How often does one come back from a sit down 9-course meal and wish to return the very next day. A meal which celebrates the advent of slow food movement in India and sweeps you off your feet with its simplicity and purity of ingredients, yet has the finesse and savoir- faire of a world class gourmet experience, reminiscent of a Michelin star restaurant.
The Tasting Lab is an experiment by Chef Sujan Sarkar where he is showcasing the diversity of produce, sourced both locally and from across the length and breadth of India, and displaying modern & regional cooking techniques. A mind boggling 160 types of ingredients like sunchoke, taro, mas ardu (Indian bamboo shoot), jolpai (Indian olive) etc, never used before at Olive, have been incorporated in a unique menu, crafted with the help his team of young chefs like Dhruv Oberoi and Achintya Anand. In the words of AD Singh, “It is the result of extensive research at grassroots level and the culmination of a journey of many months of Chef de Cuisine Sujan S and his team at Olive Qutub kitchen”.
I was delighted to be a part of this journey when I was invited to The Tasting Lab at The GreenHouse at Olive Qutub, a place where “science, nature and gastronomy” came together and where the only rule was that there was “no rule”. Flavours were reinvented and local cooking techniques used to create a modern gastronomical experience.
The 1st course was about deception. It had a faux Oreo made of parmesan cheese and charcoal powder filled with a delicious orange flavoured goat cheese mousse. The Olive sitting next to it was not just your ordinary olive but fashioned out of olive puree and then spherified, using an intricate culinary technique first introduced by el Bulli in 2003.
The next course “Just like an Egg” was made from potato puree and white asparagus milk. As I put my spoon into what looked like a perfectly poached egg, there oozed out a luscious golden yolk made from roasted red bell peppers. The contrast to the soft texture was provided by finely chopped pieces of white and green asparagus.
The sheer brilliance of Chef Sujan shone through with each dish and the 3rd course of Duck liver coated with Cocoa and hazelnut and served like a nutty choco-bar ice cream was a real treat.
Parsnips, black radish, turnip & baby carrots were used for the next course aptly called Roots from “The Green Bean Farm”. Having the right amount of crunch to them, they made a good combination with the thinly sliced scallops, the wild chive emulsion adding to the texture and taste. The stand-out element in this dish was a sprinkling of “fermented black garlic powder” on the salad. Just this one ingredient took a month and a half to perfect.
The 5th course was a Green Apple Sorrel Gandhraj Lime Sorbet made with one of the most fragrant lime varieties found in West Bengal called Gondhoraj. This was artistically served in a gondhoraj shell and worked as a wonderful palate cleanser with the wonderful lime aromas permeating the air.
To choose between the John Dory, Sun Choke, Bisque Skin and the Fermented Mountain Cheese, Gucci, Walnut Thecha was difficult. So I tried both. John Dory was fresh and covered with a thin skin made out of bisque, revealing the mastery that Chef Sujan has over modern cooking techniques. However it was the vegetarian dish made with Kalari (fermented cheese from Jammu & Kashmir very similar to Halloumi), served with morel mushrooms and sprinkled with Kashmiri walnut thecha crumb, which took me straight to a meal I had at the home of a Bakarwal tribesman when I was living in Kashmir many years ago. My only problem with the dish served at The Tasting Lab was the consistency. The pan frying made the crust hard and difficult to cut through.
For the 7th course I tried the vegetarian option of Risotto made with whole grains like millet, barley, ragi etc. Well-made and extremely nutritious. The grains were softened to a creamy consistency yet had a slight bite and the addition of pickled pumpkin & butternut squash made it a wholesome dish. The non-vegetarian option which I chose over chicken was Ox Cheek, Tail, Bone Marrow & Lettuce Heart, a dish presented for the first time by Chef Sujan.
The 8th course of 4S Buttermilk, Ash Gourd Radish & Apple Blossom (from Krishi Cress Farm, Delhi) was unlike any that I had tasted before. The buttermilk was churned into an ice-cream and the slightly salty flavour offset with candied ash gourd made by marinating the ash gourd in choona (calcium hydroxide) thereby firming it up, using the same technique used for making Petha (remember the famous Panchi Peetha of Agra).
The 9th and the last course was a delicious mandarin ice-cream and chocolate ganache and coconut foam, covered with a Pootharekulu (sweet rice paper) made in Andhra Pradesh and not sourced from Japan.
What was interesting about the whole meal was the thought which had gone not just behind each ingredient and the presentation but also behind the selection of crockery & tableware, which was very artistic.
This nine-course dinner along with a welcome drink can be savored every Thursday at 8pm at The GreenHouse at Olive Qutub at a meagre price of Rs 1900 + taxes. It can be paired with wine at an extra cost of only Rs 500. There is a qualified sommelier Anthony Philip to suggest the wine pairing and a young chef working behind the scene, Achintya Anand, who will be a name to watch out for, in the coming years.
By : Lavina Kharkwal
All the pictures used in this review are clicked by the author.