11 July 2010

Spicy memories #1: Our engagement at Zaika in London (Valentine's Day 2009)

Living in Paris, one of the things that I miss the most (there are many) are good Indian restaurants! There are of course the little hole-in-the wall Sri Lankan and Indian joints near the Gare du Nord/La Chappelle Metros in the 10eme (my personal favorite in this neighborhood is Krishna Bhavan, which specializes in all-vegetarian South Indian and Sri Lankan fare), which while genuine are not exactly the nicest places in terms of atmosphere. Of course there are tons of "nicer" Indian restaurants in Paris, but I generally find the cuisine to be tepid, watered-down and not very authentic at all. This is because the French palate, it seems, is generally unadventurous and finds it hard to handle spicy food.

Like with most "international" cuisines, Indian cuisine gets the French treatment, which means drastically turning down both the heat quotient and the creativity of the cooking (almost all Indian restaurants which I've tried here have the same 20-25 main courses on offer, and they all seem to taste the same!) as well as prodigiously using crème fraîche, butter and cheese. Not necessarily good, tasty paneer (Indian cheese) mind you, but rather the infamous Vache qui rit, which is the processed cheese sold in little triangles that I'm sure you've all seen and eaten. The famed cheese naan or naan au fromage served and savored in Indian restaurants in France, is, I hate to tell you, nothing but naan stuffed with our beloved Vache qui rit. So it goes without saying that this a far stretch from true Indian cuisine!

What I miss is the kind of Indian restaurants which have been popping up in major cities in the States over the last ten years, places which experiment with new flavors and accents, places where cooking is recognized as an evolving art. Many of these places take the traditional bases of Indian cuisine and fuse new elements from other corners of the globe, including French techniques, the tapas/mezze approach to dining borrowed from Spain and the Middle East and even inspiration from Latin America. These places give equal thought to their wine and cocktail lists, decor, music, lighting and service as well. I'm talking about places like Indique and Rasika in Washington, Tabla and Dévi in New York, Vermilion in Chicago, just to name a few...In other words, Indian restaurants with a gastronomic touch!

The States may be an eight-hour flight from Paris, but luckily London, which abounds in these kinds of restaurants as well as restaurants that specialize in different Indian regional cuisines (Gujarati, Parsi, Sindhi, Tamilian, Goan, etc.), is just a quick hop away on the Eurostar! On Valentine's Day weekend of 2009, Luis and I decided to make a quick, romantic getaway to London, where Indian food was definitely on the agenda! On the night of February 14th, we dined at the beautiful, exquisite Zaika, an absolute jewel of a restaurant facing Hyde Park on Kensington High Street.

We started at the bar with an amazing cocktail called the "Indian Summer Julep". According to the Zaika website, it was made with Wyborowa vodka, Pimm’s, Limoncello, fresh lime, fresh mint, cucumber, fresh fruits and brown sugar. We were then seated and enjoyed a wonderful six-course meal, specially created for the occasion.

The menu was as follows:

  • Crown prince squash soup, mustard seeds, ‘Tahitian’ vanilla sea salt
  • Bhuna Rattan - Scottish Scallops, dusted with aphrodisiac spices, ‘Devon’ crab risotto, Native Whitstable oyster, raw mango and papaya
  • Zaika’s Samosas - Medley of samosas  – Artichoke hearts and royal cumin/Confit of ‘Gressingham’ duck and star anise
  • ‘Goan’ Jalpari - Rock lobster, kingfish and grouper, marinated in ‘Goan’ spices, crab and coriander bisque, lemon and aromatic curry leaf rice
  • Forced Yorkshire rhubarb, black cardamom, coconut milk
  • 'Kamasutra Platter' - Cashew & pistachio brittle, silky chocolate mousse with ‘space dust’/passion crème brûlée/rose and vanilla bean ‘kulfi’ 

  • Crown prince squash soup, mustard seeds, ‘Tahitian’ vanilla sea salt
  • Malai Chaat - Warm ‘Chèvre’ goat’s cheese salad, golden beetroot, cinnamon oil, aged balsamic
  • Subzi ka Milan - Medley of Artichokes - Artichoke heart samosa/Jerusalem artichoke ‘tikki’/Indian artichoke roasted with crushed coriander
  • Jungli Dhingri - Mushroom biryani, Seasonal Creamed Wild mushrooms tempered with chilli and garlic, tandoori shitake mushroom
  • Forced Yorkshire rhubarb, black cardamom, coconut milk
  • 'Kamasutra Platter' - Cashew & pistachio brittle, silky chocolate mousse with ‘space dust’/passion crème brûlée/rose and vanilla bean ‘kulfi’ 

It was all incredible! And as if the food and the beautiful setting were not enough, during dessert (the yummy 'Kamasutra Platter'), Luis got out a gorgeous blue topaz ring and asked me ...*drumroll please*...to marry him! While I had been expecting a proposal for a while, I was certainly surprised to get it at that precise moment, and in such a gorgeous place. It goes without saying that I said yes! And it goes without saying that I will always remember that night at Zaika, which I highly recommend to all of you for the next time you are in London!

1 comment:

  1. Such a sweet story! Looks like an amazing restaurant.