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Dinner at Olive with MGM Wines from Berkmann (# 11/146)
Photos :: Adil Arora

They say absence make the heart grow fonder – a very apt remark to capture the feelings of the Delhi gourmets in respect to the homecoming to the original Olive at One Style Mile at the Qutub. With its hard-to-beat ambience and slick marketing, Olive used to be right up there with the best of Delhi’s hot dining spots and it was a big disappointment to many when Olive had to bow to zoning laws and shut shop.

Though the Olive name was kept alive, as the owner AD Singh opened Olive Beach at the Hotel Diplomat in Chanakyapuri, it was no match for the original in terms of ambience as many of our members would have noticed during a couple of our wine dinners held there . Fortunately however, with zoning laws being subject to a sensible review, permission was recently granted to re-open the original Olive at the Qutub. Our Wine Club management, was as usual, very quick off the blocks and scheduled a wine dinner on the 10th Sept ( # 11/146-11 denoting this year, 146-the number since the club was founded in 2002 by our President Subhash Arora)- in fact well before Olive getting their regular liquor licence, necessitating arrangement of a one- off licensed permission for our evening .

Though the city was just about coping with three straight days of incessant rain and consequent traffic snarls, once driven through the gates of Olive, it was hard not to be transported into a pristine white sun washed Mediterranean environment. The big banyan tree in the centre of the courtyard was very much there in evidence adding a minor protective canopy to diners who wish to dine al fresco.

Our selection of Italian wines from MGM Wines from Mumbai based Berkmann India, complemented this theme for the evening and kicked off with the Manana Grillo Pinot Grigio IGT Sicilia – a 70:30 blend of Grillo and Pinot Grigio where the Sicillian Grillo grape added a touch of vanilla to the citrusy,fruity Pinot. This IGT wine with a 13% alcohol went well with the crispy pizza fingers and set the base for a great evening.

The menu circulated the day before tantalized the senses with an opening shot of a deconstructed Gazpacho- a presentation technique which is very much a cutting edge in gastronomy these days. Hats off to Chef Saby for being the first in Delhi to experiment with this. Deconstruction means using the same ingredients in the traditional preparation of a dish but preparing and presenting them differently with most elements separate from each other. So where one expected to see a collection of individual presentations of the classic ingredients of a gazpacho- tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, celery et al - Olive’s offering of a blob of almond ice cream in the centre of a serving of regular gazpacho garnished with a crisp potato wheel was an interpretation which has oodles of room for further innovation.

The Ricossa Gavi 2007 made from the Cortese grape showed pronounced import of minerals from the Piedmont soil and had a faint touch of apple in the finish. This is an easy drinking day to day wine .

Appetizer selections at our table were equally split between the Goat Cheese Soufflé and the Confit Duck Breast so yours truly was able to sample both!! The Soufflé was delightfully light and warm though a more forceful presence of the cheese would have been welcome to offset the sharpness of the balsamic and the argula.  The Duck breast was soft and juicy with an accompaniment of something rarely seen in a fine dining spot in Delhi –quail eggs.

The Ricossa Barbera d’Asti 2007 made its appearance to herald the start of the red wine selection. A juicy medium bodied wine with a considerable expression of fruit ,this 13.5% alcohol wine is made from the Barbera grape which is one of Piedmont's principal red grape varieties. This would definitely be a good buy if priced around the Rs 1000-1500 mark.

Whist we were savouring the Barbera, Olive surprised us with the Artichoke soup with truffle oil. Soup is now a low interest category for most diners but this one was hot ,flavourful, redolent of a smoky truffle infusion and worthy of seconds –yes you may not believe this but that’s exactly what our entire table did –a request handled with alacrity by our table server who didn’t bat an eyelid at this unusual request.

Whilst we were waiting for our soup seconds, each table was provided its own mortar and pestle to custom grind our own salsas to go with the excellent crusty breads. This is really a great and novel idea – to get the diner involved in some activity other than just plain eating and drinking and what’s more providing a great dinner conversation item. Very innovative I must say!!

The procession of Reds continued with the Itynera Merlot 2006 , another Sicilian offering with typical Merlot characteristics’ of fullness and a velvety finish. This Merlot was indeed very versatile in handling the breads ,the sweetness of the salad dressing and the sharpness of the Sorbet that followed.

And then finally onto the Entrée with the Tenderloin being the top choice for most members on our table. Once again Chef Saby showed his willingness to try new technologies to bring the best out of what is a fairly recalcitrant Indian red meat –the tenderloin. The technique is simple -vacuum pack the steak and immerse it in a digital hot water bath at around 60 degrees C and let it cook in its own juices. The end result is spectacular –soft and succulent meat- the likes of which in India I have only had at Caperberry in Bangalore where Chef Abhijit Saha uses the same technique.

Such an excellent treatment of a main course required an equally sublime wine and the Ricossa Barolo 2003 did not disappoint. Great aromas, mellow tannins and an elegant finish characterized this very complex wine which, as I was given to understand by Sandra of Berkmann India who visited our table, is to be priced around the Rs 5,000 mark – which elicited an immediate cry for refills!!

Sitting out in the courtyard under the big banyan tree whilst savouring an excellent cappuccino, I reflected on the evening .There is no doubt that Olive in its new avatar has upped its own gastronomic standards a couple of notches higher and one does look forward to seeing some of the dishes we had on their regular menu –especially the soup and the steak.

Chef Saby and his team did a great job, providing us with a memorable evening, replete with cutting edge food, great service and ethereal ambience. Our thanks also to AD Singh who has been a very prominent supporter of our Wine Club ever since he started operations in New Delhi –we look forward to many more such grand evenings at Olive.

Arun Batra is a Delhi based  food and wine enthusiast and a long time member of the Delhi Wine Club

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