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Meatless in Manhattan
Ghaas phoos, bread and cheese. . . that's what veggies have to make do with while travelling abroad, right? Wrong. I, too, started off being a cranky doubter and sceptic but after 15 years of going into uncharted territories (I feel like Columbus who gobbled the globe looking for a shudh vegetarian fix), I've hit upon some green gems. Here are some of my finds (Indian restaurants excluded for obvious reasons) ...
THE WORLDS OLDEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT: HILTL, ZURICH
You wouldn't expect the world's oldest vegetarian restaurant to be in Zurich, would you? Surprise of surprises! Over a hundred years old pure vegetarian Swiss-owned restaurant Hiltl (Sihlstr. 28, ) reigns in Zurich. I'm as astounded as charmed by the multicuisine menu (mango lassi, Madras strogonoff, masaman Thai curry, paneer makhni) as I am by the fourth generation Rolf Hiltl in his sprawling restaurant. On revealing my Indian identity he immediately shows me Morarji Desai's letter of appreciation, framed on the wall.
THE WORLDS BEST RESTAURANT: NOMA, COPENHAGEN
I dined last month at Noma (crowned numero uno three times over) and requested a vegetarian menu. While they insisted that this is not something they would do unless there was a large group, there was still many a sublime vegetarian surprise. Rene Redzepi, co-owner of Noma and the high priest of new Nordic cuisine, coaxes intense, clean flavours out of wild herbs, flowers and other locally foraged produce. I can't conceive of more precociously delicious pairings than these - carrots and buttermilk licorice, caramelised onions and thyme leaves smoked carrot with hay ash, fava beans with fermented pea puree and caramelised onions with green strawberries.
WORLD'S GOURMET CAPITAL GOES GREEN
Paris may be the City of Light, but I am warned that when it comes to vegan or vegetarian living, it's certainly not the City of Enlightenment. And that kickstarted my adrenalin to begin work on the complete vegetarian guide to Paris. I researched (read "ate" ) for over a year and nailed down 350 vegetarianfriendly eateries, food shops, cooking classes, getting recipes from great chefs. For French and Chinese vegan head to Green Garden ( 20 Rue Nationale, 13th). Paris even has a vegan bed-and-breakfast with gourmet fare (Gentle Gourmet, 17 Rue Duret, 16th). Get a pure veggie meal for less than 5 (falafel at Moiz 8 Rue Xavier Privas, 5th) or gourmet fare at the greatest Michelin starred restaurants (over 300 per head). Superstar chefs (Alain Passard, Pierre Gagnaire, Guy Savoy and many more) cooked up dream veggie meals for me. I had my best vegetarian meal ever, in the small, exclusive, Michelin starred Arpege (84 rue de varenne, 7th). The onion gratin's whispered sweet notes, the translucent ravioli's silken pockets lovingly plumped with mushrooms sent me straight to paradise. Superstar chef Alain Ducasse (Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee, Avenue Montaigne, Jules Verne Tour Eiffel, Av. Gustave Eiffel ) tosses up steamed white asparagus, mimosa garnish, fine mousse sauce with citrus fruit or the
famous pot of slowly cooked vegetables. In the legendary George V's (Le Cinq 31 Avenue George V), hallowed mecca of haute cuisine, executive chef Eric Briffard serves up fleshy mushrooms which stage a rivetting tart-sweet drama with marinated raisins, arugula pesto slivers of ceps and raw artichokes. We have our very own pure veg Saravana Bhavan (170 Rue du Faubourg St Dennis, 10th) here and Ralph Lauren (Blvd St Germain) serves up the best soya veg burger in the world in his uber cool restaurant.
