Monday, April 12, 2010

Dining out? Fine then...

Even the non-foodie cannot resist the simple dal, rice, pickle and papad - red rice, brown rice, white rice. Yellow dal, black dal, sambhar - any style. India is united by two things (a strictly personal opinion) - music and food. And with food, it's connected to the rest of the world.
I put forth a simple question today to my friends. What cuisine comes to their mind as the preferred one? The answers were random and from all over the globe.
No French, Spanish, German or Dutch.

And one food to bind them - Indian.

Many of us haven't been to any of the countries that serve the above dishes. I've tried dutch food and there was a over ration of bread in all their meals. I tried some of their traditional dishes too and like all countries, there was nothing fancy about it. It was simple, made with love and totally delicious.
I think except for the French (who like to be a bit snobbish about everything) every cuisine has this series of 'home stuff' that anyone can enjoy. What better way to unite the world.
Food has no religion. If you don't eat meat, eat the vegetables.
We brought religion into food. And that is something God wasn't expecting us to do. I am quite certain about that.

My earlier post, about fine dining in India literally becomes redundant.
We all want comfort food. Be it at a fancy tight upper lipped joint or at a 'holler across the room' place - we all want to go home feeling happy.
We don't like making reservations most of the time. Many of us like to make sudden plans and walk into a restaurant. We aren't all uptight about that. And I don't see why restaurants should make us feel that way.

I've heard of European restaurants and some in New York that require a reservation at least two weeks ahead - when was the last time any of us did that in our country?
Unless we're planning a big wedding reception or a lavish party to tell our peers that we can afford the best wines for a soiree of 150, when do we call more than 24 hours ahead and actually book a table?

I like my country this way.

And what is most interesting - all the favourite cuisines that my friends shared with me are available at the smallest of joints in our country.
Lebanese food sells for peanuts near Cole's Road. Zak's have done it brilliantly. It's authentic, a little rustic and delicious. Why would I want anything to ruin that?
Harima, till date, has the best Japanese food. And if I can afford that, why would I pay more for something that's close but quite not there yet.
You get the real Tibetan food at a hole in the wall joint off Brigade Road.
Chinese - you get it all over the city. From the North Indian Chinese to the South Indian Chinese to I am quite certain, even Hyderabadi Chinese.
And in Calcutta - Chinese is now part of the local cuisine. You have ilish maach and chicken chowmein (say chowmein, not noodles please)
And Indian food - well, point in any direction and you'll find a decent enough place to eat at.

You won't always find the real stuff on menus lined with gold paper. You find them in kitchens where the cooks, and not always the chefs, make it with love.

What more can you ask for?

We are far behind when it comes to fine dining. There are rules in that game and not everyone is ready to play it. There is strategy, combinations, experiments and a certain percentage of exclusivity. To be a fine dining restaurant, you need the b***s to sell something that a guest will never find anywhere else. It requires confident pretense that people buy into without questioning. The rest are crap and that's no secret.

And that is why a few restaurants will never run out of diners and some other will see very few!

And thank you - all my 20 respondents - for making this piece happen.

Show me the money

A very strong-minded person I know wrote a piece and sent to some of us that discussed how the fine dining culture of the city would disappear fast if we, the patrons, didn't do something about it. And with that article, he brought up an issue that I can't help but agree with. He says that less than 10% Bangaloreans (a statistic he's got from restaurant managers) would turn up as paying customers and I quote: "The owner of the free-standing restaurant noted that while a hundred high-flying socially active people will arrive at a even just a day's notice for a wine dinner that they occasionally host as a business-development effort."
I have always been suspicious of this but 10% is a terrible number.

On the other hand, people seem to be eating out a lot. People who aren't from the high-flying socially active segment. Where do they go? If I walk into a high-end mall, the Indian restaurant on its roof always has people. Regular people. My favourite restaurant has expats walking in and out all the time, even on a Monday evening.
But I would agree with the writer because what he says is true. I have often dined with just two other people where ours was the only table that night.
I think it's time restaurant focused more on the spending crowd than on the visible crowd. The social butterflies are great for PR but they aren't the ones who'll bring in the moolah.

The chef of one Indian restaurant, extremely talented, is rarely seen outside the four walls of his kitchen. He doesn't always hobnob with the 'right' crowd and yet, I have rarely seen his restaurant anything but full.
Indians like comfort food. They will go out one night in six months to try something avant garde. But as something more regular, they will go to places that actually make them feel more at home... And those restaurants never complain about business.

However, if you accepts an invitation to attend a wine dinner at the same place more than once, we're assuming that you are accepting it because you like the food. Then why can't people go back at their own time, with their friends and actually pay for a meal once in a while? And if you don't like the food, why accept the invitation at all. Bad food won't become delectable simply because it's free.

I really do wish people would shun the comfort zone of a few cafes and holes in the city and spend the same amount of money on a new place - it's important to keep the cycle in motion or else, as the above-mentioned writer puts it, fine dining in Bangalore is going to die.