Hotel F+B


Vietnam with a twist


 New Delhi October 10, 2009, 0:07 IST

Text : K S Shekhawat


Singapore-based Poole Associates debuts with its first “eatertainment” project in Delhi.



Delhi’s raining bars, which are by nature softly lit spaces with quiet corners and discreet lighting. That seems to be pretty much what you might say for Lap, the membership-only lounge-bar at the Samrat that is owned by actor Arjun Rampal, though you might add “decadent” to the look and feel, and slip in “burlesque” where entertainment is concerned. Not so where The Blue Bar and its twin outlet, Blue Ginger, are concerned.

The two Blues replace Tea House of the August Moon, the eponymous Chinese diner at the Taj Palace that was experiential with its over-the-top dragons and goldfish ponds that made up the interiors. Blue Ginger is as different from that as kitsch is from contemporary, and not only on account of its cuisine. There may be nothing Vietnamese about the look, other than a few stray references, such as to the locks of Buddha’s hair, which form the recurring pattern in the cast bronze panels on the ceiling, nor is it minimal — quite the contrary — but it is also simultaneously modern and Art-Deco, representative of Hanoi in the 1920s.

1920s Vietnam was the apogee of the French-Colonial style from which Vietnamese society took its cue, not least from the Art-Deco Ruhlmann furniture which set the trend at Bao Dai Palace in Dalat. It is this which has been reproduced, with a twist, at Blue Ginger, articulating a sense of glamour that is not in evidence in less classic interiors. No wonder Ed Poole, of Poole Associates, is preening a bit. On the evening we meet him, the Singapore-based designer who specializes in “eatertainment” projects, is talking about the Anantara Resort in the Maldives where the wine-cellar-dining room has actually been placed underwater, along the reef, so the sea is visible all around and above.

The Blue Bar isn’t in that league, but leaning on the counter, little threads of light reflecting on the chilled martini glass, it is amusing to learn that the golden threads are actually optic-fibre lights inlaid in stone. “It has a nice feel,” says Nicholas Hawkins, the bartender, knocking not on wood but on a brass top on the side, “That’s a satisfying sound,” he says. But back to the lights on the counter, “It’s the first time it’s been done,” says Poole. Curtains of optic-fibre lights are like frozen rain over raised seating areas to allow for a view across the restaurant and through the bar to the landscaping and swimming pool outside — at least during the day. By night, the drapes are drawn, but The Blue Bar has a wooden deck outside, along its entire length, making it the only al fresco bar in the city.

That sense of opulence characterizes much of the space: One wall at Blue Ginger is set with mirrors — not unlike the sheesh mahals in Indian palaces — while mother-of-pearl inlay on tabletops (and brass table legs) and an entire table in mother-of-pearl in the private dining room, hark back to a more gracious age. Nor is it all just nostalgic: the materials used range from cast aluminium to hand-cut crystal beads, from gold-infused woven bamboo to silver-beaded crystal chandeliers, from green marble to raked granite. The bespoke furniture, faithfully reproducing the Ruhlmann originals, is from Unicane in Suribaya, and the bespoke lighting is from Dua Lighting, Bali, both in Indonesia. That it’s all of a piece with the cuisine — fine-dining Vietnamese, itself in a process of experimentation even back home in Vietnam — is a pointer to the design which is similarly experimental and a sum of many parts that come together for a fine gastronomic experience.

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