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Feast Fare

Gourmet goes public


Foodie networks in metros are managing to wangle great valuefor-money dining experience at some of India's best restaurants.

Menus are being furiously shared and dissected. Concerns like whether the fish is better at Diva or should one eat at Azimuth just for the French Toast are being deliberated. There's a new revolution brewing in India and it involves eating a lot of good food - without breaking the bank.

Culinary initiatives like Restaurant Week India and GourmetItUp are giving thousands of Indians the opportunity to enjoy three course meals at some of India's finest restaurants at prices that are positively smile inducing and through a prix fixe menu, which means that for a fixed price, you get to choose from a fixed menu.

Then there are culinary clubs like the Delhi-based Gourmet Planet that organises special evenings for about 40-50 members at a time and gets the chefs to design special menus for the GP family. Active through Facebook, the group has 4, 674 members who hold forth on a number of topics: Where's the best biryani in Delhi? What to order at Tres, Delhi's latest French eatery? At the club's last event at Zambar, guests ate their way through 24 dishes, showcasing the best of coastal Southern food, all for Rs 1, 150.

Can you imagine spending just Rs 1, 000 at Mumbai's Yauatcha and eating scallop shui mai or prawn and enoki mushroom dumpling for starters, kung pao chicken for your main course with dessert too? Or feasting on potato gnocchi with butter poached prawns, assorted fresh and dried mushroom tortellini and innocuous sounding chocolate cake with whiskey ganache and malted ice cream at the gastronomical adventure that is Smoke House Room for just a grand?

No wonder then Restaurant Week India, a two-year-old concept is awaited with anticipation and hungry stomach by foodies in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Started by three eager food fanatics Nachiket Shetye, Mangal Dalal and Azeem Zainulbhai, the idea behind Restaurant Week India was to celebrate and showcase some of the best food in India.

Though not original - the concept of Restaurant Week was started in New York City in 1992 - the three tweaked and introduced the concept in Mumbai in September 2010 with seven restaurants.

"The objective was that the event would be a celebration of food, where fine dine/speciality restaurants in each city would showcase what they did best and open out their restaurants to a larger audience who could come and sample a three-course menu and dine at maybe four or five high-end restaurants in the city in that week, " explains Shetye, who's a chef himself.
The idea took off.

Two years later, the number of restaurants is close to 70 and the event is held twice a year. For their second stint, this September, they managed to get 29 high-end eateries, where a meal for two rarely comes below Rs 3, 000, on board in Mumbai, 24 in Delhi and 17 in Bangalore.

Ritika Ahuja, a corporate slave, made reservations at five restaurants. To some that might seem excessive, but for a foodie like Ahuja, this is one week when budgets and diets take a back seat to treating the soul. She even gave up her beauty sleep to make the reservations - they were opened at 6 am. "I actually set an alarm on September 14 so that I could log on and make reservations for tables, " she says. Tables for Restaurant Week are always in high demand and even with some restaurants adding more services and tables, it still wasn't enough to meet the craze.

But it wasn't always smooth going for the trio. When they initially approached the restaurants, they weren't always welcomed with open arms. "It was a little difficult, because they either understood the concept and were gung ho about it or they didn't and we could not do anything to make them understand that it's a unique initiative, " says Zainulbhai, president and CEO at Crescat Excolatur SA, when he's not doing food tastings.

GourmetItUp. com is an extension of the same idea but with a slight twist. Set up by Kunal and Deepa Jain, the idea for the portal came from the couple's frustration at the lack of new things to do in the city.

"We were bored of eating at the same restaurants, ordering the same dishes from the same menus and didn't really find value in going out just for something to eat, " shares Deepa, who earlier ran Recipemobile, a food blog and gourmet gifting company.

"There isn't anywhere new to go, Mumbai has such few good dining options, we are tired of the same old food, eating out is way too expensive, I'm scared to go to XYZ restaurant, someone I know went there and got a bill of Rs 4, 000!" were the kind of responses we got when did a little research.

So they decided to create a resource that would enable consumers to always have new experiences to discover in the city. They got together top restaurants to design exclusive experiences like chef's tables, off menu set meals, mixology classes, kitchen tours etc. For Rs 1, 800 per person at one of Mumbai, s hottest nightspots you could learn how to mix cocktails like Balsamic Strawberry Mojito and chomp on chilled balsamic mushrooms and sundried tomato skewers or maybe spice up your tastebuds with cumin dusted potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chilli and wash it down with a Mojitonico that you made yourself.

The one reason why thousands of people logged on and booked tables for Restaurant Week India and why GourmetItUp. com, just within days of going online has been floored by the response is they offer value for money. More bang for your buck, especially in today's world where eating out has turned into a notoriously expensive affair.

"The price is such that the restaurants don't make a loss, but not necessarily a profit, more a break even situation and offers affordability, " says Dalal, who's a food writer.
Jain, who brings his marketing expertise to the table in GourmetItUp. com, feels that it's also the attention to detail that patrons appreciate.

"One of our goals is to ensure that our customers would receive exceptional service before, during and after their dining experience regardless of the restaurant they were going to. We work hard with the restaurants to set processes and standards and they have responded enthusiastically by going the extra mile to accommodate special requests and guide customers through our specially prepared menus, " he says.

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