‘Auriga’: A large northern constellation, also known as the ‘Charioteer’. Source: Oxford Dictionary. This is all we know of Auriga as we set off to check out the new restaurant, at the end of the Famous Studio Lane in Mahalaxmi. Even as we catch our first glimpse, it is easy to figure that the eatery lives up to its name. A sci-fi fantasy set in metal, its aerodynamic, dome-like structure is almost intimidating with its bulk of metal exteriors, yet is mysteriously alluring.
Kritika Nagpal, part owner of Auriga, shares of her first food venture, “We gave award-winning architect Sanjay Puri full creative freedom with the space. We were clear in that we wanted to serve up Pan-Asian cuisine in a hip setting. The rest was left to Sanjay’s discretion. After he designed the space, we worked backwards and came up with the name!”
As we step into the first section, we spot an open air space; Nagpal explains this to be the al fresco cafeteria. We move into the enclosure that has a lounge area. The interiors are markedly different from the outside - it is mostly wood, as opposed to metal. The wood lines the walls in jagged uneven patterns complimenting the futuristic theme. The lighting changes colour and speed, to complement DJ Shiva’s beats from behind the console.
Behind the bar, adorned by flickering lights, are waiters clad in dark-coloured uniforms with only the glow-in-the-dark lapels preventing them from merging into the dimly-lit background. The menu consists of quirky cocktails and mocktails that use lemongrass, basil, mint, and a variety of other Asian herbs.
A storey above is the restaurant area where the furnishings remain the same, yet this area promises a different treat - fare prepared by Chef Nilesh Limaye. The chef dares to step away from the decor to create food backed by traditional wisdom. He steers away from artificial flavourings, colouring and MSG with an emphasis on local produce.
The presentation too falls back on age-old wisdom - food served in miniature woks with a small flame beneath to keep the food warm, even at the table, with bamboo steamers and other distinctly Asian utensils. The flavours might seem at odds with the décor. Strangely, the two don’t contradict but complement each other to create a unique experience.
Stick to tradition
The extensive menu isn’t cluttered with complicated names; instead the description serves as the name. We start with the Goat Cheese and Basil Mushroom Puff (Rs 270, exclusive of service charge). The lightly spiced, well-cooked mushrooms blend with the cheese and don’t overpower each other, and the flavours can be felt individually on the palate. We recommend the Pomelo, Fresh Coconut, and Cashew Momo (Rs 270). The ginger adds a kick to juicy pomelo and teases the palate. Try the Chef’s Hat with Creamy Vegetables and Fresh Red Chilli Sambal (Rs 270). Even though it comes wrapped in seaweed, the pungent fishy flavour can’t be felt thanks to the cream and the fresh vegetables.
For the mains, we went with Indonesian Sticky Coconut Rice with Grilled Fish, Prawn and Spicy Sambal (Rs 480). The coconut milk in the rice added sweetness, while the chilli added zing, to the fresh Basa. We ended the meal with a Chocolate Mint Samosa (Rs 240), a delectable mini-square of samosa, filled with chocolate, flavoured with fresh mint. We washed it all down with the Dolce Vita, caramel flavoured green tea served by the pot (Rs 150).
The meal was a fresh, traditional take on pan-Asian fare, with delicate flavourings, which though subdued were delectable. We only wish the decor, with its excess of metal and wood, had been somewhat subdued too. Yet, overall, Auriga promises a new culinary order - traditional fare with a dose of fantasy.
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