Will degustation menus impress Mumbai's foodies?

Degustation: A specially-crafted set course meal to celebrate the chef’s culinary skills, and one that must be savoured with every sense. This French culinary term is finding its way into Mumbai restaurant menus. But will it impress the discerning foodie?

Picture this: As you soak in the swish ambiance of a Mumbai five-star hotel, a small portion of Brittany lobster, wrapped with asparagus shoots and topped with morel mushroom sabayon makes its way to your table. Arrested by its plating, you dig in, savouring the crunch of the shoots tinged with the flavoursome lobster. Soon, another dish follows, and two hours later, you’ve relished eight small courses without looking at the menu. By now, you’ve also learnt about the chef’s culinary skills as he visits your table. This experience could summarise chef Laurent Peugeot’s pop-up that begins this Saturday at Juhu’s JW Marriott. 

First course Dutch Asparagus Cigarillos Truffle Crème Fraiche
First course: Dutch Asparagus Cigarillos Truffle Crème Fraiche

Hosted by 4XFOUR, the Michelin-star chef will present an eight-course French-Japanese fusion degustation menu. The following week, Chef Giovanni D’Amato will serve an Italian degustation fare at the same hotel. Pavithran Nambiar, General Manager, explains about introducing this concept, “The city has warmed up to the concept of degustation menus as the Indian diner is evolving and has different taste preferences. As our target audience travels internationally, they sample tasting menus including fine dining experiences and appreciate it.”

Second course Tiger Prawn Stuffed Cajun Crab, Artichoke Imulsion
Second course: Tiger Prawn Stuffed Cajun Crab, Artichoke Imulsion

D to Z of Degustation
This French culinary term is an avant-garde dining experience that involves a careful selection of some of the chef’s signature dishes, focusing on exposing and utilising all five senses, while involving extensive culinary techniques. At many city restaurants, it is served as a set tasting menu. One such example is the nine-course Chef's Tasting Menu at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra. Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director, Massive Restaurants, explains, “The concept has its origins in French classical cuisine, but has come to widely being used in contemporary dining across the culinary traditions of the world. Though the earlier concept of dégustation menus served a few courses with the mains, serving full-sized meal dishes at each course, the modern variant has been inspired from the concept and offers either a three, five or nine-course set menu with individual portioning, to help the diner experience the cuisine in its entirety and yet not feel too stuffed.”

Offered at a premium price, this menu undergoes frequent changes based on the availability of ingredients; often, it is paired with wines to complement each dish. At The Taj Mahal Palace’s The Zodiac Grill, a bespoke nine-course degustation menu gets a makeover every fortnight and costs a whopping Rs 7,950 (+ taxes, non-vegetarian) and Rs 6,950 (+ taxes, vegetarian). “Our in-house sommelier works with our expert chefs. These days, chefs love to create new and interesting ways to introduce food to their guests. With a deep focus on inciting all five senses, over fine epicurean creations, a degustation dinner is one such experience,” explains Chef Amit Chowdhury, Executive Chef – The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai.

Dessert: Amaretto Soufflé, Ipoh White Coffee are part of the nine-course degustation menu at The Zodiac Grill. Pics/Atul Kamble

Plan perfect
Planning a degustation menu is no cakewalk, as chef Irfan Pabaney of The Sassy Spoon found out during the French Week celebrations. He recalls, “The challenge was to pick dishes based on people’s palates and the availability of ingredients. For instance, if people weren’t fans of Bombay duck, we served them tilapia. The Indian customer wants to have a choice and be in control of what he/she is eating.”

third course Pan Seared Lamb Loin, Horseradish Crème Brulee, Shallot Jus
Third course: Pan Seared Lamb Loin, Horseradish Crème Brulee, Shallot Jus

The trick with this concept is to ensure that the entire menu follows a theme that maintains a balance, reveals Chowdhury, adding, “You could focus on a specific region, cuisine or produce.” Raajith Bambasal, AGM, Hakkasan that dishes out set lunches and dimsum degustation menus, agrees that the ideal degustation menu should offer starters and small bites, along with a non-messy main course. Options are a must in each course to meet varied guest requirements. Customer feedback also helps to plan this menu. Peugeot, who intends to create spicier fusion fare to suit the city palate, elaborates, “The concept of degustation allows me to talk the patrons and based on the feedback; I may tweak the tastes for subsequent dining experiences.”

