The recently re-invented Diya restaurant at The Leela Ambience Hotel, Gurugram, combines visual elegance with a playful mixing and matching of flavours while upholding authenticity
by SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA
One of The Leela Ambience Hotel Gurugram’s under-rated jewels has been Diya, the Modern Indian restaurant, which has been around ever since the hotel opened its doors and welcomed the world to its majestic lobby conceptualised by the inimitable Rajeev Sethi. In these six years, it has seen chefs come and go, the most famous among them being Kunal Kapoor, who attained television glory with MasterChef India, but the restaurant, somewhat like Varq at The Taj Mahal Hotel, wasn’t able to establish itself at the top of its genre.
That may become history soon, for the restaurant, generously endowed with Italian marble and designed by the internationally renowned Hersch Bender Associates, has been dramatically turned around not only to reflect the design sensibilities of contemporary India, but also to showcase the many flavours, textures and aromas that define the country’s well-endowed gastronomical heritage.
My a-ha moment at Diya: Simply INdiya, which acquired new branding along with its new looks, was seeing the litti-chokha, Bihar and Jharkhand’s popular and deliciously simple combination of wheat dough balls packed with sattu (roasted chickpea flour) cooked on coal fire and served with roasted and smoked eggplant, tomatoes or potatoes, presented in a gentrified style far removed from the rusticity we associate with this poor person’s staple. Now, this is what I call a culinary adventure that wows guests and leaves purists convinced that authenticity doesn’t necessarily have to become a victim of the global obsession with prettifying food.
The food at Diya: Simply INdia is eclectic – it pairs gahat (horse gram) ki daal, simple yet tasty fare from Uttarakhand, with palak (spinach) soya and phulkas, for instance, and serves a prawn variant of the Mangalorean ghee roast, which is made with chicken.
Even the desserts come with twists, such as the pairing of the Bengali patishapta (light crepe made with wheat and rice flour filled with kheer or a gooey coconut-gur combo) with sitaphal (custard apple, which is popular mainly in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana) and coconut gelato. Pretentious though this may sound, the tastes and textures are so delicately balanced that the dish lingers on in your food memory.
Unlike other Modern Indian restaurants, Diya: Simply INdiya pays serious attention to its drinks menu, the most lethal of the drinks being the Amarendre Bahubali, which, as the name suggests, is a muscular combination of Amrut whisky, Grey Goose vodka, Bacardi rum, Sauza Silver tequila and Corona beer (better have a designated driver if you’re planning to knock a couple back!). My favourite, though, is the naughtily named Talli Chameli, which brings together tequila, narangi, jaggery, imli, rock salt and some spices as one Indian joint family, raucous, welcoming and intriguing at the same time.
The wines are from Grover, and those of you who are not alcoholically inclined, do check out the Anandini Himalayan Tea Collection, created by the Kangra Valley tea estate heiress Anamika Singh, and Devi Coffee from Devika Dutt, who quit the financial world of Singapore, along with her Hungarian husband, and settled down in Goa to become the purveyor of some of the finest Indian coffees.
Diya goes beyond being Simply INdiya; it is an ode to the multiple layers of discovery that awaits the connoisseur of Modern Indian Cuisine.