In winter, A and I have an annual tradition of visiting one of Delhi's finest stand-alone continental cuisine restaurants, Diva, at least twice. Diva has an amazing menu with periodic additions of new dishes discovered or adapted by chef and restaurateur Ritu Dalmia, and one of the best and most moderately ptriced wine lists in the country. But for us, the main attraction is the Fondue. It is rare to find it on the menu in India unless a restaurant is having a food festival or a special event, and it's a dish we love but know we can only take in winter when copious amounts of an eau de vie can be had alongside to help digest the dish.
There are several funny stories associated with Fondue for me. Years ago, in 1995, Ritu had opened her first restaurant, Mezza Luna in picturesque Hauz Khas village. The restaurant had an imaginative menu with unusual dishes like Basler Mehlsuppe, a lovely soup made of flour - which I didn't even find on the menu in Basle, by the way, as it's a highly seasonal dish - Roesti etc. I, A and BFF headed to Mezza Luna for dinner one Friday night, and the minute I saw Fondue on the menu, I begged them to order it, since I had read about it and was wildly curious. The salad came and then the Fondue. I dug into it eagerly, thoroughly enjoying my first encounter with it. A and BFF were approaching it somewhat gingerly, taking time over the salad and hesitantly dipping a few pieces of bread in. Then Ritu bustled up to us and asked how the meal was, especially the Fondue. A and BFF exchanged incredulous looks before turning to me - "This is it? Our main course? We thought it was some kind of dip, and were saving our appetites for the main course!" Anytime I ever mentioned Fondue after that - or made a menu selection, the two of them would start chortling.
Years later, when A and I were in France, our Swiss friend Roger invited a bunch of us to a Fondue dinner at his house. He has stirred up a large pot of it, complete with the garlic rubbed around the pot, the wine and the two kinds of Swiss cheese. Cubes of bread, cooked baby potatoes, tomato juliennes and pickled onions gleamed on the table alongside the bubbling cauldron of melting cheese. Roger served an eau de vie as well as some good Bordeaux and told us that we should have large quantities of the eau de vie to ensure the cheese stayed melted after we'd scoffed it down, as otherwise it was liable to form an indigestible lump in our stomachs and lay us out with a stomach ache the next day. Also, the penalty for losing your bit of bread or potato/ whatever in the fondue was to do a bottoms up of your eau de vie glass. The Fondue was delicious, and we were all pretty clutzy so a lot of EDV was washed down. The next morning, classes began at 8:30 am as usual, and there was a pallidly green and woozy group sitting at the fringes of the room, wishing the teachers wouldn't speak so loud.
Diva is a modern looking restaurant in GK II, which has come up as a market full of places to eat at various price ranges, from a Bengali Sweets type of place to Chinese to Nu Deli which is a new entrant. It has a vast fireplace on the ground floor and a pleasingly vibrant decor with white walls, coloured niches, dark wood accents and flooring and abstract paintings and prints. Ritu Dalmia, the owner, has earned her spurs first with Mezza Luna, then a restauirant in London before moving back and starting Diva several years ago. She has done a lot of research in Italian cuisine, and always has interesting dishes on the menu, apart from a small selection of Swiss-style food.
Diva used to have Fondue on the menu as either an appetizer or a main course. The quantity of the dish and the heavy, rich nature of it means that unless you're dining there in a large group, there's no way you can even treat the appetizer as anything but a main course. We usually order her Rocket salad with a deliciously zesty vinaigrette, but it was off the menu so we ordered Crostini topped with Gorgonzola and figs for starters. It was a rather small portion ( only 2 pieces) and therefore pretty expensive, though delicious.
The Fondue was heavenly as usual. It's not mentioned on the menu now, so while they do serve it, you have to know about it in advance. They serve it with cubed potatoes and bread, pickled onions and gherkins. We usually ask for cherry tomatoes which are not a traditional accompaniment, simply because they make such a fresh, tart contrast to the blandly rich cheese. Chubbocks got a Margherita pizza which was delicious too - the sauce was a fresh, young concoction of ripe tomatoes bursting with flavour. Though Tonino is my current favourite pizza place, this ran it a close second purely because of the sauce.
While we've been taking Chubbocks along with us for the past two years, we've never really thought of the restaurant as a child-friendly place. It's usually full of the chatterati and there's a cantilevered staircase and so on. This time, we had to take Puddi along as well, and just hoped it wouldn't mean that we had to take turns having our meal, because the pleasure of a Fondue is from its communalness.
We were seated upstairs, rather than downstairs, because we had the two kiddos with us. The restaurant did have a high-chair though it was rather light and therefore carries a risk of tipping over backwards. We placed the chair flush against a wall to prevent it from doing so. As soon as we were seated, the maitre d' bustled up and said hi to both the kids, and told them that is they didn't make noise, they would be rewarded with chocolate cake. Five minutes later, the chocolate tortes arrived at the table! We of course asked the serving staff to hold off and serve it later after the main course, but were bowled over by the gesture. Puddi had immediately spotted the dessert and plaintively kept calling for 'choccat' even as they were carting it away.
Chubbocks enjoyed his share of the Fondue and the pizza which he manfully struggled to finish. Puddi on the other hand didn't much care for the fondue or even the bread or potatoes by themselves - she's a home food kinda gal as of now, and created a fine pastiche of bread crumbs, mashed cherry tomato and potato and gherkins all over the floor surrounding her chair. She did enjoy her torte though, and finished most of it. The tortes, when we had the remnants after the kids were through, were delicious, with a crackly chocolate top, a crisp crust and a richly moist center with the taste of high quality dark chocolate.
When the bill came, we were pleasantly surprised and to find that the tortes had been complimentary. The meal came to about Rs. 2500 for three and was well worth the money as well as the hour-long drive from home.