Romance is a delicious predicament. Aroused by mystery, undimmed by fleeting familiarity, yet smashed to the ground at its faintest brush with routine. The crest and troughs of such an inscrutable sentiment are oft blamed on hormones, seldom portrayed in long-winded prose and always actualised in the exactness of champagne, of diamonds, of velvet. Dismissed as delusion by some, aspired boldly by some more and yet like that short window of conscious early-morning dreaming, anticipated by all. To thrust all sorts of romantic streaks in all forms of mankind, there’s Le Cirque, the French-Italian fine dine at the Leela Palace, which is offering a Valentine’s menu for those in pursuit of love or even a fantastically far-fetched idea of it.
What transpires thenceforth….Somebody beautiful and kind walks you through a palatial foyer, where an entire generation of neckties is busy looking busy. At any point, you may admire a work of very expensive silver art; catch a whiff of the freshest flower imports in town and spot translucent reflections of the self in glossy floors, elevator doors. Once whisked away from the larger condescension of privilege on the ground floor, a server embraces you onto the more specific condescension of the tenth floor, the kind that’s usually steeped in French mannerisms. C’est Le Cirque, the circus restaurant.
For the prix-fixe valentine’s menu, you’re taken to a room inside a room inside a room. Yes, the inception leaves you in a disillusioned little space away from anything vaguely human. Lest you feel cut-off, there’s a life-size window that live streams all the activity at Africa Avenue, from a distance, in neon, the only way it should be. The inside is old world proper with chandeliers emitting a mildly orange radiance that bounces off the tiniest of pearls and gets playfully trapped in champagne flutes. The restaurant has a rather retiring gestalt, there are Victorian wood-panelled walls fixed with equally Victorian sconce lamps.
The meal begins with the unfolding of black napkins. Assuming that the guests would be in black when on a date, the restaurant has done away with the unexciting proposition of the white napkin. First comes the house-baked bread basket, layers after layers of multigrain, olive, chilli flaked, peppered breads with their usual olive-oil-balsamic compatriots. Then comes the amuse-bouche, a miniaturised potato with a drop of cheese, which drifts about your palate like a haze.
In the name of the first course, you find yourself jiggling a ball of soft mozzarella that’s made, well, digestible by a grilled crouton, four pieces of bland pumpkin and tomato tartar. The broccoli veloute is a generous pouring of mildly warm broccoli broth over the freshest chilli sauted shrimp. The seafood is the other big reason that makes you forget your geographical reality; too fresh to be true. The plating of wild mushrooms is garnished with strands of spinach and grated with scamorza, a soft Italian cow cheese. The second course runs its course rather smoothly, without lodging itself uneasily in your palate.
Then roll in the mains. The maccheroni with red spinach pesto is chewy, you keep wishing it were more pesto and less maccheroni. But you won’t be entertaining it for long for there is a Kashmiri saffron risotto that’s waiting to be devoured. Its all kinds of sweetly fragrant cheeses and butters dart out of the plate into the hollows of your appetite. It can, quite easily, be awarded ‘the best risotto ever’ in thy judgment.
The maitre’d nudges you to opt for the Creme Brulee. Legend has it, as he narrates convincingly, that Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque in New York introduced the dish to the country that till then knew nothing more than the cheese cake. Peppered with strawberried caviar, there’s a little message embossed on the bottom of its porcelain pan, for the benefit of those who manage to scrape it clean, of course.
At the end of the meal, you find yourself struggling to understand if the overall experience of the place is more appetising than the food. But you take Italy-born and bred (but Gujarati by descent) chef Mickey Bhoite’s word for it “It’s an experience of a rich cultural tradition with fresh flavours and fresh recipes, a new take on proper, a new take on perfect”.
Whether Le Cirque spurs romantic poeticism or not is entirely subjective, but it certainly leaves you with a great setting, and isn’t it well known that a great setting almost always makes for a great story.
Meal for two: Rs 7,000. Only Dinner Restaurant.
Address: Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, 011-3933-1234