Friday, March 17, 2006

Royal flavour on common tongue (The Hindu's Metro Plus)

Note: I had written this for The Hindu's Metro Plus supplement. You can find the original review article on The Hindu's site here: The Hindu Metro Plus Caviar & Champagne Special at Leela

The headline and leader courtesy the edit team.

Royal flavour on common tongue

If you want some upscale caviar at a reasonable price, head for The Leela Palace

CELEBRATORY All items on the menu come with a glass of French champagne

Caviar, the processed roe of the sturgeon fish, has long been a luxury privy to the aristocracy. In a setting fit for the tsars themselves, The Leela Palace offers a rare opportunity to sample caviar and champagne at their Library Bar. Incidentally, the classic British lounge room with its antiques and book collection received the Forbes award for the No. 1 Bar in Asia & Oceania for 2005.

Some of the best caviar in the world today comes from Iran and Azerbaijan. Typically, the lighter coloured and less salty ("malassol") varieties of caviar are rare and thereby more expensive. The caviar selection at the Leela is imported from Iran, and includes the mid-size grained beluga, and the smaller asetra and sevruga. All items on the menu come with a glass of Moët & Chandon, the popular French champagne.

The combination

Uninitiated to caviar and looking to celebrate with a few starters before moving on to other things? I would recommend trying out the chilled tomato caviar shooters, which comes in a tall shot glass of gazpacho with a splash of lemon juice, topped with crème fraîche and about half a teaspoon of beluga caviar. The aftertaste of the caviar is discernable in the tomato base without being too overwhelming. Two shooters and the glass of bubbly cost Rs. 1,750. Another similarly priced option is the trio platter of lobster medallion, salmon tartar and sevruga caviar, all of which were excellent.

For the more adventurous, we suggest trying the caviar profiteroles. Unlike the popular French cream puff dessert, the profiterole stuffed with caviar is a starter. If you are with friends, you may want to try the Royal Caviar Experience, and assortment of various platters for Rs. 4500.

Finally, for the connoisseurs, the caviar of your choice is served by the ounce in a chilled ice tray, accompanied by a platter of various condiments like crème fraîche, egg white and minced onions. These can be applied on either the toast points or small blini (thin Russian wheat pancake). As silverware tends to taint the subtle flavours, caviar is served with a small wooden spoon. This is the best way to savour the soft buttery flavour of fine caviar.

The dark blue beluga left a pleasant sweet aftertaste, whereas the asetra and sevruga with their brown, smaller grains were slightly stronger. When I was in Russia a few years back, I noticed that caviar is sometimes smeared on a large blini, rolled into a tube, and served with vodka.

The Caviar and Champagne Experience at the Library Bar at the Leela is on till March 26. The bar is open from 11a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations are required.

Bottom line: This is an excellent opportunity to try upscale caviar at a reasonable price, and would be a good choice for corporate entertaining or a celebratory stop for city socialites before moving on to one of the hotel diners.

Wallet factor: Rs. 1,750 to Rs. 9,000 per head

Specialty: Caviar

Service: Very good

Ambience: Classic British lounge with antiques, books, cigars and single malts


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