A couple of days ago, three avid ex-New Yorker foodies, excited by the prospect of a good French restaurant in the vicinity of our homes, decided to go to the much talked about Chez Nini, or rather – Chez NO NO, as it shall be called henceforth.
I’m one of those people who is obnoxiously in love with all things French, so I, personally was extremely hopeful.
We walked in at around 8:30PM to a restaurant with no reservation and five empty tables. We were denied seating. When I pointed out that there were FIVE EMPTY TABLES, the maître d’ told us that we could wait and maybe around 11PM we might get a table. After a couple of minutes of argument to no avail, I walked out, peeved and feeling self conscious in my salwaar kameez, thinking perhaps we had been victim to one of those “rights of admission reserved” policies. After dilly-dallying outside for five minutes, a waiter came and said, Ma’am, we can give you a table provided you finish your meal by 10/10:30. We walked in grumbling about the time limit and out of sheer indecision; no place that makes you feel inadequate should profit from your pocket. But why not, we thought. Silly us.
We were seated underneath a giant bird’s nest. Menus were brought. We ordered the following dishes with even higher expectations than what word of mouth had built now that such a song and dance had been made about seating us.
Crispy Soft Poached Egg
Zucchini and Gouda Croquette
Country Style Lamb Meatloaf
Spice Rubbed Chicken ‘Coq au Vin’
While we waited – and boy, did we wait (what happened to the time limit?), I had a chance to look around and absorb the ambience. At first glance, the place seems nice enough. The fairy lights outside are cute, the tree and the bird’s nest could be called whimsical I guess, the distressed mirrors are kind of cool. Then you look a little closer and you see oriental looking cut out wooden panels covering the air conditioners, a similar panel covering something else in the corner near the loo. There’s a coat hanger or some sort of art piece, which has antler like protrusions on it hanging on one wall. There are a couple of photographs of similar looking contraptions on another. You think about all these things for a second and try to find some kind of cohesiveness, and perhaps it escaped me so feel free to connect the dots and correct me, but I was a little confused. But this was before the food arrived and I realized that the arbitrary décor was the least of all the evils that were to befall us that evening.
The poached egg and croquette came first. The egg was cooked well, some simple salt and pepper in the batter would have been nice. The potato salad was good, a tad too mustardy for my companions, but I didn’t mind it. The fried flowered capers were delicious. Some green and white asparaguses lay on top of the salad. I adore white asparagus, but I’m fairly sure these were the kind that came out of a tall glass bottle with a metal cap, often found in slightly fancy grocery stores. The overly vinegary taste is a give away, and it was unnecessary on an otherwise good plate of food.
The croquette. Salty salty salty. The tamarind sauce and ponzu mayo were nice, but salty with salty makes Jack a boy with high blood pressure and no remaining taste buds. And really, how hard is it to make a good cheese pakora?
But again, I am being nit picky.
The Coq au Vin was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish (not that we reached the end, it was inedible). The presentation was sloppy, the salad had wilted due to its placement on top of hot food. India accounts for approximately 10% of total arms sales in the world, and is apparently spending some 6000 crores on South Korean warships. The spiced croutons are a cheaper alternative. I think chicken cooked with skin works only if the skin has become beautifully crispy. This poor chicken was covered with some slimy skin and once you dug deep enough you could find some signs of former life in the bloody veins near the bone. How you can make simple braised potatoes, onions and mushrooms taste sour and slightly rotten must have taken some significant effort. The sauce, the sauce. The sauce was a strange combination of sour and bitter and bland and unpleasant – I can come up with an arsenal of similar vague adjectives to fully articulate how terrible this sauce was, but you get the idea.
The meatloaf, a step up from the Coq au Vin, inspired a great joke from one of my companions. Meat ka jawaab patthar se! she exclaimed after her first bite. It’s our fault to be honest. We should have guessed that the meatloaf would have the consistency of a brick when they served it with their sharpest steak knife.
After much deliberation, we decided to order dessert and some coffee. I will give credit where it’s due, and the Chocolate Caramel Tart was quite delicious. I love sweet and salty, and the sea salt provided some relief from the decadent chocolate ganache and caramel (although it tasted more like toffee, much to my delight).
This would have been a nice point to end the evening, politely pay the bill and walk out, but the waiter came and asked us how the food was. I couldn’t stop myself. I really believe that honest feedback on a meal will make the next one better, and from what I hear, chefs value it. When I told him about the sauce, he interrupted me to inform me that wine had been used in the Coq au Vin and I had to refrain from applauding him for such a stellar comment. I know I’m being a snob, but waiters should be educated on what they are serving, it makes a difference.
The whole experience was unpleasant. I moved from New York to Bombay and then to Delhi and the food and fine dining scene here is emerging at best. It is the unanimous complaint about this city. So when new restaurants open up, especially if they serve European cuisine, I am always excited and hopeful.
Dining, I believe, comes under the hospitality industry and there was nothing hospitable about this restaurant. Had the staff been even remotely gracious through the evening, informed the chef that we’d complained, perhaps if she’d taken the time out to come and talk to us and apologize like she did with the expats seated next to us, we would have been kinder in the comment book they gave us with the bill and might have considered coming back. Try less, do more is what my companion wrote in the little leather book. The chef should take note.
I’ve been ranting about this meal for the last couple of days and a lot of people are surprised by my story. Try the Duck Confit! Try the cheesecake! (Don’t try the French Onion Soup – much to my amusement)! Sorry folks. In the words of the lovely David Foster Wallace, No, not ever again.
I really hate crying. But I really hate crying in public more. I think the driver was really worried. Eff.