Modern Indian restaurant Ahāra proves that leaning into myriad regional Indian cuisines for inspiration can yield favourable, flavourful results.
Smashingly popular modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends not so long ago moved from buzzing Keong Saik Road – where it had been for almost ten years – to new premises at the buzzier Dempsey Hill dining enclave. Its original location is now occupied by another contemporary restaurant offering a dining experience that cannot be any more different.
Where Burnt Ends worships fire and a steadfast, unerring focus on quality Australian produce, intimate 32-seater fine-dining restaurant Ahāra on the other hand is a gastronomic temple dedicated to Indian culinary traditions albeit through some very modern lens. Chef-owner Vikramjit Roy, despite spending more than a decade away from his native Kolkata, shows his love and respect for home through creations that straddle culinary traditions of the Indian subcontinent, but also infused with his country’s progressive zeal.
Ahāra presents Chef Roy’s personally introspective culinary philosophy through a signature multi-course tasting menu (though there’s also a vegetarian version for those with dietary preferences), which is currently into its third edition ‘Journey III’.
You’ll instantly identify Chef Roy’s contemporary culinary influences, garnered over more than two decades in the kitchens of some of India’s top luxury hotels, in the early stages of your dining experience. A luscious oyster – dressed in traditionally Indian tadka infused oil but also some Japanese influence with kombu – that you slurp down with kala khatta ice, for example. Snacks showcasing inspiration from different Indian regional cuisines that discard their original forms but retains substance. Or a bread course that’s a play on the pao popularised by Tamil Nadu’s Iyengar community, but which comes complete with a trio of condiments that take your tastebuds into totally different directions.
An elegant lobster dish that won’t look out of place at the finest contemporary European restaurants lands on the table next, but its flavours will take you back to the coastal cuisine of Goa. Then you’ll get surprised by a gloriously indulgent caviar dish that you won’t recognise as being inspired by the far more humble chaat, a street snack one finds throughout India.
But it is Ahāra’s main course that showed Chef Roy’s deft understanding of India’s cuisines and cultures. This comes as an opulent multi-dish spread of classic regional Indian dishes: chicken biryani Kolkata-style, flanked by Hyderabadi mutton dulcha, Bihari tomato chokha, Punjabi dahl makhani, among others. They are also mostly bereft of contemporary flourish, probably because Chef Roy knows one should not mess with what’s already perfect. The only modern touches here are a dish of braised beef short rib, shredded and reassembled, accompanied by aloo masala, Western steak-and-potato style.
“My experiences changed my approach,” shares Chef Roy, who has spent time in Hong Kong’s 2-Michelin starred Bo Innovation, as well as alongside Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in the celebrity chef’s restaurants in New York, Napa Valley, and India. “I came from humble beginnings and I had the privilege of learning from some of the world’s best chefs. It’s time I took that and applied it to a cuisine that represents who I am as a person.”
“Ahāra is a product of our deep rethinking of what it means to have an elegant, unhurried, slow food restaurant that truly represents the depth and sophistication of Indian cuisine,” added Simran Kotak, founder of Ahāra. “It is an ideal of who I, and many of my generation, would like to be in the 2020s — someone with a deep sense of identity but with an unabashed internationalism.”
[Photos courtesy of Ahāra]