Photos By:: Adil Arora
Ten years ago to the day, when Delhi Wine Club had its inaugural wine dinner at the then relatively new Spirit Restaurant in Connaught Place, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, no one would have given any odds in favour of the club hosting a dinner at the same venue, on the same date in 2012. In fact, not many would have given odds for even the first anniversary dinner after the inaugural event that turned slightly chaotic.
Rewind: A lot more people came than planned and expected then. Some members clamoured for whisky while others chose to satisfy their urges by buying beer at the bar since it was not an exclusive event for the restaurant. Despite the order of serving 5 wines for the evening defined, some members insisted on starting with red wine as their preferred choice as an aperitif, while a few wanted to continue with white throughout the dinner. Some insisted on getting continuous refills to get their daily fix of alcohol as they found wine lacking the current as compared with that of their daily intake of liquor while others commanded the waiters to keep the bottles on the table.
That was not what the club had bargained for. Surely, not Ritu Prasad, the smiling and soft spoken proprietor who perhaps expected suit-donning, middle-aged sophisticates on their best formal behaviour sipping wines through the 5-course meal we had painstakingly matched with food. The harried waiters did their best to face the barrage of requests from the members that filled the restaurant, not used to serving pre-plated dishes for fifty, a dozen of whom had walked in unconfirmed.
Fast Forward: There was no such chaotic scene ten years later on Sunday, July 29. The restaurant still wears the old Connaught Place charm. The waiters are much better trained to handle big numbers. It helped that the restaurant was reserved exclusively for the club and Ritu’s brother Aditya Mittal, who now helps her manage the restaurant was anxious but well prepared for any eventuality. The bar was shut and displayed only the 4 Italian wines to be served during the evening. The club rules had been tightened almost a day after the inaugural dinner, bringing in a lot of discipline along with a lot of fun and bonhomie during the ensuing years.
The sentimental significance of the club organising the 198th event; each club event is serially numbered, on the same date and same venue (old club records had been dug out to determine the date of the inaugural dinner) was not lost on some members who chose to come even though they had other important engagements. They were therefore in a very accommodative, nostalgic and relaxed mood as they walked in and were welcomed with a chilled glass of semi dry Prosecco and a line-up of finger foods being dished out in seemingly unlimited quantity. Hummus & Moutabel Canapés, Cottage Cheese Lamakune, Cheese and Lamb Fatayar were favourites with everyone though the non vegetarians also relished Sumac Chicken with Pita & Hummus and Liver Pate on Melba Toast.
What the Riva Di Oro doc Prosecco from Treviso lacked in effervescence was well made up by the champagne mood the members were in. It dawned on everyone, especially the 9 people who had been present on July 29, 2002, including Ritu Prasad and her husband Rohit, that 10 years was a long time for a club like this that not only survived but thrived. It was not without nostalgia that Dr. Balesh Jindal, who was also present at the first dinner shared in conversation that the club had really helped change the wine culture of the city.
Goat Cheese Soufflé with Pear, Arugula, Pine nuts & Red Wine Vinaigrette was a perfect starter for the summer season and made a well orchestrated duet with the Gocce Santa Croce Garganega-Pinot Grigio Poggio Bianco IGT 2010. Garganega seemed to have added to the personality of the quaffable Grigio which was quite fresh, crisp and citrus though simple and unpretentious.
Entrees of Baked Funghi with Cheese & Thyme and Daud Basha- Lebanese meat balls (koftas) served flattened and dry with sautéed vegetables on the side and a medium spicy sauce that made the dish even more palatable and a perfect condiment for the Feudo di Santa Croce ‘Malnera’ Negroamaro-Malvasia IGP-Salento 2010, the red fruity wine with juicy tannins and plenty of body complementing the proteins. The tannins were also mellowed in the mouth by the mushroom stuffed with cheese and thyme.
The main course had a choice of Middle Eastern vegetarian or chicken stew with rice, Italiana Parmigiana di Melanzane or Braised Lamb Chop & Shank with Cranberry Sauce, served with Terra Scura Chianti Classico DOCG Capoleto 2009. Lamb chops were a perfect mate for the Chianti Classico which kept on opening up in the Spiegelau glasses. Some members did complain of inconsistency in the lamb preparation- like one piece being perfect while the other being slightly raw. Stew was a delicious combination on its own with rice which had enticing aromas. The pomegranate bits added to the flavour but it was only a fair match for the Chianti Classico which was a tad too astringent for the dish.
There were no cake cuttings, no champagnes popping-that was reserved for another milestone in future-the 200th wine event to be held in September. However, there was plenty of nostalgia and a feeling of achievement when a few members spoke about the journey so far.
While our thanks go to Ritu Prasad who welcomed us with open arms for the event- she had taken 10 seconds to agree to offer us the restaurant as the venue when I met her three months earlier- it was Aditya who took up the challenge and focused on the complete event to make sure not only that there were no chaotic and tense moments throughout the dinner but improvised throughout the evening to make it comfortable and memorable for the members. Chef Ajay Mukherjee (he is not related to the President of India, he admitted coyly) and his team and the waiting staff served with a smile.
No wonder, some members expressed optimistically that the club should celebrate its 20th anniversary on the same date at The Spirit, in 2022. Now, that’s the spirit, I must say, that keeps the Delhi Wine Club going!