Monday, July 04, 2005

India Jones

Rolf, head of Group IT Controls and Solutions, was in India for a week. We were working towards an IS audit and a BCP for CLSA India Limited. He invited Raj, Atul and me for a dinner at India Jones last Friday. This was a very convenient location for us, since he was put up at the Oberoi and it is also very near to our office.

[Raj Mehta, Shishir Dhulla & Atul Sashittal]
[Rolf took the snaps, so he is not present in any of the snaps]

A lot of people after dining at India Jones, the Oberoi Towers’ new multi-cuisine restaurant in Bombay, want to know who India Jones is. The story being put out by the hotel is that Bharrat (India) Joyent (Jones), an intrepid traveller with a passion for food, was born on August 15, 1947, in Cheerapunji where it always rains. He studied in America, changed his name but not his character, and developed a fondness for travel and a love of fine cuisine. India Jones’s adventures took him far and wide. He maintained diaries, collected recipes, and he befriended chefs. When he returned to India, he set up a home in Bombay that he kept open for fellow journeymen who shared his zest for life and passion for food. This home is the India Jones restaurant.

That’s the hotel’s story. However, India Jones is actually Sanjiv Malhotra, the vice-president of the Oberoi Group of Hotels, who conceptualised this South-East Asian fine wining and dining restaurant. India Jones was designed according to his plans by New York architect Toni Chi. He is one of the best in the world. Restaurants in the US and all over Asia are slowly being recognised first for Toni’s interiors and then the food. The F&B consultant was Roland Gaelens of Belgium, one of the leading faculty of the famous Paul Bacouse School of Cooking. He had already helped the Oberoi set up its Frangipani restaurant next door.

The story is now taken up by India Jones’s young and enterprising chef de cuisine, Manish Nambiar. The Oberoi sent him on a gourmet journey all over South-East Asia so that he might be exposed to its many cuisines and see what was compatible with the Bombay palate. And also to identify chefs for the new restaurant, source out suppliers for food ingredients, cutlery and crockery. For one-and-half year Manish travelled all over Thailand, HongKong, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Malaysia doing just that. When he had made all his choices, Sanjiv Malhotra joined him on a whirlwind two-week recce, and they came back with recipes for a menu of seven cuisines. Plus, four young expat chefs to prepare this menu. They are Vikan Nambises for the Teppanyaki table; Anthony Hueng for Chinese food; Cao Ming Chi for Vietnamese; Pornchai for Thai.

It is an open kitchen. And one not divided according to the cuisines, but on cooking techniques. But first, the multi-cuisine menu: it is made up of food from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, the Pacific Rim and India. One section of the kitchen is for curries, another for stir-fry dishes, a third for salads and appetisers.

I would suggest you go to India Jones late for dinner. Expats, mainly Korean and Japanese, flood the place for the first sitting, which is around 7.30 p.m. Go with an open mind, confident of having a good meal. Ask for help, call for Manish or the restaurant manager, the menu is too vast for you to decide for yourself. Unless you can make up your mind from the 124 dishes they have listed there which each have an identity of their own. There’s also a Japanese menu not on print for which the chef is always taking orders, and a special Korean menu that runs as well. “Still, we have Jains and Marwadis who want the food cooked their way,” said Manish. “We don’t look at what is right or wrong. How would you treat such guests at home? For us, this is a double-edged sword. Does the chef do what he wants or what the guest wants? Cook authentic Chinese not acceptable to the Indian? Or cook Chinese for a Jain that is not palatable to a Chinese? The chef crosses the threshold. There is no harm serving something that is not listed on the menu.” So, there are six cuisines on the menu, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Teppanyaki from Japan, and Indian where the tandoor is used as a medium of cooking but where all the marinations are from the Pacific Rim. The essence of cooking at India Jones is that of Oriental cuisine. Where the food is cooked tenderly and has one predominant flavour. And where the freshness of the ingredient is most important. Whatever you eat there, you taste naturally; there is the flavour and taste of the natural ingredient. Manish, whose role is that of a sampler who journeys through the menu, says he tries to identify the tastes of each guest, especially what a person dislikes. Then he plans the menu so that the guest does not feel he is eating at a Thai or Chinese restaurant, but that he is at India Jones. Using a two-way Motorola walkie-talkie, Manish informs the kitchen of his order. And, eight minutes later, not longer, the food is at the guest’s table!

Happy soul

India Jones, The Oberoi Towers,
Nariman Point, Mumbai 400 021
MAH, India

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