I’d been looking forward to having a meal at Tian: Asian Cuisine Studio, at the ITC Maurya, New Delhi. Headed by chef Vikramjit Roy, its eclectic menu and its extensive use of molecular gastronomy techniques have made it the most talked-about Asian restaurant in the country. Last month, on a visit to Delhi, I finally got to eat there. I was a bit lucky, as it turns out. Roy will shortly be leaving the restaurant to intern with the guru of molecular gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal.
I first met Vikramjit early last year at the ITC Chola in Chennai. At the time, he was heading Pan Asian and had put together a rather avant-garde menu for the restaurant. It was not just ahead of its time for Chennai, it was even ahead of pan Asian restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Roy was probably the first chef in India to use molecular gastronomy in Asian food; a practice that has since been picked up by other restaurants in the country.
As with any molecular gastronomy meal, there’s a lot of drama and theatrics at the table but to critique or praise each dish that Roy creates is to miss the wood for the trees. At Tian, Roy takes you on journey, and as with all journeys not everything that you see, smell and taste will be to your liking. But it will be something you’ve never experienced before.
Unlike most other pan-Asian restaurants that focus on recreating or re-presenting traditional flavours, Tian’s food is pulled out of its regional moorings and offered in a new context. Thai fish cakes are served, not in a plate but as fruits hanging from a tree placed on the table; on the side, a pot of grass releases an aromatic cloud when ‘watered’.
Naturally, some dishes work and some don’t – I’m still scratching my head over one dish called The Question Is. I’m not sure why the tuna ceviche needed so many supporting elements. In contrast, Eat Your Table, where there are perhaps far more elements strewn across the sheet of glass held together beautifully because each element was an intriguing idea in itself, and in combination built up layers of taste. (Watch the video below to see Roy building up the Jackson Pollock inspired dessert)
The dishes I liked best were the ones in which Roy exercised a modicum of restraint: the firm flakiness of the baked sea bass, the sea-breeze-like, salty-tanginess of the yuzu miso, and the smooth roasted cauliflower mash. Together it evoked a sense of eating fish on a sandy beach.
What you are being offered is a new way to engage with Asian cuisine and so you must judge each dish within the context of the plate and decide whether it’s taking you one step forward to a new understanding of food. That moment came for me when I tasted Purity of Earth, an intensely-flavoured root vegetable soup made in a siphon – a coffee machine that has recently acquired cult status amongst coffee baristas for its ability to produce a strong, clean brew.
If you find a new way of seeing then the journey is worth it, if not, buy a return ticket or go on a different journey.
|Invited by PR company||Yes|
|Guest of the chef/ restaurant||Yes|
|Restaurant knew I’m a food writer||Yes|
|Meal comped by the restaurant||Yes|