Cost: Rs 2,300 plus taxes per person for non-vegetarian chef’s menu, Rs 2,100 for vegetarian
Address: 21 A Janpath, Near Le Meridian
Like Dante, we put ourselves in the hands of our guide and follow unquestioningly. Our journey, though, is through the far more salubrious locales than Alighieri’s travails. At Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra in Delhi, his son Zorawar promises “a culinary crash course of India in two hours.” And that’s exactly what the restaurant delivers. But pardon our excitement; we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Situated just off the Le Meridien roundabout, a cool white edifice — stark but for a sign announcing Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra — the restaurant looms large on Janpath. The garden outside has trees and swathes of herbs, identified by signs and used in the kitchens inside. Once you cross the glass doors, a virtual cellar full of wines, spirits and liqueurs greets you, arranged around the restaurant in glittering glass shelving. The rest of the space is no less dramatic, despite its minimalistic plain walls, slashed with silver grey curtains, and sans decoration except for a couple of mirrors that deftly reflect light.
Despite its voluminous space, the restaurant only seats 60 patrons, and is currently operating only for dinner with two available slots of 7 pm and 9 pm. This is because you are encouraged to try the chef’s tasting menu, comprising 19 courses, which travel around the country the way chef Saurabh Udinia did to get the regional favourites.
There is plenty that we recommend. The Deconstruction of Samosa comes with a strip of pastry topped with a mosaic of bits of potatoes, peas, tamarind and green chutney, looking absolutely nothing like its inspiration, shaped and crafted with some strange sorcery. Yet, by some equally potent alchemy, on transferring the contents to your mouth, it transmutes into the exact flavour and textures of the fried favourite. Goa is represented by a cube of its famous guava cheese, perad, placed in a rambutan peel with a sliver of the fruit, and accompanied by a miniature cheese poee, a pliant bread from the beach state. Meanwhile, Kashmir is interpreted through Nadir Churma, a huge disc of crisp lotus stem, dusted with Kashmiri laal mirch and served with the Valley’s celebrated walnut chutney. From the west comes the ubiquitous bhajji of Marathi street stalls, covered here with a coating of edible ash and smoked thoroughly; it’s black to the bone, er root, and delicious through and through.
The Northeast is heavily represented in the mains. The Naga Pork comes enmeshed in a raja mircha marination, which sears through one’s palate in the most delicious manner while the meat melts on it. Quick on its heels is the Mizo Chicken Stew, served with black rice, which is like a mother’s hug when you’re feeling down.
Especially if the pork is over. The third triumvir is a thick slab of Radhuni Sea Bass — the fish cooked in Bengali wild celery, covered with a foliage of pui saag, crispy fried and with a bite.
Dessert is another Daliesque series of confections. A delicate bhapa doi comes topped with white chocolate and a buttery biscuit base, while the Ashen Kulfi comes dome-shaped, trailing behind it is a path of edible grape ash. But it’s the Jalebi Caviar that is the pièce de résistance — minuscule globules of jalebi sided by a chilled rabri, it had the consistency of treacle and an ephemeral saffron foam. In essence, at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, you truly get India on your plate.