Meal for two: Rs 3000 (without alcohol)
Must try: Gooseberry Salsa, Local
Address: 215, 2nd Floor, Chankaya Mall, Chanakyapuri
Imagine a salad that draws the illusion of a burgeoning garden, with its core ingredient, burrata, encircled by dyads — two gooseberries, two cherry tomatoes and two flies. The latter were not mentioned on the newly opened NicoCaara’s menu, which otherwise retains its faith in full-disclosure, seasonal and organic produce, and diligent mentions of its gluten-free and dairy-free offerings. Born to the clothing brand Nicobar and the fine-dining catering company Caara, NicoCaara eschews coursed meals in favour of small plates — compact dishes that are meant to be shared, allowing the diner bunch to try as many. The concept can easily be traced to Spain’s tapas and the Levantine or Greek mezze. But at this highly-stylised restaurant that stands adjacent to the highly-stylised Nicobar store at Delhi’s The Chanakya, the kitchen borrows from the culinary traditions of the lands that dot the Indian Ocean.
The two — the store and the cafe — imitate each other’s patent tropical vibe (think bamboo blinds and large brass planters hanging from the ceiling). The flies, then, only add to the picture.
While small plates have hitherto been seen on high-end tasting menus and as concise sections on the menus of a few restaurants in the Capital, NicoCaara brings the fad center stage. But they do it with an aesthetic that is cautiously avant-garde. The burrata, willingly succumbing to the pricks of my fork, worked beautifully with the citrus of the gooseberries and the freshness of the leaves, dotted with coriander seeds and pulled together by a balsamic glaze. It’s not a far-fetched interpretation but the ingredients consummate to hold your attention without relying on tricks.
A separate drinks menu divides itself into coffee and tea sections, cold-pressed juices and wellness shots. A Nicobar Elixia made for an easy choice. This fusion of pineapple, mango, orange, banana, coconut water and chia seeds preceded a cold-pressed juice of carrot, amla, apple and orange called 24 Carrot. These drinks make you feel more awake, but the food doesn’t quite slog to leave you gutted either.
The other sections segregate the gill-bearing creatures from the winged ones. As if tired of swimming in the fiery red seafood rasam broth, the seared Atlantic salmon took a moment to lean on the potato mash coated with buckwheat. This otherwise delicately-flavoured, soft-textured dish found a good match in the buckwheat. Another small plate, Miso duck slice, was to avail puréed pak choy, a five spice jus, carrots and radish — I was served broccoli instead. No issue there, except the broccoli wasn’t given enough time to lose the water it soaks in its florets at the time of steaming, making it stand out like a sore thumb in an otherwise cogent dish.
For the end of the meal, I tilted towards a chocolate and coffee pot. A clod of rich dark chocolate layered on top of sweetened cream was brought alive by a generous pour of a Mysore brew. It’s the only food at the restaurant that dares to fill you up. Call me a glutton, but I was left hankering for more.