I get high on superstar Alain Ducasse's "essential cuisine" served amid flamboyant luxury which glimmers in the Versailles style dining room suffused in light and gold in Louis XV (Hotel du Paris, Monte Carlo Place du Casino). Here he distills the region's bounteous beauty and and uses just two or three incredibly tasty seasonal ingredients in each dish. Be it the intense flavours and colours of the "coloured tomatoes buratta and basil pesto" or the magically textured stuffed zucchini flowers. I've never had such a delicate, translucent big ravioli plump with chanterelle mushrooms and sautêed spinach.
BRUSSELS, BUDAPEST, FRANKFURT
Veg chocoholics going to the crazily addictive world capital of chocolate, will be disappointed with the limited vegetarian choices. However, two hours drive away, the Michelin starred (Hof van Cleve Riemegemstraat 1, 9770 Kruishoutem, ) a charming large farmhouse cottage, emerges like a mirage in the midst of the rolling countryside. Request for vegetarian in advance and there is memorable exuberance on the plate, myriad flavours and textures explode and harmonise along with colourful edible flowers and herbs. Budapest charms but there's a paucity of veg options, except in the magnificent Gresham Palace. In the carnivorous German capital, Villa Rothschilde revels in the wealth of vegetables.
Australia amazes with its wealth of vegetarian bliss (especially in Sydney and Melbourne). From a vegan Chinese (Bodhi) to the most flamboyant world acclaimed Tetsuya's (529 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW) 14-course degustation, parade of extraordinary flavours in Tetsuya's distinctive style. Tetsuya Wakhuda does not cook, he composes flavours and enhances classic French technique based on the Japanese philosophy of natural seasonal flavours. His artfully constructed sequence of miniatures, from the tangy gazpacho with spiced tomato sorbet to that dessert of amazing blue cheese (you read that right) bavarois with a kiss of blue cheese, dazzle.
On my recent trip to NYC (two months ago) I did a round of the brand new eateries and came away happily sated with their vegetarian options. Be it the green asparagus and egg at The Dutch (131 Sullivan St) or Seamus Mullen's Tertulia (359 Sixth Ave between Washington Pland W 4th St) which serves up an amazing taste of Northern Spain (Mullen conquered rheumatoid arthritis with intelligent eating - and wrote about it in Hero Food). There is Daniel (60 East 65th Street) one of New York's most sumptuous dining experiences, which serves up balanced yet intricate dishes from porcini in a veloutê to cilantro-poached pineapple. Red Farm (529 Hudson Street) is known for its innovative, inspired Chinese cuisine.
In glamour drenched Hollywood, post-Oscar parties, star spangled A-lists have played their role in magnifying the fame of the uncrowned king of American chefs Wolfgng Puck's Spago (176 N cannon Drive). Here, he pioneered California Cuisine, designer pizzas and pasta. TV's super-star chef Mario Batalli's Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave, (Highland Ave) is a mustvisit for its mozzarella bar which delivers delightful surprises of textures, temperatures and flavours. I've had many a superb veg dish at Robert De Niro's Ago (8478 Melrose Ave).
Since London is a cosmopolitan cocktail of ethnicities, there are many vegetarians option here. The surprise is that the celebrated fabulous restaurants serve vegetarian variants of their great dishes. Like Dinner with Heston (Mandarin Oriental Knightsbridge) where the Michelin starred chef serves up a mindblowing, contemporary yet historically inspired experience. The precision and balance of tastes and textures thrills and satisfies. It has a strong focus on dishes inspired by historic British gastronomy, but it is not a themed restaurant. Gordon Ramsay's new, comfortably priced Bread Street Kitchen (10 Bread Street) that is open through the day has many a hot veg dish. So does Tex-Mex, La Bodega Negra (16 Moor Street), with its tasty tortillas, tacos. Just near Heathrow is the Roux brothers' romantic Waterside Inn on the river where they make special vegetarian menus (Lakshmi Mittal is a regular here).
Rashmi Uday Singh is award-winning author
of 32 books and TV host. She recently
published the world's first vegetarian guide to
Paris titled 'A Vegetarian in Paris'
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