By Magandeep Singh
As the world opens up, here are some important changes to keep in mind when travelling for a fine dining experience
This may sound drastic and yet hardly unbelievable, but the pandemic and its aftermath will change everything about civilisation as we know it. Most of these changes would normally have taken centuries to precipitate, but now stand superlatively sped up with Covid-19 acting as the unwanted but inevitable catalyst.
My recent trip to Europe made me see things as they stand: similar, yet somehow different, revitalised, but also apprehensive and uncertain. While smaller eateries are managing to cope better given their ability to adapt and swim with the tide, the bigger, more prominent establishments are still struggling to eke a path out that could help them sustainably grow in the future.
People are tired of the term ‘pivot’ — from Michelin-starred joints doing burger pop-ups to top-rated bars doing home delivery of cocktails — the focus is now shifting on putting out products and services that are pandemic-resistant and won’t succumb to the next lockdown or curfew, no matter what brings it on. This is where the new fine dining Qi is at.
When the world shut down, so did supplies, and many a country had to look inward to find ways to keep stocks replenished. Le Syndicat is a bar in Paris that focuses on local spirits. It has done that since much before the pandemic, mind you, but the last two years made this local sourcing more relevant and possibly even became an advantage, especially when supply chains stood disrupted or delayed and extremely overpriced. No wonder it is one of the finest bars in Paris, and you’d be hard-pressed to recognise all the elixirs they work with. Maybe it’s time for a similar bar right here in India. Toddy, Feni, Kesar Kasturi, let’s get creative.
The one thing that will make fine dining even more special is the frequency — the fewer times one ventures to step out, the more particular they will be about ensuring that everything about the outing is special (and of course, safe). Imagine a boat, nay a yacht, which is kitted to dole out a Michelin-starred meal by one of the most acclaimed chefs.
Imagine getting to cruise along the Seine as the sommelier pours you the nth glass of bubbly, and the chef regales you will exotic caviar and meats in lush sauces as the Eiffel Tower lights up just in time to illuminate your table. Surely beats eating inside a building. This is the kind of thing that will be far more coveted in the times to come, and the Don Juan II with a star-qualified meal from chef Don Anton is something that needs to be experienced firsthand to truly understand just how special it is.
Oh, and since it’s a very limited seat setting, with nobody getting on or off for the entire course of the evening, the social distancing aspect is also taken care of very efficiently. But again, this here isn’t about efficiency, but about upping the luxury quotient on an already fine meal and hence, the setting will make a difference going ahead.
Attention To Detail:
Le Saint Sebastian is a small eatery in the 11th quarter of Paris. It’s a fairly unassuming place, but on a road that is paved with restaurants all along. The tidy little place, all done up in white, doesn’t once give away just how persnickety they are about their food and drink. The wine list, for one, is extensive enough to dwarf many a fancy hotel in the neighbourhood, and the food (ingredient-focused with a lot of it prepared and produced in-house and by hand) is truly worthy of a lot higher recognition and accolade than currently bestowed (or maybe it’s best this way as it keeps tourists away and prices in check). In the same vein, the bar atop the newly opened, fanciest address in town, the Cheval Blanc hotel, is part of a brasserie called Le tout-Paris and under the aegis of head bartender Florian Thereau.
They have managed to carve out a list of drinks where every drink sounds just as tempting as the previous (or next), being utterly simple while being extremely creative and intense. Just their take on the classic Kir is a reimagination of vintage champagnes, a taste profile that Thereau has tried to recreate by infusing all sorts of ingredients into his base, including something as far-flung as mushrooms. All I can say is that it all comes together seamlessly. The view from the terrace, overlooking the Pont Neuf, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, only adds to the exclusivity of this place that delivers a new high at multiple levels.
Do not attempt to be a walk-in. Most places on the continent, including bars, will prefer a prior reservation for a specific seating time. That said, many places will either take reservations for only the first half of the evening or else for a certain percentage of the available seating at any point, which allows some leeway for last-minute walk-ins. That said, the waits are considerably longer than the pre-pandemic phase so it is best to reserve, no matter where you are headed.
The reason why one may have to wait longer if one were to simply walk into a bar or restaurant is because the average diner is spending longer at their table. The idea of hopping across multiple places in one evening is less popular nowadays, so people will prefer to confine themselves to. The waits are
considerably longer than the pre-pandemic phase so it is best to reserve, no matter where you are headed one venue for the entire soirée. This means they may run up a higher check (aperos and light bites, or maybe even dinner) but will spend considerably longer at the same spot.
Consequently, non-reserved patrons will have a longer wait. I found this not only at eateries but also at the Bar Hemingway (the famed Ritz hotel-based drinking hole of the rich and eminent) and even at far less hallowed places like Miss Mouch, which is a simple bar across the Seine where people stop by normally for an early evening drink on the terrace of the riverside outlet. Both will accommodate non-reserved guests but it may take longer than it may have a few years ago.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com