By Karishma Saurabh Kalita
New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) In a day and age when eateries face very tough competition to survive in a sea of plenty, there comes one that actually manages to stand out in a crowd in terms of food, presentation and ambiance. This is what exactly one would experience at the Niche Lounge and Bistro where cocktails are served in perfume bottles and the food is a breath of fresh air.
Located in the outer circle of Connaught Place, opposite the Statesman building, Niche is spread across two floors, including an al fresco dining area. The inside-seating area has stylish interiors dominated with plush leather upholstery and panelling on walls. It also boasts of a stage for performance, a 20-seater Long Island-style bar and a cigar corner.
The menu is quite restricted, not offering an array of dishes like a lot of other places where customers get so confused that they end up ordering just a pasta or a pizza.
"Our aim is to make people taste everything that we have to offer. Our menu is limited, the portions are small and reasonably priced. We want to promote a culture of consuming three starters, four mains and a dessert between two people," Assistant General Manager Matthew Radalj told IANS.
Niche is also big on its signature cocktails which are presented in things like a perfume bottle and the inside of a book, priced at Rs. 1,000 each.
"The pricing of our signature cocktails is a little high compared to the classic cocktails since we try and make as many ingredients in-house as possible since a lot of the things that go into producing a cocktail - like tobacco liqueur - are not available in India. So, we have taken a culinary approach to the drinks, producing the flavours ourselves," said Radalj, who takes care of the bar.
Asked about its many competitors in the area, Radalj said: "We want the dining experience to be a memorable one and not having to leave unsatisfied after eating the same regular things."
To begin with, we were served two of the signature cocktails; Daisy - a chamomile tequila based drink served in a Marc Jacobs Daisy perfume bottle. This drink does look very pretty especially to someone who loves perfumes but the taste is just the opposite. It is a very strong drink, a little towards the bitter side due to the addition of grapefruit bitters, not recommended for people who likes sweet, flirty drinks.
The second was The Cask of Amontillado, a Hennessy V.S cognac based drink with cardamom and grapefruit bitters. It was very warm and rich, excellent for a cold winter night, sitting by the fire, gorging on a piece of rare steak. The amount of alcohol was very generous in both cocktails.
The drinks were quickly followed by the star of this entire dining experience - pulled pork spring rolls served with sweet chilli glaze. Crunchy on the outside with a juicy and generous amount of pulled pork on the inside. A definite conversation starter along with drinks.
Three dishes really stood.
The first was the French onion soup rings - creamy, rich soup served with crisp onion rings and gruyere cheese. The soup was not heavy and the rings did not have any trace of oil, very light and full of flavour.
The second dish was Malabar prawns served with dates and olive tapenade and capers.This dish was one of the finest examples of fusion food and the prawns were of the melt-in-the-mouth type.
The third dish was the smoked salmon nicoise salad with gazpacho. When it was brought to the table, it seemed like the colours of spring had arrived on a plate: the pink of the salmon, the green of the olives, the red of the cherry tomatoes and the yellow of the gazpacho. The dish could very easily be dominated by either the salmon or the gazpacho, but on the contrary, the flavours were all well-balanced and could be individually tasted.
The dishes that did not really stand out were the chili aam papd pork ribs with strawberry chips and jus. The pork was dry, not well seasoned, the strawberry jus was delicious but did not do anything for the pork.
The second was the lamb shank served in a rogan josh gravy, ginger foam and sauteed vegetables. The meat was undoubtedly very tender, and of the fall-off-the-bone type but the gravy again was a little off in terms of seasoning.
The third was the chicken breast flavoured with mace and cardamom butter and chili korma. The chicken had a little char on the top but it was bland and dry.
The last dish was a complete mind-boggler. It was the dessert, a ganache served with chocolate mousse, white chocolate shavings, mango jelly cubes and chili ice-cream which gave it a 'kick'.
Niche's setting with the great cocktails, sumptuous food and a fabulous location, makes it a place where dining turns into an absolute delight.
Where: 2nd and 3rd Floor, M-16, Outer Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Meal for two: Rs.2,000 (with alcohol)
Timings: 11.00 a.m.- 1.00 a.m.
(The writer's visit was at the invitation of Niche Lounge and Bistro. Karishma Saurabh Kalita can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)