Modern Indian cuisine continues to be a rather ambiguous concept, explored by very few and appreciated only by a small niche of discerning gourmets. While many Indian restaurants within India and abroad claim to showcase modern Indian fare, I am very cynical about them. Most of them just offer traditional Indian cuisine, presented in a modern, trendy manner. That does not really count for me. If one is indeed to experiment with Indian cuisine and render it more international, the entire concept needs to be reworked. And this is exactly what Chef Vineet Bhatia has done at his restaurant Rasoi by Vineet at the Mandarin Oriental Geneva. In fact, he is, in my opinion, the pioneer of the genre of Indian fine dining on the international scene. Vineet is the first Indian chef to have been awarded two Michelin stars, one for his restaurant Zaika in London and the other for Rasoi by Vineet in Geneva. I have very fond memories of meeting him many many years ago, when I was to interview him for a magazine article. His PR contact had scheduled a twenty minute slot for me and we ended up chatting for almost three hours. It is always so nice to see chefs who speak so passionately about their food. And this translates, by default, onto the plate.
When Rasoi by Vineet opened its doors way back in 2008, it was met with great reviews but not without any cynicism or skepticism. An Indian fine dining restaurant in London or New York, for instance, would be understandable, because of the huge Indian disaspora. But Geneva, it was hard to predict success. However, six years down the line, Rasoi by Vineet has become the crown jewel of Geneva’s culinary trail. It is not hard to imagine why it has reached iconic status.
Without much ado, let me share with you the wonderful experience that was Rasoi by Vineet.
I was invited by the Mandarin Oriental Geneva to try out Rasoi by Vineet during my recent trip to the Swiss city. As soon as I entered the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the open glass enclosure, where a ‘tandoor specialist’ was toiling away, creating some magnificent naans and rotis for diners. What a great sight to greet diners. I was greeted by a very friendly and affable Chef Sandeep Bhagwat, Rasoi by Vineet’s dynamic, young Executive Chef. As it turns out, he is originally from Pune, and was thrilled at having a Mumbaikar over for dinner. The conversation was flowing, as I would expect.
I was impressed with the decor of the restaurant. It was decidedly European in its aesthetic approach with beautiful elements of Indian design interspersed across the room. A lot of rich red and black was used.
We sat at a table that was by the glass window, which overlooked the river and the sidewalk. It was absolutely perfect.
The meal kicked off with an exquisite and simple tandoori salmon. Now this was particularly interesting because the salmon came under a glasse cloche. As soon as the server lifted the glass cloche, there was aromatic smoke coming out from inside the cloche. It was as if someone had lit an aggarbatti or a dhoop incense from an Indian market in the middle of Switzerland.
This was paired with a 2002 Albert Mann Reisling from Alsace.
We then moved onto a banana leaf wrapped Norwegian cod fish marinated in black olives with ‘Courtois’ lentils and almonds. While I did love the olive flavour that the fish had soaked in, I would have termed it as more Mediterranean than Indian. The lentils did, however, add a nice zing.
The next dish was my favourite. After days of travelling through Europe, we were really craving the fiery aromas of back home and this dish seemed to have been a godsend. A grilled curry leaf and chilli lobster, served with ginger broccoli khichdi and sprinkled with cocoa powder (a lovely twist) was fire hot and cooked to perfection. It was packed with punch and supremely comforting.
Then came the very exotic chicken jelly toast, baby-chicken achar roast, lemon-pudina khichdi, braised chicken jus with preserved lemon.
By then we had already eaten way too much for our own good. However, Sandeep told us that our meal was far from over. So I guess we just had to wait and see what was in store for us. Our final main course was lamb. And Sandeep hit the ball right out of the park with this one. It was phenomenal. A lamb chop paired with a delectable fig pistachio ‘raan’ roulade with purple carrots, cumin and baby carrots.
This was paired with a 2008 Classico Gamba Amarone Valpolicella from Veneto in Italy.
Many say that desert is their favourite part of the meal. I will say that it is my second favourite part of a meal. I could well be happy with a great main course and no desert. But would Sandeep hear any of it? Most certainly not.
So there it was, a perfect Indian meal, in the heart of the French-Swiss Alps, in the Swiss city of Geneva, along the banks of Lake Leman.
My verdict: Rasoi by Vineet appears to have got its concept right, from the very start. Without merely rehashing classics and using them as artistic embellishments on a plate, the team has sought to create something more wholesome. As I mentioned before, a complete reinvention of Indian cuisine as we know it. While at the same time maintaining a strong traditional identity in terms of ingredients. Far from being some bastardised, Westernised version of ‘desi khanna’, this is the future of Indian fine dining. And if the Michelin stars are anything to go by, Rasoi has been more than successful.