The last thing I remember is March. Two weeks of glorious crowded malls, packed bars and lively offices. Everything has been a COVID-tainted, Zoom-fuelled, sourdough-scented blur since then.
Unbelievably, we are already in July: halfway through 2020. Admittedly, time has seemed static for many of us, with days merging into each other, as we impatiently try to wait out the pandemic and punctuate its darkness by sharing home-cooked meals with friends via Dunzo.
For the hospitality industry, however, every day has been a challenge as they have fought to stay afloat, pivoting endlessly to stay relevant to a clientèle that cannot leave home.
Now that the initial wave of panic has passed, and you aren’t dousing every peanut that comes through your door with hand sanitiser, this is a good time to take a look at how the restaurant industry is working on making eating in almost as much fun as dining out.
With so much on offer, navigating through the options is becoming a challenge. We are here to help. Every week, this column will explore the city’s rapidly-changing culinary landscape, giving you ideas on what to order, cook and eat.
Cloud kitchens are having a moment — and this is great for customers. Without having to pay high rents and other restaurant overheads, entrepreneurs and chefs can create high quality meals at competitive prices.
JK Pizzeria has a second advantage. Its founder, Narayan P, also runs JK Enterprises, which supplies many of the city’s hotels and restaurants with gourmet cheese, bacon and other luxury ingredients. (Here’s one more useful tip: they are available on Swiggy now, so you can order everything from smoked salmon to truffle oil to stock your probably-depleted lockdown larder.)
The 11” pizza, which arrives in plastic-free packaging, is as satisfying as a hug. There’s a dash of polenta in the dough to give these thin crust pizzas a crusty edge. No skimping on the cheese here; and they use a variety. Mozzarella, of course, but also parmesan, pecorino, feta and cheddar. The menu is succinct but includes classics such as Margherita and pepperoni, as well as pop favourites like butter chicken and paneer tikka. Find them on Zomato and Swiggy. Or order via Dunzo.
“It’s crispy, tangy, spicy,” says Nikesh Lamba, of Pricol Gourmet, explaining why they decided to launch Mex Bowl.
Mexican food, with its rice, beans and smoky chipotle peppers, has a reassuring familiarity. It is also flexible enough to adapt for a cloud kitchen format, which demands food that travels well, and is hence unfussy and robust, with bold, resilient flavours.
Pricol Gourmet, best known for popular brands Double Roti, Soy Soi and Savya Rasa has been busy through lockdown strengthening their cloud kitchens, which include Bangkok Bae as well as Crust and Cheese.
Mex Bowl offers what Nikesh calls “comfort Mexican” at a competitive price point. Their substantial Chipotle chicken bowl is a cheery burst of flavours, with sweet corn, scrambled eggs, black beans, tortilla crisps and creamy shredded chicken. The highlight however, are tacos loaded with meat and a slew of fixings, all blanketed in cheese sauce. Followed by quesadillas, also oozing cheese.
Yes, cheese is a recurring theme. But in a world battered by wave after wave of bad news, it’s a comforting security blanket. Besides, from the looks of it we aren’t going to need our skinny jeans for a while.
The Stubborn Baker
After the first few adrenalin-fuelled months in the kitchen, the charm of elaborate cooking and baking is beginning to fade.
Sure, making cheesecake from scratch is gratifying. But, all that whipping, blending and baking ceases to be fun at the end of yet another busy day of balancing WFH and the Work At Home. Fortunately, the city has a growing number of home bakers offering a wide variety of cakes, puddings, cookies and more.
Tanvi Bokaria aka The Stubborn Baker is weaving everything she has learnt about pastry, from some of the world’s best kitchens, into inventive, ambitious desserts, from caramel-dark chocolate cookies to orange-saffron madeleines.
After six months at Cordon Bleu in London, she attended the Culinary Institute of America, in New York. She then worked with Le Bernardin and the Michelin 3-star 11 Madison Park.
Building on her experience and strong pastry skills, Tanvi is experimenting with seasonal ingredients in her home kitchen. For now, there is a new cheesecake every week: strawberry balsamic, blueberry lemon, caramelised banana and mango-lime. Check out her Instagram page, @pastrycheftanvi for more information.
This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: [email protected]