Lets play a quick colour game!
First, an easy one…. Grass is? Green! Even if you can’t distinguish between shades of blue and green, grass will always be, truly and unequivocally, GREEN!
The next one is a bit tricky… An orange is? Orange! Stay with me, there’s a point to this nonsense…
Now, a Tomato is… Red? Good. So a Tomato Soup is obviously red, right? Wrong!
It is White!
At least the creamy, tangy broth, deliciously flavoured with basil, that you are served right at the start at Zaffran, is a White Tomato Soup! No tricks, no additives, no molecular gastronomy here. And no GM White Tomatoes either, thank you. Just plain red tomatoes and a clever culinary technique that has been in use for hundreds of years… combined with the endless patience of a monk!
But when you first meet Chef Chetan Sethi of the 12-year old brand Zaffran that has now grown to a reputed chain of restaurants, he couldn’t be further from a monk! A free-spirited adventure biker, he sports a skull and bones insignia on his black chef jacket, and would fit right into a head-banging crowd at a heavy metal concert. But when it comes to food, his Mr. Hyde persona takes a back seat and the good Dr. Jekyll dons the apron. Or does he? Because serving you a WHITE Tomato Soup is not just playing with your taste buds, it’s playing with your head. And that smacks of evil, right? ;)
But as the specially crafted Chef’s menu unfolds before us, with starters ranging from Mushroom Galouti to Chello Kebab in quick succession, one realizes that, just as in life it’s not about only good or evil but the balance of both, so also in Zaffran’s food, it is about a balance of what you love, and what’s good for you ;)
Here, it’s traditional flavours of classic dishes carefully balanced with the new-age demands of a more health-conscious, fitness-aware diner. So, no heavy handedness with spices in the Kashmiri Dum Aloo, or floating pools of oil on the signature Butter Chicken which has been a consistent best-seller for a decade! Although there is no holding back on a dish as grand as the Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb – the Zaffran e Raan – but it’s pairing with the airy and beautifully spiced Yakhni Pulao (my favourite) gives you a glimmer of that good-evil balance again!
A meal of such proportions can nudge you unerringly towards a food coma, especially because there is no stopping the Chef’s train of dishes. Were it not for the lip-smacking Kala Khatta Margarita, easily one of my top 3 cocktails in the whole city (yes, it is that good!) and the Chef’s anecdotes on quirky food habits, I would have probably fallen asleep right on the bowl of Chhana Payesh (Cottage Cheese Dumplings in a Saffron-flavoured Milk syrup). Which would have been a crime, because I can have Chhana Payesh by the buckets, balance be damned! :)
As I leave Zaffran, carrying some beautiful memories of the afternoon back with me, one interesting question discussed over lunch plays though my mind – What does a diner want out of an eating-out experience today? Is it something new and exciting that wows your senses? Or is it comfort food that you love and enjoy anytime, anywhere? Is it discovering a new dish or cuisine? Or is it harking back to those classic dishes ordered at family dinners out while growing up? Is it a taste adventure, a search for all the mind-boggling varieties that the world has to offer? Or is it the familiar flavours (THAT Chilli Chicken, THAT Biryani!) which are lurking around somewhere in the corners of our mouths, and hearts, occasionally unlocked during home town visits?
So… What do YOU order when you go back to your favourite restaurant? Your old favourite? Or Today’s Special?