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Posted: Thursday, 21 November 2019 09:32

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Star Chef: Over the Rainbow at Poppins Hotal with Chef Saby

Nov 21: The moment you enter Poppins Hotal, the recent addition to the Gurgaon Gourmet Line, you know you have entered a cheerful eatery and the prices make you feel as if the time stopped when Chef Saby came to Delhi over a decade ago, but the food quality and variety tells you that he has evolved, leaving a good taste in your mouth, writes Subhash Arora who knows Chef Saby for almost 14 years and knows this is but one aspect of his culinary talent that one can devour

When I was invited for the official Launch of the newest restaurant in Delhi-NCR, Poppins Hotal, I politely regretted because I do not enjoy such gatherings with dozens of people flocking around in small groups making small talk, grabbing dishes and drinks, even keeping the staff stressed and antsy. You can hardly spend seconds with the owner/chef who must keep a balance between the kitchen and the myriads of guests who are obviously important to the restaurant which has a reason to invite each of them. Chef Saby was quick enough to extend a special invitation to visit a couple of days later and I accepted.

All this time, I kept wondering about the quirky name ‘Poppins Hotal’ (and not Hotel- which would also be irrelevant since it is restaurant. The one thing that came to my mind was the old movie Mary Poppins and the famous song ‘Over the Rainbow’ and wondered if the movie or the rainbow had some connection.

I met and knew Chef Saby when he was relatively an unknown entity in Delhi, at Olive Bar and Kitchen. We have had a couple of wine dinners at the newly opened hip restaurant in Delhi by the now well-known Restaurateur AD Singh. The food quality had started going down after a brilliant start. I believe that when you like a restaurant as much as I did, you should tell the manager/owner its drawbacks along with the good points, in private. AD did agree with me but asked me to try his new Chef Saby who was brilliant. I did. And there has been no going back every since. I have seen the artist and poet in him bring out the talent as he has been growing. Even after he left Olive, he kept in touch with AD and has been consulting several restaurants including Miele, a German high-end showroom at their experiential kitchen where we had a couple of brilliant wine dinners, thanks to his creativity and commitment.

He grew up in Midnapur, West Bengal and has been a curious person consistently observing the food habits and history in his area-I remember how he used his experience with the natives of Armenia that were around him and his family and conjured up a Menu symbolising their cuisine and opened his restaurant Lavaash a few years ago, even using the knowledge his father had accumulated in the form of a book. When I took a friend from the US to his restaurant once, his comments were succinct, ‘it is the best Indian food I have ever had in India.’  

For Poppins Hotal, he teamed up with two other people and changed the concept of the erstwhile restaurant completely with colourful motifs on the wall with Poppins in the art form. Splashed across one such painting was #eattherainbow. It would be akin to going over the rainbow with the dishes that one had enjoyed over the years and perhaps bring out the child in every human being.

Saby does not disagree but feels that his concept was to bring nostalgia about the various regions that make India as a colourful country because of cuisines-so diversified and each dish having hundreds of its own version and he wanted to showcase the best he had remembered while visiting various cities as he travelled in his growing years and his journey to the present. He does not claim to have any fusion food, deconstructing and reconstructing food in any way, but honest food which may not be the healthiest (health foods can be so boring!) though he does have the millet dish he feels he could eat every day.

Despite his infinite achievements, one quality that has stood the test of time is his  modesty and humility. Despite his professional excellence and the ever-so evident streak of entrepreneurship, he is very well grounded-as humble and respectful as he was when I met him, perhaps 14-15 years ago. He is a good example of how a wine is not only what is in the bottle but has a lot of history, geography, social science. So even when the food is not prepared by him, it tells you a story about his background, upbringing, family values, culture and all the attributes that have gone into making Saby what he is today, and tastes even better.

There is an array of food that he calls nostalgia in your plate. Ranging from Chicken from Bangalore to keema samosas, from Mathri with mutter to buff kebabs, every dish is delicious and not heavy on your palate. You would need to make over a dozen visits to go through the complete list. Wine List was of course, of special interest to me. It is rather scanty primarily because of the excise policy in Haryana but a few of the Indian wines are extremely reasonably priced and would be adequate for me-even outside of Indian Wine Day! Sula Chenin Blanc at Rs. 1700 would be my favourite for spicy foods while I would prefer Sauvignon Blanc otherwise at the same price. Sula Brut at Rs. 2500 is adequate though I would prefer Tropicale any day. Sula Sartori Red even listed at Rs. 1500 makes it a small but affordable selection, though Civ & Civ Lambrusco Red at Rs. 2000 offers a slightly sweeter and more expensive proposition if one were looking for an imported wine.

You may visit with your friends, partners or even children for wholesome prices, the wholesome food that include street foods from various regions and the regional food, currently the South. He plans to take the second half of India on his plate in phase 2. In either case, Poppins Hotal is surely to take you over the Rainbow and Chef Saby or his signature dishes will welcome you with a smile.

Subhash Arora

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