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Posted: Wednesday, 16 September 2020 23:50

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From Archives (2007): Birthday on the Orient Express

Sep 16: Delhi Wine Club celebrated Five Years with a bon vivant's afternoon at the Orient Express Restaurant, in the Hotel Taj Palace on May 20. H.E. Jorge Heine, Ambassador of Chile, who was present with his wife Norma, writes about his experience.

As a voracious reader, I was brought up on Agatha Christie's mysteries. Hercule Poirot held a special fascination for me, as did my imaginary train rides on the Orient Express. After a long hiatus, during which I read few mysteries, I have now rediscovered them. P.D. James, the "queen of classic crime", is holding a special sway on me these days, and I await with eager anticipation each one of her books. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, her Scotland Yard poet detective, is a Poirot for our times, and both his riddles and his complex love life make for fascinating reading. Her latest book, The Lighthouse, was a special treat. I also like Ruth Rendell, Dorothy Sayers (the founding mother of them all) and Elizabeth George. Ian Rankin, so widely praised for his psychological insights, I have found more difficult to crack, but I will keep trying. It would seem then, that, for me at least, it is English women writers who hold the key to that apparent oxymoron, "an enjoyable murder mystery".

It is for that reason, among others, that I was so delighted when Subhash Arora, the founder, mentor and driving force of the Delhi Wine Club, kindly invited me to attend the fifth birthday of the DWC at The Orient Express, the famous restaurant at the Taj Palace Hotel, so widely praised for its European cuisine, and so evocative of the fabled world of European trains in the twenties and thirties so well captured by Christie in her 1934 book, and later in the 1974, star-studded Sidney Lumet film by the same name featuring Albert Finney and Ingrid Bergman

Restaurants, invented in France in the eighteenth century, serve a purpose quite beyond the ostensible one of selling food. Sitting at the right table in a good restaurant means creating a world of your own, one in which nothing matters but the food, the wine, and the conversation. Not to have to worry about anything else is what makes dining out so different an experience from dining at home. It is also why mobile phones have wrought havoc with it.

As trains create a self-contained world of their own as well, the idea of a restaurant in a train is a tried and tested one, and one of my best memories of restaurants in Ann Arbor, Michigan (a great college town, though not particularly known for its gastronomic landscape), where I spent a glorious summer in 1976, is one of another variation on the same theme, an establishment by the name of The Train Station, set up in the refurbished remains of an abandoned railway station.

Though I had heard much about it, and I visit the Taj Palace frequently, I had never actually dined at The Orient Express, and I must say it lived up to its reputation. Albeit somewhat delayed because of a little domestic accident of my wife Norma, we made it in due course and enjoyed every minute of it.

It was especially gratifying to see my colleague Francis Moloi, the South African High Commissioner, and his wife Misiwe, and so many loyal members of the Club, though we missed Sourish Bhattacharyya, who I am told was in Hong Kong on vacation with his family. To have the restaurant exclusively for ourselves was also a special treat.

The prawn soup (in the fancy language of menuspeak, "Fumet of Langoustine enriched with coral butter and cognac") was the best I have had in a long time, and the rest of the "journey" was certainly up to par. The "Spotted Tiger prawns with mint and bergamot oil" was given the 5-star rating by Norma who, I must confess, is a shellfish expert. She found them crisp and succulent.

The five wines we had were not only delicious but also pared very well with the food. Chablis Premier Cru from Long de Paquit was dry, crisp, fresh and well balanced. I noticed everyone loved the Cabernet Franc from Zorgvliet. But the piece de resistance was the last wine, the Super Tuscan Promis from Gaja. With rounded tannins and a good balance it was smooth on the palate and I noticed members leaving only after finishing off the bottles organized by Subhash. If one has any doubts about preferring a white wine in summer, this was a fine example of how much difference proper selection and serving temperature can make to the flavour of red wine. It was a perfect match for the main course, the chicken dish.

Norma and I travel quite a bit, so that to be able to spend a quiet weekend in Delhi is something we treasure. "Quiet", however, does not mean locking ourselves up at home. We enjoy lunches and dinners with friends, perhaps more than the week-end sight-seeing one is supposed to engage in while posted in India—by definition for a limited time, in a country-cum-continent where there is so much to see, and where every minute should be taken advantage for those purposes, or a least so the reasoning goes.

It is not something easy to convey to others. When my son Gunther, living in faraway Chile, asks me what I have been doing with myself, the response, "I went to this great lunch on Tuesday" does not impress him, and he keeps asking about what he would presumably consider more exciting endeavors. I still have to do a tiger safari, and I suppose that would count among the latter, but in the meantime, recharging the batteries by spending a few week-ends at home and socializing is fine by us.

The space created by the DWC, in which one is able to savour fine wines with good food and stimulating company is thus much appreciated. A key challenge for New Delhi as it gears up for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is to create a truly world class city. Delhi has the history, the size, the architecture and the cultural and intellectual underpinnings to make such an aspiration a legitimate one. Nonetheless, it has much to catch up on other fronts, including its infrastructure and the availability of many amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere, like a glass of good wine, when and where one wants it, at a reasonable price.

There were 75 wine clubs in Johannesburg, a city half the size of Delhi, when I served in South Africa in the nineties, so there is much room to grow in this field, but the main point is that it has started. Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. Five years is a short time in the life of a club, but not an insignificant one. The fact that it has grown from strength to strength shows that it has filled an important need in a city that is already the capital of the Global South.

Happy birthday, DWC, and keep up the good work!

                                                                                                                              Jorge Heine

Jorge Heine is the ambassador of Chile to India, a wine lover, and an honorary member of the Delhi Wine Club - editor.

(His Excellency missed out on tasting a couple of very pleasant aperitif wines with finger foods as he got delayed. Viña Cascarela Verdejo 2006 DO Rueda from Bodegas Alberto Gutiérrez was a perfect wine for the afternoon. Very fresh, crisp and with citrus flavour, the Verdejo varietal has been a true find in NW Spain during the last 20 years. Judging from members' reaction and my own assessment during the last 2-year tastings, this varietal and label will satisfy many thirsty palates in India.

Silver Myn Rose 2005 from Zorgvliet had been gifted by the South African High Commission for tasting. Rose has not been members' favourite in the past. But this wine was polished off with instant refills even before I had a chance to have a sip. But, from my previous tasting, I remembered the strawberry and spicy nose carrying through into the flavour. The cleverness with which, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot have been blended in this dry wine show well on the palate.)

Subhash Arora                                                                                            Photos By Adil Arora

The Delhi Wine Club was founded by Subhash Arora in 2002 and had celebrated its 300th event in January, 2020 when he took a voluntary retirement and passed on the mantle as President to Sourish Bhattacharyya. Arora was made the Chairman Emeritus. This Article from the Archives of Indian Wine Academy was penned beautifully by H.E, Jorge Heine, the Chilean Ambassador at the time and an Honorary Member of the Club, after he attended the 5th Anniversary celebration in May 2007 at the iconic Orient Express Restaurant at the Taj Palace Hotel-editor


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