Walking into Vikramjit's restaurant is like a blind date. You don't know what to expect, but you hope that it is going to be great. Over the last few years I've known him, my expectation keeps getting bigger and his ability to meet them is outgrowing it. By a big margin. So, when he ditches the comfort of a five star setting and walks out of one of India's largest hotel chains to set up his own, I had to fly down to Mumbai to see it. Letting it settle down after the initial hype, when the restaurant is on cruise mode is my go-to time to test out a restaurant. As luck would have it, they had just opened their doors for lunch and with a flight to take at 1030 PM, I chose lunch.
While I've not been to too many stand-alone fine dines in Mumbai, by Chennai's standards, P.O.H that stands for Progressive Oriental House, stands out. The perfect lighting for a degustation dinner, the walls, the sushi/sashimi bar and the linen together scream opulence.
The best way to enjoy dinner here is to give your price and let the chef do the magic. My vegetarian friend and me both told Vikram to simply go wild and that we didn't have a price point. We just wanted the experience that is no longer available in Chennai. Oh, if you didn't know, Vikramjit was in Chennai for a long time! The meal started off with a Banana Flower Salad, but we were cautioned to go easy on the mashed potatoes. Lots of food on the way, we were told. It turns out that for Rs. 2500 nett/ you get 12 courses. I had the full seafood premium meal at Rs. 4500 nett. A degustation can take you slowly through the courses, but with Vikramjit, blowing your mind starts with the first course. Looking like a banana flower table decor with tamarind and onions, it was a pity that my one plus two's phone camera couldn't capture that image. Time to change the phone. I've never regretted not having a better phone camera than at that moment.
Then came the NOT A CAPRESE SALAD. Touted to be the simplest of salads, at a time when people are taking a complicated dish and simplifying it, Vikram has taken the simplest of salads and complicated it. There is nothing caprese about it. No milk, no tomato and no, actually there was a basil leaf. The roasted sesame sauce and the hint of chilly makes it anything, but Caprese. And that was the idea.
A baked prawns on a bed of mashed corn arrived next in signature Vikram style with a carefully decorated plate and a slice of pineapple tortured by some scientific process. Freeze dried? Lacto-fermented? Stamped under the chef's shoe? No idea, but a prawn course is something that I look forward to in this chef's degustation every single time and he is yet to disappoint. But another dish that is signature to this chef is the carpaccio. In the past, I've had a fabulous beef carpaccio that I loved, a duck carpaccio that I almost puked over and a combination that lies in between, but today was a dish of scallops carpaccio with candied jalapeños and a crisp paper thin beetroot. While I wouldn't dream of trying a carpaccio unless I know AND trust the chef, the squids just swam their way into my tummy. Easily, beautifully aided by the paper beetroot.
Then came a baked Alaskan King Crab with spiced sweet potatoes, followed by molecular gastronomy-ish chicken breast in a cube. In a cube! It could have been mistaken for paneer or tofu or egg, but it was chicken. A lamb brain pan fried crescent completed the starters.
Oh, then came a Vikram special. The first photo. A little oyster shell that filled the room with an unmistakeable smell. Truffle Oil. When I saw it, I knew this wasn't a gimmick with truffle oil. There was a nice generous shaving of truffles on top. No oil, the real thing. Except for truffle, everything else on the dish had ingredients that I don't like. Oysters. Duck Liver. Some seafood soup. He asked me if I had an allergy to any of these and since I didn't, he said I should just trust him and try it.
And that, till date is the single best dish I've had in my life. Ironically, it was made of things I don't like to eat. Not the awesome rice and lamb shank massaman gravy that was served after. Not the POH mess, a dessert that you drop on the plate with various avatars of yogurt. Not the incredibly tasty chocolate served with wasabi ice cream, not any of the dishes that I can remember, but a dish made of oysters, duck liver and shaved truffles was indeed the single best dish I've had so far.
You're not one of the bloggers who come asking for free meals dude, he told me as I asked for the bill. This is my treat, he said as he instructed his team not to give us a bill. Next time, you can pay in full, he said. Oh, yes, I forgot about my vegetarian friend who was in a near coma trying to understand what just happened over the past two hours. Why did he leave Chennai, is all he had to say. Only after we reached the airport and he wanted to reimburse me did he realise that his 2.5k meal was also on the house. He went back to his coma!
P.O.H is in heaven. Sorry, it is in Kamala Mills, Lower Parel, Mumbai.
How do we bring him to Chennai for at least one meal?