Cheval's new menu is packed with flavours you probably know and already love, but the stellar effect they have on a diner lies in how discerningly they have been put together, finds Kareena Gianani
In 49 BC, Julius Ceasar, we imagine, must have raised his hand to his brow and inspected the shallow, reddened river that lay ahead of his army marching across northeastern Italy. The Rubicon was the boundary between Italy and Cisalphine Gaul, and by leading his army and crossing it, Julius Ceasar broke the law that a general could not lead an army out of the province to which he was posted, and committed himself to civil war. Crossing the Rubicon is, metaphorically, since then, a point of no return, a threshold after which nothing remains the same.
The Pan-Seared Reef Cod; Warm Smoked Salmon Bagel; the Roasted Duck Salad, which was fresh and light, but lacking in memorable flavour and the Chicken Liver Pate, a toothsome combination of tastes and textures
At Cheval, little do my dinner companion and I know that our Rubicon lies in the row of neatly arranged, pink swirls of Chicken Liver Pate atop discs of toasted bread topped with a sprig of mint leaf each. Or within the light golden, crisp, fried brie of cheese. So, when we pop the Warm Fried Brie (R345) into our mouths, let the cheese fill our mouths and allow the combination of guava vinaigrette-pineapple salsa to unabashedly flirt with us, we know we are almost there. The Pate, too, commands all our attention with its smooth texture; when the cherry compote and date puree leave a lingering aftertaste, we know we crossed our Rubicon.
Cheval's new menu promises to be innovative and focused on delicate flavours. We scan through it and, to be honest, these aren't dishes we haven't had before; there aren't claims we haven't heard before. But if the appetisers are any sign of the meal to come, we know somebody in the kitchen knows his/her flavours and their possible permutations well, so pulling the proverbial rabbit out of a hat should be right up their alley.
The Roasted Cauliflower Risotto (R475) is a case in point. It looks like the less-jazzy cousin of the beetroot/mushroom/pesto risottos out there, but it is so creamy, so toothsome with the flavour of pink peppercorn, that we have no complaints. We lick our spoons clean in minutes, and pop some stray golden-brown florets into our mouths. The Roasted Duck Salad (R495) isn't bad — it is fresh and has arugula, well-cooked duck, balsamic dressing and pomegranate. But my companion thinks it doesn't deliver
the punch, and nothing quite stands out in this dish.
We suggest you skip the Multigrain Crepe (R475) too — its laal maath and beetroot stuffing with smoked tomato fondue is bland and rather forgettable. Instead, we turn our attention to the beautifully Stuffed Chicken (R545). It has my companion at sundried tomato. Why, seconds ago, he was delivering an impassioned discourse on the online black marketplace, Silk Road, and other perils of the Internet.
But a forkful later, his concerns lay forgotten as he tries to figure out how his favourite ingredient (sundried tomatoes) coupled with pesto and pepper garlic cream in perfectly cooked chicken could have change his world momentarily. The Pan Seared John Dory (R725) arrives, and we are surprised at the combinations in it, which set it apart from our perfect, perfect chicken — there it is on a bed of kaffir lime risotto (excellence, check) and chimmichuri sauce. The fish is succulent and one forkful takes us to rolling fields of citruses, bursts of mint-and-coriander freshness and the lull of creamy, comforting risotto.
Love can strike one unawares anywhere — in secluded corners, under harsh arclights, even mid-sentence, they say. But for us, it lies inside a round nest of white chocolate which cradles three dainty scoops of sorbet. Our Trio of Homemade Sorbet (R345) is the prettiest dessert we have set our eyes on — strawberry, passionfruit and mango sorbet lie on a trembling bed of crème anglaise. Scattered around this is cherry compote and short bread soil. If there is one thing you eat today (or tomorrow, or on the day you die, bless you), make sure it is this.
The ice-cold zing of the sorbets, the light-as-a-cloud anglaise, and the compote let loose a riot of complementing flavours in our mouths, and we know we wil not forget this. Even the Espresso Fudge (R275), rich, dark, dense and quite excellent as it is, fails to get our attention off the sorbet. By the end of the meal, we know this — good food needs care but great food needs an element of surprise and a flair for exciting combinations. If well-crafted meals are your thing, give Cheval's new menu a chance.
We cannot rate the experience as it was by invitation
Where: Cheval, 145, Mahatma Gandhi Road, near Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda
Food: Delicious, except a few misses, and worth a second visit
Ambiance: Warm, grungy