What's cooking in Qla this winter...

I’m not too sure how I would react to Gordon Ramsay cooking for me but I will always be grateful to
him for one thing---bringing me to watch Masterchef Australia, which if I may judge, is superior than its dramatic American cousin. One thing lead to the other. Hell’s Kitchen took me to Masterchef USA. Intrigued by how different the original would be, I started exploring the Australian version, only to end up binge-watching it. Witnessing the masters, Marco Pierre White and Massimo Bottura, function and train the amateurs with such passion I realised how profound an experience would be for a chef intern to learn from them. How their palate, nose and hands would be honed to perform with utmost dexterity. A thought that occupied my mind as I sat sampling the marvels conjured by chef and director Priyam Chatterjee at Qla at the launch of their Fall Winter menu. 

The wizard called Priyam Chatterjee
Mentored by Jean-Claude Fugier and Marco Pierre White Priyam acknowledges that his art has been influenced by Massimo Bottura (Osteria Fracescana) and Andoni Luis (Mugaritz). But what made his performance even more spectacular was that he wore the Bengali foodie heart on his sleeve, peppered with the charismatic flamboyance of a rakish drummer who makes the audience step up to his beats. Every time he came out with a dish from the kitchen, there was this inimitable flourish while we waited with bated breath to let him explain what he had created so that we could pamper our palette in the next nanosecond…

Positioned amidst popular fashion labels in a courtyard could have it own disadvantages. The
Prateek Arora
passion with which you do your food can be overlooked because the focus is more on the apparels. But the men at Qla are not dithered. Because they know that at the helm is chef-de-force Priyam, whose international exposure leads to creatively stimulating experiences, and wine professional Prateek Arora, the co-founder and partner of this posh diner, who matched the music of the chef with his carefully curated wines and cocktails. Along with regaling us with anecdotes of his wine education and experiences in Dijon and Burgundy, France. 

Now, the notes on the remarkable men can wait! Cleverly christening the menu as a collection worked because Priyam likes to do the drama with his plating. Food that is in conjunction with the gorgeous fashion in its neighbourhood. Somewhere his creations bear the mark of his exuberant persona, a man who likes to be remembered for the magic he created. 

While the food at the fine-diner is European with specific focus on French, Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian, the Bong chef has retained some references from his homeland in the dishes. For instance, the lentil cake is a tribute to the Bengali Dhokaar Dalna (a slightly sweet curry with lentil cakes thrown in). The Priyam twist is through the nutmeg nuances, with a Japanese sesame sauce and truffle confit…

The prelude to the meal in the form of a shot of sparkling wine laced with the juices of fresh pomegranate, basil and orange and a hint of cinnamon. The idea is to play with the senses, a trick that is predominant even in the way the restaurant chooses it music based on time, day and season. 

Talking of the season, the dinner commences with the Garden Salad that stuns us with its visual
workmanship. Pretty flowers and leaves dance delicately with sauces and chevre to remind us of wholesome fresh produce. The chef mentions a combination of 16 ingredients that create an aromatic explosion in our mouth. 

Next up is the Shimizi mushrooms, which is mushrooms three ways. Paired with a Sauvignon Blanch from Chile, the dish is delicate, buttery and deftly whets our appetite. Priyam’s plating, though is time-consuming, is worth waiting for. Because, he creates veritable works of art. Too bad they can’t be exhibited and just gobbled up. 

The Bengali in me is mighty pleased with the Scottish line caught salmon, poached and paired with a play of contrasting sweet and sharp notes of balsamic and raspberry along with ginger and chili. It’s absolutely heavenly. And, from the oohs and aahs I hear from the fellow foodie beside me, the silken tofu seems like a winner as well. The Japanese bean curd carries a subtle flavour of elephant garlic, mustard and is plated with a spicy, fragrant cream made of kaffir lime and coconut. Thai influences I presume…

The feast continues with a fettucine of festivals, which is strips of carrots, asparagus and zucchini, plated beautifully with cauliflower foam and an eggplant mash with lemon juice and kashundi. The sharpness of the Bengali mustard is countered brilliantly by the creaminess of the foam. This is paired with a Pinot Tarot. Next up are the crepes with a stuffing of mushroom and pumpkin and served with a sambar cream. While the restaurant is high on global cuisine, it incorporates Indian accents in a uniquely delish way. The Sambar cream is an instance of that. I had never had mushroom and pumpkin together, and if I may be honest had never imagined the combination. But this tasted divine.

To cleanse our palate Prateek recommends a gin based honeydew melon and coriander cocktail that
is cold and perfectly prepares us for the next dish. The Pig is butter braised short ribs of pork served with Schezwan sauce that falls off the bone without much ado and melts in the mouth. The Parmesan risotto with white truffle extract is hearty and comforting. 

Before the last mains arrive, we partake of vulgar John, an innovative concoction of vodka, smoked pineapple juice tempered with fennel. It’s refreshing and different. 

I am served a saffron tagliatelle cooked in burnt garlic milk. While it is rich and creamy, it dries up pretty fast and the saffron tends to get a little overpowering after a few spoons. My friends enjoy their lamb loin paired with chicken parfait and cumin jus. A dish that, on hindsight, I should have sampled…

But Priyam’s mastery doesn’t let you rue for long. He sends out a heavenly crème brulee flavoured with black truffle oil and Madagascar vanilla. The classic dessert is eaten with a fine concoction of brandy, coffee, honey and orange juice. A successful marriage to say the least.

The meal ends with Priyam’s signature textures of chocolate made with five breeds of Cacao Berry chocolates treated diversely. You got to eat it to know how it felt. 

As I thank Priyam and Prateek for the lovely evening and the
memorable meal, Priyam does the Bong-connection act with an amiable, “Dekha hobey” promising me partridge his way next time. Can hardly wait… 


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