A selection of three cheese as part of the French degustation menu at  The Sassy Spoon

The price factor
However, with such a high-profile concept, the price could be off-putting. But the experience makes the price worth it, believes Chowdhury, “Each course is served with flair and is intended to present the chef’s culinary genius on a plate. These meals could last up to three hours and with today’s grab-and-go culture this might seem like a bit of a stretch. Having said that, an evening of a wide array of deliciously, diverse food, with friends and family might be just what people need today.”

Pabaney lets us in, “By using local ingredients, the cost is kept under control.” At Hakkasan, the degustation menu is priced lower than their a la carte fare. “The reasonable rates attract guests who would have otherwise visited only on special occasions in their life,” maintains Bambasal.

Pan Fried Satay Chicken Bun as part of the dimsum degustation lunch at Hakkasan
Pan Fried Satay Chicken Bun as part of the dimsum degustation lunch at Hakkasan

Will it work?
Those who dine out frequently would admit that after a point, it can get tiring to pore over menus. Worse, imagine if you pick the wrong dish. Or lose precious time while negotiating an exhaustive, confusing menu. This is where the appeal of a pre-fixed degustation menu lies. “It’s the simplicity,” believes Bambasal, adding, “We use it as an induction to the restaurant. Once they’ve experienced the essence of what we have to offer, they are tempted to come back. A majority of our patrons are corporates who drop by for a quick lunch meeting. This small, pre-fixed meal that is priced slightly lower than the regular menu, works for them.”

Michelin-star chef Laurent
Michelin-star chef Laurent Peugeot with his creations: (clockwise) Scallop, burned and marinated with Sake Soja, Puree Pumpkin, Pomelo and Takuan (second course); Green Asparagus, Morel Mushroom Sabayon, Britanny Lobster (fourth course); Langoustine (scampi) Eggplant Dengaku, crispy Soja three years old (third course) and White Cube of Maniquette Pepper Liquid Heart, burn Miso (eighth course). PIC/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Dal Chawal Arancini,  Achar-Papad-Chutney at  Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra
Dal Chawal Arancini, Achar-Papad-Chutney at Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra

Chowdhury believes that Mumbai is the perfect destination for degustation menus, “Degustation meals help you sample everything on the menu and gain insight into a chef’s gastronomic philosophy.” Kalra seconds it, “The biggest advantage of serving this menu is that the guests do not need to think too much, if they want to holistically experience the cuisine served by the restaurant.”

Here to stay?
According to Kalra, this concept, outside the confines of a five-star hotel, is new in India and not well exposed to diners. “Price remains a deciding factor for consumers, but with smart planning and execution, more restaurants can implement this effectively, while allowing more guests to experience it across cuisines,” he observes. “Degustation menus are here to stay as they offer an element of surprise to guests making them look forward to the dining experience. It also helps chefs enhance their creativity by crafting bespoke culinary experiences,” sums up Chowdhury.

Where to try it?
At a pop-up
Indulge in an eight-course French-Japanese Fusion degustation menu prepared by chef Laurent Peugeot and traditional Italian fare by chef Giovanni D’Amato.
On: April 11 and 12 (chef Laurent Peugeot), April 15 to April 19 (chef Giovanni D’Amato)
Time: Lunch at 12.30 pm (on weekdays) and dinner at 7.30 pm (weekdays and weekends)
At: Mezzo Mezzo, JW Marriott, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu.
Log on to:
Cost: Rs 7,000 + taxes

An elaborate affair
Choose from a nine-course degustation menu that changes every fortnight at The Zodiac Grill.
Call: 66653366
Cost: Rs 7,950 + taxes (non veg) and Rs 6,950 + taxes (veg)

Desi twist
Opt for a set nine-course Chef's Tasting Menu with dishes like Wild Mushroom Chai with truffle oil crumbs, dehydrated mushrooms and Dal Chawal Arancini, achar-papad-chutney.
At: Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Bandra Kurla Complex
Call: 66424142
Cost: Rs 2,300 + taxes (veg) and Rs 2,500 + taxes (non veg)

Dimsum dossier
Enjoy a variety of steamed, pan-fried or grilled Dim Sums paired with two glasses of sparkling wine at Bandra's Hakkasan.
On: Fridays to Sundays, 12 pm to 4 pm
Call: 26444444
Cost: Rs 2,500

Street food indulgence
Sample a nine-course menu with Vada Pav, Ragda Pattice, Dabeli and Puri Bhaji at Pallavi Mehta’s The Super Stylish Street Food Experience of Mumbai.
On: April 16 and April 17, 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm
Log on to:
Cost: Rs 1,950

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