Hotel F+B




4 Oct 2009, 0250 hrs IST,

text : Reshmi R Dasgupta, ET Bureau

Blue Ginger: Taj groups first Vietnamese outlet in New Delhi

Its at times like these that I miss my college-mate, colleague and fellow foodie, the late Sabina Sehgal Saikia the most: Blue Ginger, the Taj groups first Vietnamese outlet in New Delhi (and second in India after its sister restaurant in Bangalore) is about to open today and I wouldve appreciated a heads up on the cuisine. No other Indian Food writer knew the intricacies and differences of eastern food as well as Sabina and in her absence Ive had to depend on my own patchy experiences with pan-Asian cuisine, besides, of course, a personal preview by Taj groups chef extraordinaire Hemant Oberoi.



Hemant unerringly finds the dramatic elements of a cuisine, and showcases it perfectly for the increasingly eclectic clientele in India. He did it in Delhi in May 2008 with modern Japanese at Wasabi, followed three months later with Varqs modern Indian, both at the Taj on Mansingh Road. By his frenetic but exacting standards, its taken a long time (a year) for this new venture modern Vietnamese at Blue Ginger where the august Tea House of the August Moon held sway for many moons....

Not surprisingly, I think Hemant has a winner again. Like Wasabi and Varq, Blue Ginger aint cheap, but its worth it! It is, in fact, a generation apart from the conventional dcor and food of its predecessor. First of all, in place of one there are two outlets the 60-cover
restaurant Blue Ginger, and an elegant long bar simply called Blue.

And in case you look for either blue or ginger there or indeed the vibrant violet flower that goes by the name, blue ginger youll be disappointed. The colour scheme is eye-catching yet fashionably muted in the current international style of dark, textured stone and bronze. Only blue chandeliers provide a visual connection with the name; the furniture has equally subtle eastern accents like mother-of-pearl inlay; the crockery is custom-made by Bernardaud of Limoges, but the menu is calculated to appeal to the modern Indian. Indeed Hemant drew my attention to an all-important distinction between the first Blue Ginger at Bangalore and this one since the intervening five years had seen cuisine evolving in booming Vietnam, the Delhi outlet would showcase this new avatar.

The basics, however, remain the same: lots of fresh vegetables, ingredients steamed, broiled and grilled more than fried, and plenty of aromatics provided by herbs instead of spices, rather like Keralas Moplah cuisine. But the presentation is modern, the mixing of elements more varied, and the flavors cleaner. Its colonial association with France has also given an edge to its cuisine - besides adding baguettes to its daily fare, like pav in India courtesy the Portuguese. Interestingly, Vietnams revolutionary preceptor, Nguyen Tat Thanh, better known as Ho Chi Minh, was once a pastry chef in a hotel in Boston!

Some elements guaranteed to appeal to Indian palates untutored in Vietnamese cuisine (like mine in this case!) such as the piquant combination of lime juice, chili flakes and sea salt flakes as a dry dip for starters, besides the more familiar hot-n-sweet dip. The serving staff who gamely explain each dish and how to best enjoy it, are also a welcome adjunct to the experience! And at a broad level, the flavors are rather like Thai minus the excessive lemongrass, galangal and chilies, and Chinese minus the five spice powder.

The really outstanding starters in the varied grazing menu that Hemant organized include the crisp raw mango salad (Goi Xai, Rs 300), the classic fresh summer rolls with shrimps, chicken and chives (Goi Cun Tm G Rs 400), excellent crumbed tofu squares (Du Hu Sc Mu Rs 600), Saigon-style grilled scallops (S Dip Nuong Kiu Si Gn, Rs 1200) and super-juicy angus picattas on lemongrass stick (B Cun Sa Cy Nuong Rs 1200).

Where are the chicken and prawn appetisers, you would ask. Theyre there, and theyre very good like crispy taro prawns (Tm chin khoai Mn Rs 800), grilled chicken with black bean chilli in pandanus leaves (G Nuong Tuong - Den Trong La Du Rs 700) but when more interesting ingredients such as scallops beckon, why stick to the familiar?

The same applies to the main course....The star was undoubtedly the delicate steamed sea bass with passion fruit puree, marbled eggs and snow peas (C Vuoc Chm Mn Rs1800) and the quirky stir-fried cubes of angus in pepper sauce (B Nuong ng Tre Rs 2400) theatrically flambed inside its bamboo container at the table! Which is not to say that more conventional preparations like stir fried glass noodles with crab meat nd greens (Min X Cua Rs 600), red chicken curry with okra (Cri G Du Bap Rs 600) mopped up with sliced baguettes or stir fried haricot beans with crushed garlic and coriander (Du Dua Xo Toi Rs 500) are any less flavorful; its just that they are safe choices instead of adventurous!

A brilliant addition between the appetizers and mains was Vietnamese roast duck (a hefty Rs 4000 or Rs 2200 for half portion), that had a very different spice rub from the Peking version and was served with rice paper rolls instead of crepes. Sadly, there was no space for Vietnams famous soup-meal pho or the steamboat lao, or the many vegetarian dishes. But the dessert of taro, coconut and jaggery fritters with mung bean ice cream reaffirmed my view that the only eastern people who know about sweets are my compatriots the Bengalis!

Still, Blue Gingers food on the whole tickled my taste buds very pleasantly indeed, so epicurean Delhiwallahs should appreciate it too even if they fashionably crib about the rarified surroundings being so removed from the heat and dust of the Indo-Chine... But I do wish Sabina was here to put it in perspective for all of us....

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