An evening in Sevilla
February 5, 2012
I did not write a post for quite some time not only because office had been demanding; i was waiting for the season to fill my plate up with the best of whatever mist-enveloped farms and barns full of fat poultry had to offer.
Winter in Delhi is what the whole year is in Goa — carnival on your platter. The sun dims itself so that you can picnic in Lodhi Gardens, the North wind blows in your face so that you can retreat from the balcony and pour a scotch, the mercury plummets so that the ducks and the koels and the turkeys go easy on your stomach.
The weather had somewhat enlivened last Sunday, so after a lazy day of baking ourselves in the sun and a brisk walk to the fishmonger, we decided to spend the evening sampling the cuisine of the sunny land I long to visit: Espana. It helped that we had a standing invitation from Sevilla, the marquee restaurant in The Claridges, a cozy boutique hotel in the lush and plush Lutyen’s Delhi.
I did a quick bit of homework on Sevilla — the town and the restaurant — and modern Spanish cuisine, though I earlier had the opportunity to polish off a fair amount of tapas and paella rustled up by Spanish journeyman chefs who periodically descend on Delhi.
No amount of study, though, could prepare me for what we were greeted with — a salt tasting session. I dimly remember I had read about it somewhere, but when senior sous chef Rajiv Sinha brought out his prized, literally so, bottles from the larder and laid them on our table, we gasped at the sheer variation in colour and texture of the salts.
From the pink Himalyan (procured from Islamabad after months of coaxing and negotiations with the Pakistani customs) to the blue Iranian and grey Italian to the volcanic black Hawaiian, we licked our way through precious milligrams of exotic and expensive sodium chlorides. Some were strong, some mild, some assaulted the tongues like a whip and the Persian, which I fell for, was faint and smoky — almost like a hazy blue apparition rising from Caspian salt flats in the dusk.
In between, we nibbled on melon slices to cleanse our palates, and I found the odd sip of a medium-bodied Torres white surprisingly appropriate for the occasion.
The session, which Chef Sinha claimed to have innovated and popularised among Claridges patrons, ended with exchanging notes on our favourite salts; the chef loves the Himalayan pink, partly because it’s robust and partly because his father — a geologist who sniffs his way around Himalayan rocks — gifted the pink slab to him on his last birthday.
A long train of tapas, logically, had to come next after we downed a shot of gazpacho with a twist: they made us a warm version of the traditional tomato soup served in a shot glass. My wife liked the poached artichokes and goat cheese salad while I ended up snatching away her foie gras with truffle essence and sea salt. Another round of tapas — smoked prawns and chicken wraps — came and went, leaving us hungering for the main course.
Sucked into the Mediterranean mood by the lush trees forming a canopy, a gurgling brook, quaint cabanas and melodious country music wafting in the background, I changed gears to a full-bodied Torres, though it proved a tad strong for my delicate Caspian Sea black cod that came with smoked watermelon cannelloni, truffled potato dumplings, citrus sabayon and a generous sprinkle of Persian blue salt (Thank you chef for remembering that I loved the salt).
My wife, in the meantime, started dismantling a virtual poetry on her plate — corn-fed chicken beautifully served with charred asparagus and rosemary wedges and garnished with sale grigio di bretagna (Italian grey salt).
By then, it was past 10 at night and we were left as stuffed as fat partridges. But the ever-smiling chef was ready with his dessert. “See, am a Bengali, I have a sweet tooth and you are my guests today,” he smiled coaxingly at us.
So the last half-an-hour went by spooning the apple and pecan crumble paired with granny smith apple jelly, candid orange dust and vanilla bean gelato and revelling in customary conversations that spice up a Bengali-meets-Bengali-outside-Bengal drama.
Now, how was the food? Why have I stopped short of dissecting the dishes? Well, my exposure to Spanish cuisine is not Vir Sanghvi-ish, so I chose to love the evening as it unfolded: a slice of Espana on my plate, interesting conversations with an earnest chef and the warm glow of the cosiness that makes The Claridges a romantic address.