Desi Roots, Saket: India, Now and Then

As with a few other like-minded souls, I too am unable to acknowledge the existence of an animal by the name of ‘Indian Food’. Given the very diverse nature of culture in India, our foods too are varied, and change every few hundred kilometres. Quite a few restaurants have tried to be the champions of our cuisine, mostly extending their attempts to dressing up the staff in fancy dresses, adorning the walls with related paraphernalia, spinning ridiculous tales around the origin of some of their food and serving the same tired food that’s slammed down on every other table that claims the same provenance. The fact of the matter is, most our entrepreneurs are play-it-safe-mamas-boys who lack the cojones in every sense of the word, to really take a risk and do something that’s not only innovative, but saleable too. Having pointed out the wimpy Indian restaurateur, let me also name a few I can readily look up to – Offline Social by Riyaaz Amlani and Monkey Bar at Connaught Place being the first to come to mind; both restaurants that have broken the mold and attempted to walk away from the beaten path.

Parul and I visited Desi Roots a few days ago. For some reason, the mention of a desi restaurant in the malls area of Saket always reminds me of the horrendous food I ate at Gulati’s Spice Market a few years ago. Thankfully, Desi Roots was all set to change that milestone in my memory.

For various reasons, I deem inconsequential most of the things a restaurant chooses to hang on its walls or off the shoulders of their wait staff. I will however say that Desi Roots chose to go the grunge route with nostalgic pit stops along the three very different, very well done seating areas laid out across the sprawling premises. Instead, I looked about for the menu, which I thought to be following in the footsteps of Indian Accent. Interestingly, by the time I was done, I thought the food at Desi Roots to be better than Indian Accent, preserving as it does the nature of the ethnic dishes served, while presenting every dish in a very innovative manner.

We began with an Amuse Bouche of paruppu vadai very artfully styled on a base of snowy white coconut chutney, a dab of green chutney, a dash of podi / gunpowder and topped off with a crisp fried kadi patta. It was a simple enough course, but a harbinger of things to come, the crisp vada, the fresh chutney and the balance of flavors indicating a detail oriented kitchen, led by Chef Rajiv Sinha.

[quote]We at Desi Roots have Indian elements of taste juxtaposed with modern ones in terms of food presentation and our menu has been carefully designed so as to  build a connection with all age groups. We give you a journey experience of past to present, however, with a twist. The main courses with traditional, authentic flavours takes you closer to your roots while the starters from the menu showcases taste sensibilities & choices of an ‘evolved’ desi. The magical blend of exotic spices from Awadh sets apart our Nihari a la Awadh from the kitchens of others; and handpicked selection of  spices like Paan ki jad, Khus ki jad, Meetha ittar etc. gives Awadhi nihari a unique taste and flavor. – Chef Rajiv Sinha[/quote]

I thought Chef Sinha’s food to be bold and brimming with flavors that usually die silent deaths in most commercial kitchens. In addition, this kitchen also had the distinction of delivering to my table the best vegetarian soup I’ve ever eaten, a Hindustani Cappuccino, the secret to which Chef might share with you when you visit. Instead of walking the middle path, Chef Sinha has instead chosen to infuse his food with oodles of chili heat where appropriate and bring to his diners, as yet undiscovered recipes for well known dishes, such as his Nihari, which I thought delicious and unfamiliar, causing me to renew my vows to this longstanding favorite. Others like the Deconstructed Samosa and Lamb Biryani Croquettes cause you to see the stalwarts that inspired them in a whole new light.

Desi Roots is doing good things to ethnic Indian foods, by picking up individual dishes and rebuilding them from the ground up, in food and styling avatars that most of us would barely recognize, until the wildly familiar first bite. I suggest a visit or five to reacquaint yourself with the dishes you thought you knew, but didn’t.

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.