Under the Tuscan sun

Updated: Feb 09, 2020, 08:12 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Chef Rajshri Gupta opens the doors of her dreamy Andheri villa to foodies who want to try a new cuisine. We signed up for a Mediterranean experience, and here's how it went

There's nothing like a sumptuous home-cooked meal to draw everyone to the table. Chef Rajshri Gupta has been hosting intimate dinner experiences for friends at her Greek-themed kitchen for over a decade. But it wasn't until recently that a guest suggested she invite foodies outside her social circle to enjoy the experience. "While it's about food, it's also to do with the decor, company, the aesthetics and the rituals surrounding the meal. I wanted to offer an experience," says Gupta about Beyond Dining.

Gaza lentils with chard
Gaza lentils with chard

Her words hit home when we swing by for a Mediterranean meal (R3,000). The experience begins at the door of her three-storied Tuscan-inspired villa in Andheri west. The outdoor kitchen is reached through a garden dotted with orange and lemon trees. Meticulously designed and stocked with grains, pickles, cheese, clementines, and spices, Gupta will have you forget that you live in a metropolis. The ceramic cutlery is etched with Mediterranean motifs, and mellow Moroccan lights elevate the mood. The table is laid out with the popular falafel, hummus and pita bread. But there's also novelty in the form of avocado labneh (yoghurt dip), ezme (Turkish tomato and pepper salad), chicken saffron strips, and baked tomatoes with feta. While the hummus and falafel are standard, it's the savoury avocado labneh drizzled with olive oil that speaks of creamy goodness. The Lebanese chickpeas soup deserves a mention, which can be eaten hot or cold, without the temperature affecting the taste.

Zereshk polow
Zereshk polow

Interestingly, every item can be savoured as a standalone item. "I deliberately chose dishes that most of us aren't familiar with. The beauty of Middle Eastern food is that it's non-fussy and nutritious. What more could you ask for?" says Gupta. In fact, the Gaza lentils with chard, has grains sourced from Palestine . We go for a second helping. "The dish can be made with local lentils and it will taste just as nice. When it comes to cooking, flavours are never too far apart [basis geography]." The dish is dull grey and hardly appetising, but for those who seek comfort in the wonderful world of dal, try a helping. Going by the fare, it's hard to tell that Gupta's speciality is Goan cuisine.

Hummus with pita
Hummus with pita

While Beyond Dining is all about a pre-decided gourmet menu, Gupta ensures that we go beyond what's on the table. We also try the homemade kombucha and ginger beer. The creations are a product of her stint at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, where she trained under Darina Allen, Rachel Allen, Tim Allen and Rory O'Connell.

Tunisian orange cake. Pics/Satej Shinde
Tunisian orange cake. Pics/Satej Shinde

Back at the table, we are ready to dive into the main course. The zereshk polow, peppered with dried barberries, orange peels and ivory almond slivers, is one of the best we've had. Tarty and fleshy, the berries sourced from the Middle Eastern market in Bayswater, Westminster, glisten in the mound of rice. The polow goes well with the Moroccan chicken apricot stew. By the end of it, our knowledge of Med cuisine is a little sharper. "Although the meal timings on Instagram are 9 pm to 11 pm, guests invariable end up leaving at 1 am," she smiles.

Rajshri Gupta
Rajshri Gupta

Connect with Chef Raji: Instagram@chef_raji

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