Debonair’s resident epicurean dines at the Trèsind Studio, where executive chef Himanshu Saini has come of age
Eduan R. Maggo
It’s not often one walks away from a 16-course meal with a song in one’s heart. Either the first signs of indigestion or the jolt to your bank balance leaves you a little green around the gills.
It used to be even less often that you’d walk away from Himanshu Saini’s table light — hearted or otherwise!
I can still vividly remember my first meal at Trèsind, almost five years ago, when a young chef giddy in the science lab he calls a kitchen was childlike in his excitement to show off all his tricks. But I also have less-fond memories of leaving that three-hour meal almost resolute to give up foie gras, having experienced what animal rights activists tell us geese suffer. But I said almost, because if you’ve dined at his table you’d know it’s worth enduring just about anything to taste whatever he’d serve next.
I’ve returned several times since then — for reviews, as a paying guest and sometimes on said chef’s invitation to consult on new menus or dishes. And yes, every time it was exciting to see where he’d take his concept of “modernist Indian cuisine” next, but in my circle an invitation was also met with dread, as it meant you had to prepare to walk out uncomfortably full.
Make no mistake, though — Saini’s skill has never been in question. But his menus and dishes were in need of some editing.
Cut to his latest offering, and my — what a difference a few months make! Since the beginning he’s had his eye on being the best chef in town, no easy feat in a city that attracts some of the biggest in the world — Gagnaire, Keller, Alléno, Oliver, Matsuhisa, Ramsay, Beck... — not to mention stiff competition from within his own sandpit — from Bhatia and Kocchar. Undeterred, he set about reinventing his menu season after season, playing with new pairings, tweaking classics. Now he’s opened his version of a chef’s table — a private dining room where he serves an experiential menu that opens with an olfactory eruption of citrus.
Saini has garnered a reputation for his showmanship and he’s retained the theatrics in this new concept, but they are largely contained to the backstage areas. Take the show-stopper chaat table: originally prepared tableside as a grand Insta-ready ceremony in the main restaurant, it has been condensed into a single bite. And his inventive “tea service” mushroom soup is now presented as a single ravioli, while still offering layered flavours.
His delicate hand extends to curries and vinegars as he traverses the massive country. Goan flavours are infused into chicken on a tempura leaf, while perfectly balanced mustard fish is paired with a rice cracker standing in for the rice of the East Indian original.
Prawns are fried in ghee and mixed with tamarind and tomato for a chunky gumbo-style soup. Beef is served almost tali-like with five curries, a play on the concept of ordering multiple curries — here it’s tomato, spinach, chili, biryani and rosemary. Then he switches gears for a homey approach with kichdi, that comfort food trending among millennials these days.
The lamb chops are a standout — cooked in the tandoor it’s topped with a sharp black pepper sauce but then tempered by a dosa cigar stuffed with yogurt and avo.
Saini remains playful with his desserts. “So this is what red tastes like,” my companion responds to the study in red that’s as glorious on the tongue as it is gorgeous to look at.
He finishes with petit fours.
Trèsind Studio shows just how far Saini has come; he’s earned a mention alongside the greats with his Michelin-style chef’s table. The calls this menu Journey, and it’s a first class trip I’d book without a moment’s hesitation. Plus, I won’t have to fork out for excess baggage.
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