One question that almost every viewer of MasterChef India must have asked themselves is – How good are the judges themselves who judge such talented people for their culinary skills? And after getting a celebrity status do they still get inside kitchen to get their hands dirty?
I am at Diya, the Indian specialty restaurant at Leela, Gurgaon that is largely influenced by Hyderabadi cuisine, for their fifth anniversary special menu. The specially crafted menu showcases some of the bestselling dishes from their prior menus and it is cooked personally by their in-house celebrity Chef, Kunal Kapur whose food I am yet to taste, despite he being a friend.
Diya’s interiors have an old traditional Indian palace look and charm. Decorated with dimly lit diyas (lamps) all around with a water body in the middle and live sitar playing in the background, most youngsters would have never experienced anything similar while people of my age will find difficult to compare it to any other restaurants they would have visited in last few years.
Without much delay, we are served crispy shredded mutton along with two brilliant chutneys; peanut-eggplant, and tamarind-dates. This crispy shredded mutton is something similar to aloo-bhujiya but much-much difficult to make. Kunal says that since this involves a lot of manual efforts by first boiling the meat and separating shreds of fiber by hand before frying them, at times it is given to the person turning late in the kitchen as a punishment 🙂
The first dish on the menu is grilled scallop in coconut curry. The brilliant scallop has even better salan gravy that compliments it so well. Next is a soft and juicy bhatti murg with chef’s secret rub. Though bhatti murgh is widely available but it speaks highly of the chef to do it with such elegance. The best dish is yet to come; a soft yet with-a-bite kebab made of haleem. It is my first time to taste this dish. This haleem is not pasty, it has a bite and one can easily enjoy the quality of meat used in this preparation.
Crisp toasted bread topped with keema-kaleji done in tak-a-tak style and mutton chunks takes my heart. This Punjabi bruschetta makes me wonder why tak-a-tak mutton from Punjab is missing from Delhi’s culinary scene. Karara kekra (Crisp Crab cake) is from the current menu and is served with pickled cucumber and chilli mayo. I do try few dishes from my wife’s vegetarian menu and I realise that I have not been doing justice to the wonderful veg selection, so I decide to keep my focus on the non-veg sampling and mentally promise myself to come back for the veg fare some other day.
The second course is soup which is murgh malai shorba with pearl millet khichda. Khichda in delicious soup is such a creativity but the French Vol au vent (light flaky puff pastry) in which khichda is placed gets difficult to eat with spoon. I just focus on the soup and khichda that works pretty well for me.
The main course is still to come and my taste buds are well enticed. Be it be the simple and homely palak-soya or khumani filled kofta done in milk gravy or the thick gravy Hyderabadi dum ka murg or superlative grilled onion sabji, each dish speaks of its master. Hyderabadi dum biryani is spicy and robust; just like it should be and I finish a memorable main course with it.
Adding an Indian touché to the crème brule is the garam masala. Baileys flavored chhena payesh is sure to appeal to the coffee lovers while cinnamon shrikhand goes so well with green apple that inspite of going slow on desserts, I take a few more bites.
Bite after bite and dish after dish, the chef tasting menu conveys why Diya has won several awards in row as the best Indian restaurant and Chef Kunal Kapur deserves all the attention he is getting. Each dish is unique, shows creativity in not only in pairing ingredients but presentation as well. My only wish is that this menu be incorporated in the regular menu instead of the special promotion that ends on 30th July’14.
Ratings (Out of 5)
Food: 4.0 | Ambience: 4.5 | Service: 4.0 | Overall: 4.0
Meal for two: Rs.7000 (Veg: Rs3350, Non Veg: Rs3650 per person, without alcohol) | Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Wheel chair friendly: Yes
Address: Diya, The Leela, Ambience Mall, NH-8, Gurgaon | Tel: 0124-4771100