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First the bad news. Chez Nini is gone. The innovative French-Canadian restaurant with its classy use of local ingredients has shut down. But there are two bits of good news. One is that even though it has departed, Chez Nini has left its fabled duck burger behind. And the second is that the duck burger now resides in a new restaurant that is every bit as good as the old Chez Nini.
The premises have now been taken over by Ritu Dalmia, Delhi's best-known chef-restaurateur and India's most famous female chef. In its new avatar, the space is Diva Spiced, the latest in Dalmia's ever-expanding mini-chain of Diva restaurants. This one breaks with the European food formula of the Greater Kailash II original and is closer in conception to the late and not entirely lamented Diva Kitsch. But while Diva Kitsch was best-known for Dalmia's riffs on Far Eastern food (and for a killer staircase), her new restaurant is slightly more eclectic in its scope. There are East Asian influences, to be sure. But there is also a lot of Indian food and such Cafe favourites as steak and eggs which are hard to characterise.
Dalmia's strengths have always been in the Italian food space (great pasta at the original Diva and the best pizzas in Delhi at the Italian Cultural Centre) but the success of Cafe Diva in GK I market demonstrates that she also knows how to create a casual but warm and comforting ambience. Diva Spiced draws its atmosphere from Cafe Diva but in food terms, it is a definite step forward for Dalmia because it successfully pulls off cuisines that are not normally regarded as her strong points.
I ate my way through much of the menu and there were very few disappointments. A plate of deep-fried appetisers tasted as though it had come directly from Bangkok. A fish moilee with quinoa was distinguished by an excellent gravy. And Shivanjali Shankar, the restaurant's head chef, is a genius when it comes to pork: a pork confit dim sum, meaty hunks of pig on skewers, and delicious maple ribs were all outstanding -- so outstanding, in fact, that I would dare to suggest that Shankar is even better at cooking meat than her boss.
There were a few misses. The steak and eggs is well conceptualised with chunky mushrooms and a mustardy mash but the steak itself was not of a sufficiently high quality to carry off the dish. A Malabar paratha rolled around a version of beef chilli fry needs to be rethought.
But these were the exceptions. And the star of the show remains the Chez Nini duck burger, reimagined with a spicier seasoning but with the same great buns and a wonderful patty that seemed to have compressed the best of Huey, Dewey and Louie. Almost as good as the burger itself were the fries, crisp and packed with potato flavour.
Diva Spiced is not Indigo. It doesn't aim to be glamorous. And it won't attract the Beautiful People. But it is a good, solid, neighbourhood restaurant with excellent food.
Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the cointreau award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.
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