By Neelima Agrawal
A gustatory experience involving the visual and the olfactory senses, where each course is akin to an art installation – is how I might describe my lunch outing at the Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, on Janpath. Located in the cuboid structure that was once an auto showroom, this fine-dining restaurant is the new talking point in Delhi circles, though it’s been a few months since it opened its doors here.Why Zoravar Kalra, the dynamic son of Jiggs Kalra, who opened the first Masala Library in Mumbai in 2013 to much acclaim, wait for three years to launch this restaurant in Delhi, is yet not clear.
The elegant and sparse interiors, white table covers, the classic ceiling-high enoteca wall at the entrance, tall windows with grey fabric blinds, belie the drama that will unfold with the arrival of each course. Fully aware that this restaurant is the first of its kind in the sub-continent which claims to use ‘post-modern and post-molecular techniques’ to incorporate the flavors of not just the cuisines of India, but also the border nations of modern day Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan (which honestly, are not all that different from our own).
The 19 course Chef’s Tasting Menu had us entertained and engaged for an entire afternoon. The thrills, spills, chills, oohs, aaahs, kept up for the two and half hour thriller, so much so that for the Grand Finale, which arrived with all the smoke and magic, levitating in midair, we were already a spent force. Each of the starters were only bite sized portions, and the main course dishes just a tad bigger, but we crossed the border of over-eating half way through.
What a lot of creativity and thought went into serving each dish differently. The amuse bouche, mango pirada, looked like egg yolk in half egg shell sitting in a nest. Yes, it did taste like mango. No, shells were not edible. The ‘deconstruction of samosa’ looked nothing like our dear conical plump dish. But it tasted the same. The charcoal bhajia on a slab of green granite was not burnt, though it did look like it definitely was. The humble turai was roasted and served with a wafer of turai crisp. Mushroom chai, the broth of five varieties of mushrooms, is delicately flavored. There was the littichoka, eggplant from Bihar, tweaked, but with the authentic flavor intact, in a new look. Tawakeema with slices of karela or bitter gourd! Galouti kebabs in camouflage. Full marks to the Mizo stew, black rice. The pre-desserts (served before the Grand Finale levitating chocolate mentioned earlier) had at their soul yoghurt, kheer, kulfi, jalebi, rabri. The one dish that promised more than it turned out to be was the Jalebi Caviar. Served in a beautiful shell, the ‘cavier’ bit was actually jalebi turned into tiny motichoor balls to masquerade as Caviar. A rich wine rack, imaginative cocktails and mocktails, there is more magic to be discovered. The lemon Margarita with spice is recommended. The service is excellent, attentive but non-intrusive. Each dish is introduced and explained in detail. Interestingly, the Delhi restaurant menu is entirely different from the one in Mumbai. Also, the menu changes every season, which gives more reason to go back.
For those looking to compare this with Farzi Café, the famous bistro also by Zorawar Kalra’s Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd, Masala Library takes it a few notches higher. Not surprising that within the first year of opening in Mumbai in 2013, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra had won 15 top awards. The Chef Tasting Menu is priced at Rs 2,300 (Veg) and Rs 2,500 (Non Veg) per person. The place was busy and crowded, even on a Wednesday lunch hour. Recommend making a reservation before heading out. For private lunches, there is a segregated 10-seater area. Valet parking is available. Do note the little herb garden on either side of the entrance.
Timing – 12pm – 2.45pm and 7pm – 1am.