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Cover charge $4000: Dining on ridiculously snobby tables

Despite a near zero inflation, food costs in India are at an all-time high. Potato, typically a staple in all homes, rich and poor, and a main ingredient in regular, every day snacks and curries across the continent, is at an astounding high of Rs 35 per kg; roughly three quarters of a dollar. Lentils, a source of protein for a majority of the vegetarian populace, are equally expensive: Arhar or tuvar dal, used all over the country in sambhars, amti and Gujarati dals as well as tadka dal frys of dhabas or roadside diners in north India, is touching Rs 100 per kg; 20 dollars. This despite the fact that there is no official food shortage in the country.

Yet, cooking at home remains a cheaper option than eating out. In Delhi, India’s food capital, the average meal for one cost has now gone up to Rs 1,000 ($ 20) per person, not including wine. This would be the cost of a simple enough meal in a café with a starter and maincourse (or main and dessert). Any thing fancier, say in a “star” restaurant, would cost much more. Here, if you are dining in a large group—where costs tend to be split up, expect to pay around Rs 2,000 per person. But on an average, a single meal in a fancy place with some amount of frills are likely to set you back by about Rs 6,000 for two ($ 120). But while you don’t mind paying such high prices for a certain kind of experience, what offends me is fancy restaurants blatantly fleecing us. Vegetarian dishes are usually priced unnaturally high, perhaps in an attempt to subsidise fancy and imported non vegetarian stuff. At Dumpukht, for instance, sister restaurant to Bukhara at the ITC Maurya, the so-called doodhiya kebabs, two thick wedges of paneer sandwiching potato paste, are priced at a prohibitive Rs 1,000 plus ($20). This when cottage cheese costs not more than Rs 1,00 per kg.

Recently, New Delhi has had yet another addition to its list of pricey eateries and entertainment places. LAP, short for Lounge And Play, is a concept by actor Arjun Rampal, a by-invitation-only club, where the furniture has been designed by fashion designers, star wives and Rampal himself. If you can’t understand high food costs, you will certainly not understand the concept of paying exorbitant cover charges. Though everything concerning LAP has been kept hush-hush, buzz is that the cover charge for the Rampal-designed, crystal-studded “owner’s table” is almost Rs 2 lakh ($ 4000).

This is clearly going to be the most expensive table in India. But others are equally exclusive. At F Bar and Lounge, Hotel Ashok, Chanakyapuri, the “diamond lounge”— essentially a room on the first floor with a direct view of the dance floor below— costs Rs 1 lakh ($ 2,000) for about 10 people, not inclusive of the actual F&B spend. Note: Only top liquor brands are served here. Nothing short of Moet or Blue Label, elite India’s favourite “Scotch”.

The concept of chef’s tables too is catching on in India: And you can book these at many trendy lounges and restaurants, including at the Mumbai Taj, at Aurus in the same city where the chef has been trying to play around with molecular gastronomy, at Olive in New Delhi and Bangalore, both of which are well driven by interesting and young chefs. Besides this, there is another interesting table that you can book for yourself at the MBD Radisson hotel in Noida. Here, the restaurant Made in India that serves regional Indian cuisine both traditional and contemporarised, has an exclusive table where guests can cook themselves — with a little help from the chef.

1. Owner’s Table. LAP, Hotel Samrat, New Delhi: Rs 2 lakh

2. Diamond Lounge: F Bar, Hotel Ashok, New Delhi: Rs 1 lakh (10 people)

3. Cook-yourself-table, Made In India restaurant at MBD Radisson, Noida:

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