Unlike in other colder parts of the world (and country), winter is not a season full of blues for most of us in the Subcontinent. Instead, it is a particularly salubrious time; where the terrible heat and dust and sweat of the rest of the year give way to Lodhi Garden picnics, farmhouse revelry, Christmas lunches, beach BBQs and, in general, to much all-round consumption. Some fad dieticians propound that the best and easiest time to lose weight is after March, once we lose the will and appetite to gorge on so much F&B. Having seen way too often what the inexorable march of the party season does to all our waistlines and weighing scales, I couldn’t agree more.
For those who grew up closer to an agrarian world than today’s metropolitan dwellers, idyllic food memories associated with the season may include the famous “paunk parties” (in Maharashtra, where tender jowar would be roasted and consumed as a snack on picnics), or chewing on freshly harvested sugar cane while basking in the mild sun. (My siblings and I thoroughly enjoyed doing this as kids when we’d go visiting our maternal grandparents in Bareilly; my nana always stocking up on enough cane.) At the very least, one may remember indulging in gajak, til ki patti, laddos made of puffed rice and jaggery or indeed peanut chikkis (all made of seasonal produce after the winter harvest) bought from bicycle-borne vendors on the streets and not from a fancy sweet shop. All these are winter traditions on the verge of being lost in our globalised world.
In their place, modern food retail has created its own new rituals. Winter brunches have become hot favourites this time of the year in the metros. Of course, the best way to enjoy these is al fresco, sitting out in the sun, getting your fix of vitamin D as well. If you have a farmhouse, it’s easy to put out a table in the open with or without the works. The rest of us need to head to a restaurant with a terrace, garden or pool. So what are my recommendations for this season? read on:
1. Olive Bar & Kitchen (Delhi) & Olive Beach (Bangalore): AD Singh’s Olive has been a leader in the brunch business and can be credited for having brought home the concept. I love both the Olives in Bangalore and Mehrauli for their undeniable charm — dining in the open at both restaurants is hugely refreshing — not to mention the fact that they are helmed by two of the most talented chefs in the business. Though a clichéd choice, no winter brunch list can be complete without Olive.
2. Lodi, the garden restaurant: One of the prettiest restaurants in Delhi, Lodi has been around for a long time but has suffered from a crisis of sorts as far as its F&B goes. It has gone on from being an Indian restaurant to one serving none-too-great “continental” stuff. But this season, it seems to have found fresh focus, having recently hired a Canadian chef, Camino Cochrane. The brief is clear: Keep the menu light and contemporary, making use of the organic produce taken fresh from the owners’ garden. The day I visited, the chef, just a couple of days old in the city, turned out a small menu, all based on one fresh ingredient: arugula, or rocket leaves, as they are called. The pasta, sandwich, even dessert he served up all spell good tidings ahead. The setting for the Sunday brunch is almost magical – pebbled pathways, tables fringed by tall Lodhi Garden trees and enough fresh air. A lavish spread is laid out, including an omlette station and a hot dog one—hopefully we will see the new chef’s handiwork too.
3. Amour (Hauz Khas Village, Delhi): After years of slumber, the full-of-character Hauz Khas Village in Delhi has been seeing a rash of restaurant openings. Amour is the latest on the block and certainly with one of the most charming views in the city. You can see the Hauz Khas lake and ruins from the wooden deck and the restaurant promises you an uninterrupted view of the sun going down with your glass of mojito. But my belief is that a leisurely brunch, recently introduced, in the open here is hard to beat. The food is competent if not superlative and Italian (sometimes with a dash of Asian, which is not bad at all), there is a wood-fired oven in place and the pizzas are fairly fulfilling. There is a crepes station as also grills which can be done in a variety of marinades.
4. Eggspectations (Jaypee Greens resort and spa, Greater Noida): This one’s more a breakfast place and not strictly al fresco. But makes it to my list because nothing can quite beat the charm of breakfasting by a golf course— even if glass and air-conditioning separate you. The newly-opened resort started getting attention because this was where all those F1 stars stayed (and the staff is full of tales as to how some indulged in an Indian meal, setting aside rivalries). But even without the attraction of the motorsport, it can be a good idea to take a break with or without golf and begin a late morning with perfectly orange-yolked eggs.
5. Azok (Juhu, Mumbai): Unlike Delhi, not only does Mumbai not have true winters but there is also a dearth of open-air places sans the crowd and chaos. Azok on the terrace of a Juhu serviced apartments block is a rare restauarant indeed, where you can dine by the pool and get a mile-long view of maximum city (thanks to the fact that there are low-rise bunglows in the vicinity.) Food by celeb chef Vineet Bhatia is contemporary Indian (dosa topped with goat cheese et al) and may make for an interesting brunch option.
6. Aqua, (The Park, New Delhi): Aqua, the lovely poolside space in the hotel comes alive in winters when it starts hosting Sunday brunches. This year, dim sum (18 types), nicely served in bamboo baskets, are on the menu—with champagne, soups and tea. For Rs 1,000 pp, definitely attractive.
7. Claridges (New Delhi): The charm of Lutyen’s Delhi is hard to miss and if you don’t quite have a garden of your own in this part of town, your best bet would perhaps be to sit out in the Claridges garden and feast on salads and grills, tempura, pan-seared foie gras, fondue, kebabs as well as Dilli ke paranthe, and biryani from the live counters. Moet flows around but children are luckily kept busy with tattoos, paintings, stories and games. My favourite brunch!
8. Lido (Ista, Bangalore):The al fresco Sunday brunch set next to the infinity pool is very popular with its BBQs and grills. Instead of a common buffet, food comes fresh and hot on the table (salad and desserts are on the counter though) from the kitchen and there is a flexible price option where kids, those looking to celebrate, vegetarians et al don’t have to pay a common brunch rate.
9. Fratelli Fresh (Renaissance, Mumbai): The sprawling hotel is known for its conventions space but has a resort like feel thanks to magnificent views of the Powai lake. It’s a patch of Udaipur in Mumbai! Ask the hotel staff and they will tell you stories about how they have arranged not just weddings but wedding proposals in the middle of the lake. But that’s another story. Tuck into the Italian brunch at Fratelli Fresh with a variety of cheese, seafood, fresh pasta, loads of Sangria and a glorious view.