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Dining by the Qutab

Delhiites call it Sirka (vinegar), and indeed new restaurant Circa 1193 has preserved its old-world charm even while dishing out some new age Asian fusion

Anoothi Vishal

One of the charms of living in Delhi is the sense of history that always surrounds you without ever intruding on the present and making you feel that you live in a museum. The scenic Mehrauli-Qutab-Ambawatta stretch is lovely precisely for this reason and, of course, there is the added attraction that it is now turning into a gourmet street with a host of stylish new (and old) restaurants that have sprung up here. Olive, despite its crowds and mad, loud parties forever spilling over into its idyllic, Banyan tree-shaded courtyard, remains lovely. Thai Wok at Ambawatta has resurrected itself as Thai Hi and though Emperor’s Kitchen hasn’t quite lived up to its initial potential, the area is fast turning into a foodie location quite like Khan Market or even Defence Colony.

The quaintly named Circa 1193 is the latest of these eating-out “destinations”. Run by four enterprising young people, Circa (though, Delhiites, somewhat uncomfortable with Latin, inevitably call it “Sirka”, meaning vinegar!) is not just a place where you would head out for a drink in the evenings on its strategic, Qutab Minar-facing terrace. The terrace is inviting enough and the closest, cushioned-view that you can perhaps get of the Qutab, but hopefully the restaurant will also become an attraction for its food and not just the ambience. Because food here also deserves to be talked about.

Chef Achal Aggrawal was formerly with Wasabi and gets a free reign here to express his creativity. A look at his menu shows us that Circa 1193 – by the way, the restaurant is thus named because the Qutab started being built in that year—has chosen to be inventive with its food rather than classical or traditional. What Aggarwal dishes out is fusion fare—a mix of Japanese and Asian flavours marrying Western meats, seafood, cooking traditions and finally plating. On the Saturday night when we visited, a bronzed moon was out and we sat lounging on the terrace staring at the unlit Quatb for a while sipping on our house wines (a liquor license is still awaited, the place functions on an daily renewable license right now so its bar offerings are rather limited) and going through a small grilled-food menu, of which the duck breast in an orange ponzu was the best.

The sweet shrimps in a mirin glaze, on the other hand, didn’t quite stand out as I had expected. But we decided to move downstairs to the dining area for a more leisured pursuit of all matters gourmet. Circa 1193 hopes to persuade Delhiites to indulge in a more formal dining that they are usually used to. In keeping with this positioning, the robata menu is kept limited on the terrace upstairs and instead, full-fledged, course-by-course meals served in the restaurant below. Portions are for a single person, individually plattered and you must make it a point to have at least a three course meal here.

We begin with small portions of a smoke salmon ravioli (in a kafir lime sauce), which is superbly done, a seared Asian duck roll—that could be your substitute your Peking duck rolls (but that I would rate as only average here) and panko-crusted pork chops which are quite worth a try. But what is outstanding is the baked crab here, served with caramalised onions and a galangal-accented hollandaise sauce. It is certainly a must try and testimony to the fact that the chef has a deft way of handling diverse flavours and culinary traditions. In many other hands, such fusion could have easily spelt disaster.

We skip the salads section—which by the way looks pretty interesting—and go straight to the mains after this. Of this, the two dishes that I would recommend are the first-rate endamame gnocchi and the grilled lamb rack. On the other hand, the “samurai” lobster that we ordered from the entrees section was average by contrast and the kare raisu (Japanese curry) definitely didn’t display the same sense of adventurousness as the chef’s other creations. But, I guess, this is one of the safe choices on the menu—meant for the typical Indian palate that can’t do without carbs and curry. Of the equally experimental desserts list, I would definitely recommend the orange cheesecake, made from tofu, and thus lighter on the stomach—especially after such a heavy duty meal—even if a version of this you may have already sampled on the Wasabi menu. Still, at the prices that you are paying for all this, it is a superlative meal and one that Delhi must sit down to—without all the other distractions that we are used to on our evenings out.

(the article appeared in Go Now magazine)

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