San Francisco-based Rooh has opened a new outlet in Delhi, keeping its ethos of Indian cuisine with international flair intact
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: July 16, 2019
LF Says: ★★★★.5
Ever since it opened in San Francisco – just about a year ago – it has become the place for eating out ‘Indian’. Only, with its unique blend so far removed from the traditional fare served as Indian cuisine, that it might as well be a new category. Modern Indian, as clearly distinct from ‘Indian’.
After wowing the trendy west coast city, Rooh has recently opened its outlet in Delhi. The location is singular – right next to the famous Qutub Minar, one of the best-known and most visited UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city. Indeed, my table had a clear view of the stone tower and the fading Delhi dusk. The restaurant is part of an old haveli or mansion which also houses a number of luxe brands. This is Mehrauli, once a historic suburb of Delhi, oft frequented by erstwhile royals, seers, poets and indeed pleasure seekers of all ilk.
Rooh is located on the first floor of the haveli with its entrance facing another favourite Delhi landmark - Lavaash. Do absorb the playful interiors. They are as much a part of the experience. A blue door ushers the guest to a concierge area with deep red floral wallpaper reminiscent of another era. The interior colour palette in pastels and copper tones complements the underlying theme of the restaurant - a perfect balance and blend of new age and traditional sensibilities. If Rooh SF has the veiled woman adorning a wall, her counterpart here is a wall map with a woman’s head occupying the entire (what would be) peninsular India (or is it a fan) with branches extending upwards.
The seating is another nod to its Frisco sister – the same combination of rattan chairs, lending a colonial India look, and leather backed chairs. However, instead of electric blue, here they are a shade of soft pink. Lighting, especially by the central dazzling chandelier, makes for interesting texture, though the Qutub Minar and moon blend is unbeatable. For best effects, sit in one the smaller cubicle-ish spaces, most of which have just one table, effectively rendering them private dining spaces. Arches, niches and window frames in these spaces only add to the charm.
Rooh Delhi is the brainchild of Chef Sujan Sarkar, an Olive alumni, who has since worked in some of the top culinary capitals of world including London, New York and Dubai, and according to whom Indian tastes are evolving. “Be it fashion, music or food - everything is changing. So, even in terms of location for ROOH, we chose a refurbished century-old haveli that is intrinsically Indian with a contemporary feel.”
The concept behind the menu was to bridge the gap between Indian and international cuisine, says the chef. “It’s an amalgamation of all my work and travels through the culinary capitals of the world. The backbone of the menu remains Indian culinary heritage, ingredients and techniques. But we are showcasing it in an international avatar. The dishes have been thoughtfully created to retain familiar Indian flavours with a play around textures and presentation. Rooh Delhi is very much a part of global food movement – minimal yet classy, understated and yet, exciting.”
The menu at Rooh has been curated to offer an eclectic choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options with each dish being a piece of culinary art in both taste and presentation. Rooh offers a la carte for lunch, and has recently started it for dinner as well.
For the first time visitor, the recommended choice is the eleven-course tasting menu, which includes some of chef’s favourites. The only criteria for it – keep at least a couple of hours to really savour the dishes. Chef Sarkar scotches the suggestion that most Indians are still unfamiliar and unwilling to make time for a tasting menu meal. “Indians are not unknown to this concept - for example, we have Gujarati and Rajasthani thalis that follow a similar pattern of serving multiple dishes - but there’s often no limit on the quantity and it is presented in a simple form, all at once. The only issue, perhaps, is that we dislike to be told how much to eat (portions) and how long a meal should take (tasting menus are meant to be savoured over a period of 2-2.5 hours). But let’s focus on all the positives. As a chef, I get to showcase my thoughts and creativity over an 11 or 13 course meal. It reflects in the flavours and aroma of every delicacy and also in the way our team personally presents each dish - explaining in detail what the thought behind each one is. It's trying to achieve a balance between what the patrons want and what we would like to showcase.
“In terms of awareness, I believe urban restaurant goers are definitely familiar with the western concept of tasting menus. People are well-travelled and crave new experiences. Take a look closer home, whether its Bangkok or Dubai – several restaurants have embraced the tasting menu.”
The tasting menu comes in two versions – vegetarian (₹2,900) and non-vegetarian (₹3,200), with the option of pairing with wines (₹2,600). The stress is on local ingredients, so expect the unexpected - amla, Mehrauli goat, duck, yogurt and more – only presented in combinations that you are unlikely to have tried before. Sea buckthorn rasam, peanut thetcha, bheja pâté with gougère, duck shami with dobs of compressed fruits, tofu pakoda and more. Each dish has a sensory experience of look and taste. The flavours excite, as the unusual combinations blend the familiar and the unexpected. The textures are – given the distance they travel from the usual platings – often provide even more of the pleasantly unexpected. Have the passion fruit explosion and see if I lie. The meal sets a new benchmark for modern Indian cuisine in the city.
Yes, there’s a bar, and a pretty one too. The restaurant’s cocktails are developed from ayurvedic principles, and needless to say, are unique too. Rooh Delhi’s nine alcoholic cocktails and six non-alcoholic cocktails are based on the six Ayurvedic rasas - sweet, salty, pungent, bitter, sour and astringent. Along with vodka and gin, other bases include gooseberry soda, Pechaud bitters and tequila.
The ROOH menu at San Francisco is very different, says the chef, “but keeping in mind our core value, that is using the freshest available local ingredients in every city. The kind of ingredients we have access to is astounding and so much more can be done. But it is essentially progressive Indian cuisine that is simplified for the restaurant goers of the city. I feel that we need to go step by step - by first educating our guests about traditional Indian food and then building on that.”
Rooh’s international journey has just added another outpost – Chicago, which continues the now growing Rooh legacy of modern Indian cuisine.
LF Says: ★★★★.5
Coordinates: Ambawatta One complex, H-5/1, Kalka Dass Marg, Mehrauli, Near Qutub Minar, New Delhi, India