Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Olive Beach in Delhi

Yaay - I'm up to the hundredth post on this blog - the last few posts have been trickling in really slowly because I've been too caught up at work, but I have a great hundredth post write-up.

Last night, A took me out to Olive Beach for my birthday. Olive was a restaurant first begun in Bombay and then it opened a branch in Delhi a couple of years later. AD Singh, the promoter has been a restaurant entrepreneur for years. He started with a lovely little place in Colaba, if I remember correctly, called Just Desserts - they used to serve desserts and have live jazz on weekend nights. The restaurant was hugely popular but had to shut down due to some zoning issues or some such. Then he had a Chinese restaurant on a boat anchored off Chowpatty beach, called Suzie Wong - all done up like a boudoir, with fire-engine red drapes and loungey seats.

Olive is relatively his newest baby, though rumour has it he has plans for more restaurants. AD Singh has always been good at coming up with concept restaurants. The other thing he manages to do successfully is to keep generating buzz about his restaurants, so they don't lose their popularity. At Olive, they have flea market sales by local designers, they have spa lunches on Wednesdays where women can combine healthy food with an indulgent therapy and lots of other events. Olive also started the Champagne brunch on Sundays trend at stand alone restaurants in Delhi - before that they had been the purview of select 5-star hotel restaurants or coffee shops.

The old Olive in Delhi was at a beautiful location in Mehrauli, near the Qutab Minar, and used to overlook the ravines of Mehrauli. It was located in a courtyard house and was so discreet that there was no signage outside, just a bright blue gate. The decor was simple - rough-plastered bare white walls, wicker furniture and some mediterranean-style cushions - stripey, aqua, yellow and chartreuse. The courtyard featured a lovely old Banyan tree which would cast dappled shadows over the diners. In summer, huge fans and mist sprays would cool the air in the courtyard, while you always had the option of eating indoors in AC comfort. The courtyard flooring was made up of white, smooth, river stones, with flat grey flagstones marking the path. The restaurant had a wonderful air of being a place out of time - one always lingered over a meal there, enjoying the atmosphere and coming out feeling thoroughly relaxed.

The last time we ate there was when my sister and brother-in-law were in Delhi for a visit. We went over for their champagne brunch one sunday and lazed for a good three or four hours over a gargantuan meal, starting with delicious salads and dips, then soups, eggs made to order, authentic Italian style thin crust pizzas and made-to-order pastas. The part of the restaurant where we were seated had one side made of glass and the other side was open to the courtyard, and the glass wall gave a wonderful view of the ravines and ruins of Mehrauli.It was winter, and the warm sun streamed in through the glass wall. We had such an incredible sense of well-being as we rolled out of there and fell asleep in the car going home...

Shortly after that, the Municipal authorities shut down the restaurant, claiming some code violations - which they have now rolled back a year later, so I don't understand what was the bloody point. Meanwhile, AD Singh had started an Olive catering service for a few months, which was very popular. Some months ago, he re-opened the restaurant in a little-known stand-alone hotel called Diplomat. A and I had been wanting to go there for a while now, so my birthday gave us the perfect excuse.

I'd never been to this hotel before - actually it's a house, set in a huge garden, all white and big-windowed, and looks more like a guest house or one of the old bungalows of Delhi. The restaurant has garden seating as well as an indoor area, and was rocking even on a weeknight - every table was full, with a sizeable sprinkling of locals and expats making up the numbers. The path to the restaurant was set up like a beachside, with white river stones all over and a few wicker and wood loungers under large white umbrellas, and a small little gazebo. The restaurant had lots of plants and flowers grouped together in steel buckets here and there, muted lighting and a tiny little pool at one corner. Large pedestal fans had been set up and were more than effective - it was such a pleasant night that one actually felt chilled by the breeze from the fans. The Olive decor had been repeated here - mostly white, with comfortable wicker chairs and a scattering of mediterranean coloured cushions.

We had a cheese platter as the appetizer, followed by a roast-vegetable pizza and tortelloni with ricotta. The cheese platter was fabulous, though only the bocconcini and the chunk of parmesan were Italian. They had an Emmental and another hard, dry cheese that I couldn't recognise. They also had a blue cheese on the platter that was new to me. The bocconcini was stuffed with a spicy green chilli which made a fiery contrast to the bland cheese. The cheese platter came with onion jam, chestnut honey, thin slivers of pear and some apricots, walnuts and prunes. Didn't much care for the dry fruit but the honey, pears and the onion jam were great accompaniments to the cheese.

The pizza was a new take - thincrust, Italian style, it had roast vegetables, including tomatoes, aubergines and broccoli, and was topped with an arugula salad complete with vinaigrette! When I ordered it, I thought the salad was a side dish - I hadn't conceived of it being an actual topping. It was fantastic - made the pizza taste so much lighter just because of the bite of the arugula and the tart vinaigrette. I'm going to have to think about this the next time I make pizzas at home.

The tortelloni came stuffed with ricotta, topped with diced tomatoes, with a parmesan-cream sauce. Sounded great but unfortunately was too tart for my liking - and I'm someone who loves sour flavours.

Oh, well, that left more space for dessert. We shared a chocolate fondant - essentially a molten chocolate cake, served with a fresh raspberry mousse. It was delicious, even though I thought the chocolate used in the recipe should have been a dark chocolate, ideally, and not a milk chocolate as appeared to be the case. There is a rich decadence to dark chocolate that milk chocolate just cannot come close to. But again, the pairing of the fresh, tart flavours of the raspberry with the warm heaviness of the molten chocolate cake was inspired.

I still miss the open feeling one got at the old Olive - here the other buildings loomed a bit too close and the garden was quite small, so one felt a little more crowded. But all in all, it was a terrific meal , with great service. The meal for two, with one drink, came to Rs. 3500, including the service. ( Though I must admit the taxes were over Rs. 600!)Definitely worth a re-visit!

Olive Beach,
Sardar Patel Marg,
New Delhi

I did take pics with my camera phone but my phone and computer aren;t talking to each other so will have to upload them later!