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On Saturday night, EazyDiner will announce the names of winners of the Foodie Awards at a glittering function at the Oberoi, Gurgaon.
These awards have been voted for by thousands of users of EazyDiner and are the only popular food awards in India with any credibility. They are not linked to sponsorship or advertising and the voting process is so watertight that even I would not know who the winners are till the envelopes are opened on the stage that night. Only the guys at KPMG who will independently tally the votes will know.
That is why we call these Delhi’s Food Oscars! But, there will also be a second set of more arbitrary and subjective awards. For over a decade now, I have been making my own list of awardees in the hotel and restaurant sector. I do not claim that these awards are totally objective or foolproof. They are just my personal favourites.
So here, in no particular order, are this year’s winners.
Best Casual Dining (Indian) Farzi Cafe, Connaught Place
The original Farzi at Cyber Hub revolutionised the way young people looked at Indian food by making it seem fun and funky. The Connaught Place branch is a refinement of the original: hipness in the very center of Lutyen’s Delhi.
Best Indian (Traditional) Dum Pukht
No surprises here. The best North Indian/Awadhi food prepared to ancient (and secret) recipes with the best possible ingredients. A class act.
Best Modern Indian (Standalone) Indian Accent
It is a funny thing but shortly after Indian Accent opened and I began giving this award (and two Chef of the Year awards to Manish Mehrotra), people kept asking “where is this place?” or “what is Indian Accent?.” Nobody asks that now. The best modern Indian restaurant in the world. Period.
Best Modern Indian (Hotel) Amaranta
When Amaranta opened, it focused on fresh seafood that the chef had flown in from the coast. The fish dishes are still terrific, but the food has gone beyond fish to attain a high standard of excellence, overall.
Best European (Standalone) Diva
There have been so many pretenders to her crown over the years, but Ritu Dalmia is still Delhi's first and best Diva! Her flagship restaurant has actually got better even as Ritu has branched out into other cuisines at her other places.
Best European (Hotel) Le Cirque
Could it really be true that the food at the Delhi Le Cirque is better than the New York original? Well, that is what lots of people who have eaten at both seem to think. This is the classiest, most elegant European restaurant in India.
Best Chinese China Kitchen
If you want quality, you must be prepared to pay for it. China Kitchen remains India’s best Chinese restaurant because Hyatt Regency is willing to pay expat salaries to half a dozen chefs from the Chinese mainland. Because the chefs do not speak English, the hotel pays for an interpreter as well.
The results show in the food: extraordinary and authentic.
Best Oriental (Standalone) Town Hall
When Augusto Cabrera left the Oberoi, found partners and set up this massive multi-cuisine restaurant in the heart of Khan Market, I wondered how he would do. But Town Hall is packed out every day and Augusto’s sushi is among the finest in the city.
Best Oriental (Hotel) Tian
Vikramjeet Roy is, without doubt, one of the most talented chefs of his generation and at Tian, his individualistic takes on the food of East Asia leaves diners oohing and aahing.
Best All Day Dining Delhi Pavilion
This is easily the best Delhi cuisine at any upmarket restaurant in India. But what makes Delhi Pavilion work is that the rest of the food is also wonderful: coffee shop fare with a twist.
Best Regional Indian Sodabottleopenerwala
It is a great day for Indian cuisine when the best regional restaurant in Delhi is a perfect replica of a Mumbai-style Irani restaurant with a mainly Parsi menu.
I like both branches but of late, I have grown partial to the Khan Market outlet.
Best Food Chain Mamagoto
I went to the first Mamagoto because I was sure that the food would be good: I knew how talented the ladies who consulted on the cuisine were. What I did not expect was, that the owners would be able to turn it into a chain so quickly and still maintain the food quality.
Opening of the Year Delhi Club House
Marut Sikka is the King when it comes to North Indian catering and food so I had no idea he would be even more successful when he branched out into new areas. This is one of Delhi’s hottest restaurants, serving delicious takes on the food of India’s clubs.
F&B Professional of the Year Suveer Sodhi
After a disastrous start, Shangri La has finally found its feet again with three new restaurants. Much of the credit for these openings goes to Sodhi whose resume includes the Hyatt Regency, Setz, and Dusit Devarana. A man to watch.
PR Person of the Year Mallika Dasgupta
Hotel PR is a difficult art to master but Dasgupta who handles both the Trident and The Oberoi in Gurgaon has performed brilliantly perhaps because she works so tirelessly and because, as a person trained in operations, she understands what the business is about.
Chef of the Year Ramon Salto
The greatest chefs cook with passion and Ramon has plenty of that. He has turned the kitchens of the Gurgaon Leela around by transferring that passion to his team. Superb food at every outlet.
Most Innovative General Manager Nitesh Gandhi
How does a Trident hold its own when it is next to a hotel as spectacular as the Gurgaon Oberoi? It is next to impossible but Nitesh has done it, giving his hotel an identity of its own and ensuring that it is not dwarfed by the success of the behemoth next door.
Hotel of the Year The Leela Ambience
I will be honest. I always wrote this hotel off. But the transformation over the last year demonstrates what a good General Manager can do. Under Michel Koopman, this is suddenly a hotel to reckon with. Terrific food and great service.
Lifetime Achievement Award Jayaram Banan
His life story is the stuff of movies. He ran away from home as a small boy and got a job washing dishes in a canteen. Today Banan runs an empire of hundreds of restaurants and hotels. Most important: He is the man who taught North Indians how to relish dosas and love idlis.
General Manager of the Year Satyajeet Krishnan
Being General Manager of the Taj must be the most difficult job in Delhi. Because of tiresome legal disputes these are question marks about the future of the lease. Because of these question marks, you are hesitant about making huge investments in the property. Your hotel was designed in 1978 so the rooms are small. And so on.
And yet, Satyajeet Krishnan, probably the Taj group’s most cerebral and sophisticated General Manager, manages to make guests feel that none of this matters. He creates such an air of effortless luxury and warmth throughout the property, that the Taj remains Delhi’s top hotel, no matter what its problems are.