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It’s nice to let your memory travel even if you can’t

Life can be cruel. Just when I thought that the pandemic was winding down, it has struck back with a renewed vengeance.

Nobody seems immune as it rampages across India and even I, with both my jabs in place, worry that this is a new variant that will not spare even those who have been vaccinated.

 
 
 
And while I cower in terror, I try and entertain myself by daydreaming, by thinking about all the cities I will visit when we have finally beaten Covid. And of course of the meals I will have in those cities.

 

   Most of this is pure fantasy, of course. I haven’t been to many of these cities for a while. And even if travel restrictions are lifted and I am willing to brave long flights while double-masked, I doubt if I will really go to all these cities.

 

   But hey, a man’s got to dream, right?

 

   So, here goes.

 

Bangkok: My favourite food city, as you may already know. I have three absolute favourite restaurants that I am dying to revisit. One of them is, of course, Gaggan. He has done new things with the menu and I can’t wait to try them. Then there is Sühring, with two Michelin stars, probably the greatest modern German restaurant in the world. (And that includes restaurants in Germany.) And my old favourite, the terrific Chalee Kader’s 100 Mahaseth. Chalee chooses what to serve me from his menu of Northern Thai dishes and I have never had a bad meal there in at least a dozen visits.

 

   There are others I want to try. I want to go to Sorn, which Gaggan rates highly and which, Chalee says, has the best Thai fine dining in the Kingdom. Chef Ton who runs the wonderful Le Du has a new place called Nusara that has more traditional Thai food that I am eagerly waiting to try.

 

   And of course, there is also the fact that you don’t have to go to great restaurants to eat well in Thailand. The food on the streets and at little cafés can be excellent.

 

   Hopefully, by the time I go, Gaggan and the Sührings will also have opened their new coffee place and there is still Gaggan’s Mexican-Indian restaurant called Ms Maria & Mr Singh to try.

 

The Maldives: Nobody goes to the Maldives for the food but there is one outstanding, world-class restaurant with a brilliant chef: Gaushan DeSilva at Aragu at Velaa Private Island. Gaushan would have received at least one Michelin star by now if he had been cooking in any country where there is a Michelin guide.

 

Singapore: My friend Sameer Sain has ruined Singapore for me. He has taken me to such astonishingly brilliant restaurants and ordered such great wines that I no longer worry about where to eat in Singapore: I just leave it to Sameer.

 

"I dream of sitting on a café table on the pavement eating a Spanish omelette (basically, potatoes held together by a thin layer of egg) while nursing a sherry."

   But over the last four years, I have somehow never managed to eat at Odette, one of the world’s greatest restaurants. The next time I will certainly set that right. And Burnt Ends is on my list too.

 

New York: There are many, many great restaurants in New York. But as much as I love Le Bernardin or Eleven Madison Park, what I long to go back and eat are those giant deli sandwiches at places like Katz’s and even though it is not a gastronomic experience, a $2 hot dog on the streets. For me, that sums up the New York I love.

 

Paris: I am not a chicken fan. But, the one country where I never turn down even the simplest roast chicken is France. Partly it is the quality of the chicken and mostly it is the cooking, but roast chicken never tastes as good anywhere else. You can go to the famous tourist traps like L’Ami Louis or the lesser known Le Coq Rico but any good restaurant will deliver an out-of-this-world chicken. Many of the other great Paris experiences, the Robuchon mashed potato etc., are now available elsewhere in the world but the chicken? Only in France.

 

Italy: French is the great cuisine but I love the simplicity and elegance of Italian food. Risotto by Lake Como at Villa d’ Este. A pizza or a plate of salami at Roscioli in Rome (or a Cacio e Pepe pasta in the small restaurant that is just past the Roscioli counter). Or the burnt part of the Lasagna at Massimo Bottura’s restaurant in Modena.

 

Spain: You can eat better and more cheaply in Spain than you can in Italy or France. I dream of sitting on a café table on the pavement eating a Spanish omelette (basically, potatoes held together by a thin layer of egg) while nursing a sherry. The Iberico ham is the best in the world and while you can go to San Sebastián for Arzak, Martín Berasategui or Mugaritz (all of which are fabulous), I dream of things like Pintxos (like tapas) in the bars in the side streets.

 

Cologne: It is not a joke. Germans do like meat and potatoes. But this is fine with me because I also like sausages, schnitzel and all kinds of potatoes. So, I dream of going back to the lovely city of Cologne, sitting by the Rhine and eating German sausages.

 

Vienna: Austria may be more gastronomically sophisticated than Germany but I only remember the pastries. Even a cliché like Sacher Torte tastes fabulous when you eat it at the Sacher itself or at Demel, its great rival.

 

Tokyo: I have never been to one of Tokyo’s great sushi places. They are expensive and hard to get into even if you have the money. But the wonderful thing about Japan is that the food is good everywhere. Even an egg sandwich from a convenience store will be fabulous. Language can be a problem but the single worst meal I had in Japan was at the English-friendly Morimoto restaurant (run by the chef behind Wasabi) in Tokyo. So, you are better off with the language problem than with English speaking service.

 

   And once the pandemic winds down, I long to plunge into the unknown and eat my way through Japan.

 

Hong Kong: There are many great and famous restaurants in Hong Kong. Some are fabulous (The Chairman, Otto 8½ etc.) some are overpriced and overrated (Amber) but it is hard to go wrong if you stick to Chinese barbecue. I have waited an hour in a queue for barbecued goose and not regretted a single minute of the waiting. It is, for me, the superlative Hong Kong experience.

 

Chengdu: The flavours of Chengdu, in Sichuan in China have stayed with me. I can still feel the Sichuan pepper tingling on my tongue and puckering up my mouth. I ate (mostly) at very ordinary places in Chengdu and the flavours were intense and fiery.

 

   Mostly I would go back for the Mapo Tofu, a dish that has suffered so grievously at the hands of chefs at Indian Chinese restaurants. It was only when I got to China that I realised how fabulous it could be.

 

   And when? I don’t know when I’ll go. May be this is just fantasy. But when there’s no escape from reality, it is nice to let your memory travel even if you can’t.

 

 

Posted On: 24 Apr 2021 10:35 AM
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