of pastry chefs creating their own style of presentation. A few examples are, Koi in Australia, Marble Dessert Bar, Jungsik, Chickalicious in NYC, Tickets in Barcelona, room4dessert in Bali, and now Moner in Mumbai, India.

Speaking about the newly launched Moner, which is said to be India’s first and only dessert bar and bistro, founder and Chef Freny Fernandes said, “After visiting a couple of dessert bars in NYC, I was mesmerised by the amount of attention to detail in the plated desserts as well as the magic of creating art on a plate. My visit to Noma inspired me to open a dessert bar with an intimate atmosphere, where I could interact with my guests, explain my creations and my inspiration behind them.”

Entremets – multi-layered glazed cakes is another trend in the pastry world, said Chef Freny. “You will often see chefs slicing through these glazed cakes and revealing all the layers inside on Instagram. Entremets are cakes that have multiple layers and textures mainly comprising of some kind of mousse and inserts, finished with mirror glaze.”

Moner has introduced these entremets on the menu, as well as for special orders, like the chocolate passion which comprises layers of 60 per cent chocolate mousse, cocoa nib praline, salted caramel, chocolate cake and cocoa glaze.

Contactless entry at Salt Water Café

Small is big 

Indian and Asian portion sizes are generally designed to cater to two or three people at one time. However, the menu/portions, be it Indian, Asian, or continental cuisines are now being customised as per guests’ needs. “A single traveller generally wants to try more variety of dishes while dining, this is when we pre-plate Indian or Asian in small quantities,” adds Mehra of The Leela Palace New Delhi.

Upping this trend, The St. Regis Mumbai has a “Dine at your Desk” option now. These are curated meals helping those going in to work with packed lunches and meals for their comfort avoiding the whole scenario with the cafeteria or preparing and bringing your own meal. Dumbell says, “We are trying to see how we can make sure that everyone has the same food in front of them when there is an online meeting, much like having a meeting over lunch while at work.”

The St. Regis Mumbai offers enhanced home deliver

What’s trending?

Food on the wheels: With buffet being minimum, à la carte or buffet on the table has become part of the new normal. But what’s new is the concept of food on the wheels. A case in point is “Brunch on Wheels” at The Leela Palace New Delhi. It is a concept where they have moving trolleys of the cocktail bar, salads, desserts that are wheeled around the restaurant and reach the guests at their table itself.

Regional food and going back to basics: Chef Gresham Fernandes, culinary director at Impresario Handmade Restaurants, points out that the pandemic has given a chance to people to learn to cook or cook a lot more often than they did before! Local and familiar flavours and regional cuisines are what restaurants are now trying to focus on, while there is some amount of experimentation, it is also about presenting familiar flavours and ingredients in a more elevated restaurant-style format. Elaborating on this, industry expert Tham says, “The trend I feel is picking up is regional cuisine from different parts of India which is now being made more available pan India. A slightly modernised version in a nice slick ambiance is on offer at some new restaurants.”

Middle eastern cuisine is a winner: The demand for eastern Mediterranean and Levant cuisine seems to be catching up, as indicated by Hyatt Regency Delhi. “Many people are now familiar with middle east food from their travels to the UAE – this was the perfect combination for SYRAH (the new restaurant at Hyatt Regency Delhi) with a mix of indoor and alfresco seating and very unique cuisine,” adds Julian Ayers, general manager, Hyatt Regency Delhi. Similarly, at The St. Regis Mumbai, guests have also shown an interest in Greek and Lebanese food.

From kitchen to table: Nick Harrison, co-founder, Slink & Bardot and Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît in Mumbai says, “All dinner plates come out of the kitchen covered by a retro stainless-steel cloche. We decided to introduce this as a hygiene measure, however in doing so, we discovered that covering dishes naturally shields garnishes and leaves from wind and helps keep them in place. Furthermore, it adds a healthy degree of anticipation flare for the diner as he/she awaits their plate to be uncovered.”

Breaking the pattern: When it comes to fine dining, the fixed structure of a starter, a main course, and a dessert is not the set norm anymore. At Ziya, The Oberoi, Mumbai, Twice Michelin starred Chef Vineet Bhatia launched a shared plates menu — Earth, Land and Sea, where guests had the freedom to dine the way they like. The menu was broken down into an easy and understandable set up, where guests could actually control or dictate how they want to eat.

Digital acceleration: To ensure the safety and wellbeing of customers, brands have limited human interaction with them and are promoting QR codes for orders and payments. Some are separating groups with barriers at the table as well. Let’s keep an eye on what’s next!

AT-HOME DINING VS OUTDOOR CULINARY SOJOURNS

Both home delivery and dining-out can offer great experiences, says Ayers, but they are very different and have to fit your mood. They are not in competition with each other. He says, “Some days you want to curl on the sofa, and enjoy a movie with a home-delivered pizza or you have a few friends around, and you order in Chinese banquet so not to spend your whole evening in the kitchen – and now with so many super apps delivery is easy!”

Since lockdown, dining at home has become a popular trend. Everyone in the hospitality industry came up with innovative concepts in the segment of food deliveries which are different from regular packing and ordering. Mehra says, “The trend of DIY food kits were also explored wherein raw or semi-cooked ingredients are prepared, packed and the guest finishes the dish at home. Now, nearly after four months of opening up, we do see a lot of guests coming back to the restaurants but a good number still prefer ordering/ preparing food at home.”

When it comes to offering its patrons an enhanced dining experience in the comfort of their homes, hotels like The St. Regis Mumbai make sure that everyone from their culinary team to the hosts who deliver the food to the guests are safe and stay at the hotel itself.

Dumbell says, “I do think the secret of delivering an enhanced experience lies in the way the food is packaged, delivered and presented to the guests. Presentation is everything, and when the food reaches their house spill-free and piping hot, you’ve won a happy customer.”

Some restaurateurs believe that dining at home is a great idea, but after a point, the experience does get boring and monotonous. Expressing his view, Chef Gresham says, “This is why restaurants exist; it’s more like a community space where you share a table with friends and family and enjoy a meal cooked and served by someone else making it a hassle-free dining experience. I believe restaurants are a vital part of the community and food should be shared. Also, in today’s time and age, restaurant experiences have become so personal, with the use of high-quality produce and creating an experience that may not be easy to create at home.”

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