There are some friends for whom you always find ways to take out time. So when renowned food writer Anoothi Vishal organises a food pop-up in the city, my other engagements take a backseat. Besides, when you know for certain that you are going to have a ball of a time meeting amazing people at the event, you definitely don’t want to miss it. This time, she had called for a Modern Indian food pop-up that she was organising in one of the city’s most talked about restaurants – Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra.
My. Kalra is known as the master of Indian cuisine, having popularised our food to international audience for eons and making it as glamorous as other global cuisines. Masala Library’s food is inventive and a great representation of ‘molecular gastronomy meets age-old Indian recipes’. You are served familiar dishes with such intriguing presentations that it bowls you over, making you want more of the out of the box drama.
For the Sunday brunch pop-up, Anoothi and Chef Saurabh Udinia had planned a 19-course menu, showcasing some of the signature creations of Masala Library. We began the afternoon sipping sparkling wine before gearing up for the customary quiz in all her pop-ups. With zero preparation and a ban on Google, cracking the answers to the questions framed around Indian food history was indeed tough, leading to all sorts of discussions and debates. Such as the one on naming the dish that was prepared for Sage Durvasa using leftovers by one of the Pandavas. Avial!
The Sunday Brunch
The sit-down brunch started with an amuse bouche that looked like a raw egg. “Who’s up for the egg shot?”, teased a gentleman at the table while a friend sitting beside me looked aghast. We all broke into laughter when we realised that it was a molecular gastronomy trick and the dish was simply mango spherification along with coconut. The theatrics had begun.
In the next few minutes we savoured miniature Madur Vada with rasam served in an elongated glass funnel; Deconstruction of Samosa, which looked like a lavash with toppings but when we took a bite tasted just like a samosa; the all-time favourite Kolkata street food, Jhal Moori, but in the form of a gorgeous cookie; the lightest Dahi Vada I have ever had, with foamy dahi; crisp Sattu Paratha with achar; and Nadir Churma, a super crisp lotus root wafer with radish cream.
While we were marvelling at Chef Udinia’s culinary skills and getting few insights on the preparation of the dishes, we were served Mushroom Chai. This was an instant favourite and the guests preferred it more than the wine to beat the chilly weather. The distinctive flavour of mushrooms along with spices was nourishing and we loved the sprinkling of dried mushrooms in the cup to resemble tea leaves.
Then came Galouti Kebab, which was piped like noodles on a piece of spongy sheermal. It looked nothing like the traditional kebab, but the flavours were all there (120 spices or more!). The Reconstructed Prawn was an interesting dish of moist prawn cake served along with creamy coconut sauce, while the Nizami Haleem was thick and buttery, which was topped with mutton pickle and rice wafer. It was also good to see a dish – the Naga Pork – from Northeast India, which is a rarity in fine dining restaurants. The meat was braised perfectly and we loved the subtle hint of bhoot jolokia in the masala coating as well as the topping of black bean paste.
Chef Udinia is among the few chefs in the country who is proactively involved in introducing Northeast Indian flavours to the table. His new menu at Masala Library is a proof.
Next came a Chicken Stew, again from the Northeast, particularly Mizoram. The velvety stock with slices of chicken, veggies and black rice was light on flavour but a welcome change after the meat dishes. The Radhuni Sea Bass that followed was my favourite. Delightfully moist fish with no overpowering spices and served with pui saag. After this point, whatever else followed was a blur I must admit. But I do remember vaguely seeing Indian breads and curries.
For desserts we were served Makhan Malai, my first this season, which was as light and buttery as ever, making it hard to resist; Jalebi Caviar and Ashen Kulfi, which I gave a skip.
What We Loved:
There are various food pop-ups that are organised in Delhi, some good and some not so good. What makes a pop-up a success, besides the food, is also the company and the conversations shared. Anoothi’s food pop-ups are always a hit because of all the people who make it such a fun affair, and of course the host herself who plans and executes the pop-ups to perfection with respective restaurants.
We can’t wait for the next one!