Recently when I was thinking of the sad state of affairs in the food business, I received a call from a young chef who used to wield magic with a wok and some sauces. I had met Vaibhav Bhargava at ITC Sheraton’s pan-Asian restaurant (called Pan Asia!). He was innovative and put together some delightful Oriental dishes.
With hotels mostly shut, and diners staying away from their favourite restaurants, Bhargava has now joined a catering outfit called The Purple Plate that delivers Oriental and Indian food in Delhi-NCR. He called to say that he wanted me to try out some of the dishes he had been cooking.
Chef Vaibhav is in charge of the Oriental food. The list of starters includes vegetable spring rolls, soya and water chestnut lettuce wraps, siu mai with hot chicken, stir fried prawns in XO sauce and diced Beijing chicken with chillies. The mains include silken tofu with chilli beans, Cantonese style exotic Asian greens, chicken red Thai curry, and sliced chicken in Szechuan sauce. The food comes with your choice of noodles or steamed rice. Then there is a salad or dessert (I had a rose petal phirni which was sublime: thick and creamy, and with just the right fragrance and sweetness).
I started with the dimsums and enjoyed the chilli chicken siu mai. The vegetables dumplings had a juicy stuffing of shitake mushroom, asparagus, water chestnut, carrots, beans and baby corns and an attractive emerald green casing, which, Chef Bhargava explained, came from a green onion extract.
I also had the chicken red curry, peppered with tiny eggplants and other vegetables. What I enjoyed the most was the prawn cooked in the hot XO sauce. Plump prawns had been marinated with salt, pepper, egg white and a mix of potato starch and corn flour and then fried. Chef Bhargava sautéd ginger, garlic and onion in a wok, and to this, he added coloured peppers, a nice dash of the XO sauce, Chinese wine and chilli paste. He tossed in the prawns, and the final outcome was a lip-smacking dish, hot but complemented by the sweetness of the prawn and peppers.
From the Indian menu, I tried out a bit of the mutton rogan josh, and thought the gravy was robust, and the dal, nicely creamy. The catering service supplies for groups of five, 10 or 15. Orders have to be placed 24 hours in advance (mobile no: 9899775259). It offers a three-course meal (₹5,000 for five people for the vegetarian option; ₹7,000 for five for a non-vegetarian one).
The menu also offers a cheese platter with five kinds of cheeses (from cheddar to gorgonzola), fruits, nuts, olives and crackers (₹5,500) and a Turkish crisps and dip platter with beetroot crisps, pita crisps and lavash with beetroot hummus, olive hummus, labneh and baba ganoush (₹4,000). A 24-piece vegetarian sushi platter costs ₹3,000; a non-vegetarian platter, ₹4,000.
Chef Bhargava, who has also trained at the celebrated Noma’s in Copenhagen, says that the menu will change every now and then. “We do customised dishes, too, if guests have any preferences,” he says. “I want to keep highlighting the ingredients as they are the heroes.”
Way to go, chef. This is the time for heroes — caped or sautéed.
The writer is a seasoned food critic