Earthy, healthy and hearty

Nupur Pradhan
Thursday, 7 June 2018

Traditional techniques of slow cooking can enhance the flavour of food and make it more nourishing, and Arth totally believes in this

Arth literally translates to ‘meaning’ or ‘essence’ and you find it in abundance in this restaurant. Helmed by National Award winning chef Amninder Sandhu, Arth is India’s first ingredient-forward and gas-free restaurant and lounge. Jeet Rana, the much celebrated and loved mixologist, provides his touch to the cocktail menu in this opulent restaurant designed by Gauri Khan.  

Sandhu met the granddaughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala during a food promotion. Developing a close relationship, the granddaughter gave the chef their heirloom recipes. Most of the recipes had one thing in common — they were all cooked on charcoal in a lagan. 

Traditional Indian cooking has always inspired the chef from early on and she decided to create a menu that is rooted in the techniques of traditional, ancient cooking. Which is why the Arth kitchen features copper utensils, a live sigri and a sand pit with live charcoal, which the chef uses to slow-cook meats and other smoked items. It takes ample amount of time, for example, a raan takes six hours (approximately) to cook, but is worth it. 

From the moment we stepped into the restaurant, we enjoyed its luxurious setting and the delectable food. First, the chef served us a plate of tiny silver balls. Initially, we wondered whether they were edible or not, but a little nudging from the chef made us pop them into our mouth and we were happy to discover the tiny pieces of heaven! The balls were made of white chocolate filled with pani-puri ka pani and covered in edible silver. 

Choosing our cocktail, the mixologist recommended Tillicherry Piper — a beautiful combination of honey and ginger, lemon and pineapple reduction.  

One of the specialities of this restaurant is that the ingredients are sourced from across the country including Majuli, Shillong, Khonoma, Alleppey, Mangalore, Guntur, Rishikesh and Kashmir. So you may not be acquainted with all the names like morels, which are a type of mushrooms available in Kashmir. They can’t be grown but have to be sourced from the wild. The morels are as exotic as it can get with a kilo of them costing anywhere between Rs 26,000 and Rs 30,000. We were served Morels Stuffed, which were stuffed with more mushroom, minced and smoked, and served on nachini and walnut soil. The morels are spongy in texture with a meaty taste and full of flavours. The nachini and walnut soil was a delicious revelation. 

Next, we were served Prawn Smoked — prawns in black pepper with sugarcane glaze, served on green chilli thecha. The not-too-spicy Maharashtrian thecha added a burst of flavour to the prawns. It was followed by Yoghurt Clouds, a fancy version of street-food basket chaat, but way more scrumptious. The bite-sized dish is served in a spoon so that one can gobble it in one go. It has a thin, crispy potato basket with delicious yoghurt topped with tamarind and mint chutney, which will tingle your taste buds. 

Chicken Makhmali, chicken kebabs with whipped egg whites and black truffle pate, was just as the name suggests:  makhmali. The whipped egg whites added fluffiness to the already tender chicken and the black truffle pate added an earthy flavour.

One by one, the chef dished out topnotch dishes with great passion and we devoured them with great delight. Kurkuri Arbi (colocasia) — with onion, tomato chutney and cranberries topping and garnished with crispy colocasia leaves that give it a distinctive flavour, is worth trying. Kovalam Lobster Taco — lobsters cooked in Kerala style rolled in a soft Uttapam, is heavenly. Kakori Kebab — a delicacy from a town in Uttar Pradesh, is a must have. Kalimpong Cheese Chargrilled — broccoli and cheese never tasted better! All of the dishes were spectacularly delicious and distinctive in taste. 

And this was just the beginning —  only the starters’ menu!

The mains too had delectable dishes. Kolkata Bhetki (barramundi) — prepared in coconut milk in Malabar style and served with red Patni rice, is a lip-smacking treat. Mamas — pressure-cooked mutton curry, is the most divine tasting. Butter Chicken — the best I have ever had. Pearl Potatoes —these tinier than ‘dum aloo’ potatoes are indeed the size of a pearl. Charcoal Bharta — who knew ‘baigan ka bharta’ could take you to paradise! Accompanying the dishes were Dal Makhani, Lasooni Palak served with an assortment of Dahi ki Khamiri Roti, Rogni Roti, Amritsari Kulcha, Jowar Roti and Laccha Paratha. 

Preparing a good biryani is not at all an easy task. But the chef’s favourite Raan Biryani is irresistible. The rice is fragrant and rich in flavour, and the slow-cooked raan has the just the right amount of spices to make it your best meal. 

Despite our stomach being full, our gustatory cell wouldn’t stop salivating. It started drooling as soon as the desserts arrived. Appealingly presented, the desserts included Angoori Rabdi — cottage cheese dumplings on phyllo nests, Mango Kulfi — homemade kulfi served with falooda, rabdi and mango pieces, and Kaali Gaajar ka Halwa — black carrot (available only in Delhi) pudding with malai. All three desserts were delectable and not too sweet if you are sugar-conscious. The Kaali Gaajar ka Halwa was ambrosial. 

The slow-cooked items brought out their natural flavours and textures in the ingredients. In every dish, one ingredient is the hero and the rest complement it gloriously.

After a hearty meal, I realised why our elders raise their eyebrows every time we prefer packed food. The traditional Indian way of cooking is not only delectable but high on health quotient too.   

Arth, Ingredient Forward and Gas Free Restaurant & Lounge is located on the 2nd level of The Westin Pune, Koregaon Park, and will begin operations on June 9. The timings are from 7pm-1.30 am. Weekend brunch will start from next week, 12 noon onwards.

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