It was a last minute decision to head to ZEST to celebrate my mum’s birthday last night. We had all along planned to go to the adjoining DLF Mall, Vasant Kunj for a simpler meal, but I remembered at the last moment this super fancy place that had opened up to great acclaim and hype, and I wanted to show my mum a good time.
We arrived at the restaurant (I was wearing flip flops) fully expecting to be turned back (I wouldn’t allow myself in a fine dining restaurant in chappals). I knew ZEST to be super fancy, the new hotspot for Delhi’s elite. Up we went and were met by an army of bouncers/concierges/hostesses. “Do you have a reservation?”, “No”, I said “We weren’t expecting a crowd on a Tuesday evening”. “Can you wait for 25 mins”, he said. “No, we’ll rather go elsewhere. I am not dressed for the place anyhow”, I replied.
But what do you know; five minutes later we had a table. I wonder how the lady wearing a beautiful evening dress and sitting at the sushi bar felt when I walked in with my flip flops (I would be mad as hell, if that happened to me). Heh!
The restaurant allows children, but wasn’t really child friendly. No scratch pad or doodling paper for the restless kids waiting to mess up the food. No smiles by the hostesses acknowledging kids who don’t really understand that they can’t sit at a bar stool and order drinks. The expat bartender however, was wonderful and gracious, who offered my 6 yr old niece the apple juice she ordered.
The air-conditioning here is turned to “frozen”. I suppose this is so that the supercilious staff can carry off two button suits and stare down at the clientele. Aren’t the guests (sorry, paying customers) supposed to feel that way? Charming.
The staff are really silly. Very well dressed and all that, no doubt. The trainees wear white overalls and are the bottom rung of the hospitality food chain (I think they are not allowed to interact with humans). You have the servers (shirt, pants & weird pointed shoes) and then some sort of special people (wearing suits, I don’t know what they are meant to do). And of course the pretty hostesses wearing dresses and makeup and scarves and all that. Very posh, you may say. And I thought so too… except our special suited gentleman had his name tag wrongly tagged (so vineet becomes teeniv). He proceeded to shove the menu at my face, killing whatever is left of chivalry in India- there were two women sitting at the table, who apparently didn’t deserve his attention. I suppose in Delhi, the guy who pays the bills and look at staff in the eye gets all the attention. Ridiculous!
Another “Indian” thing I noticed… the size of the chair (roomy, I suspect, to accommodate for our large posteriors). I also found it strange, and this is typical of all Indian restaurants, that most of the table were built family style; in 4-6-8 configuration. The couple tables were apologetically placed at the far end of the room. So sad, really. I should imagine that restaurants would encourage romantic couples and such (I think, young couples out on dates and anniversary tend to order expensive cocktails and what not).
So anyhow, in due course another brisk lady appeared and shot off a question to my mum “would you like still or sparkling water?” (I burst out laughing, I am sorry, I couldn’t help it). I asked her to get us regular water. But no, it wasn’t going to be that easy. This is a fancy place, remember. Another guy came up with a bottle (I think it was Evian). “Would you like…” No, I cut him off; we have already given our preference for plain old drinking water, thank you. Mind you, by now, I have spoken to/been spoken to by 5-6 different people. Whatever happened to personalised service?
Onto the next disaster… We poured over the menu, and I decided my mum should try the tajine (you know, the Moroccan stew sort of thing). But what do you know, they don’t have it. “Why is it on the menu”, I asked. A shrug was all I got. No worries, could the chef at the Arabic live kitchen please show my mum how a tajine is cooked. “No, we don’t have the tajine at all”, the waiter/trainee/hostess/steward type guy responded. I was beginning to feel angry. Don’t have it on the frigging menu if you don’t have the bloody thing. Or let me know before hand that X & Y are not currently available. And for god sake, take the live kitchen and shove it somewhere. What’s the point of showcasing all the stuff, if people can’t experience it?
Moving on to the next disaster… I asked for chopsticks (I was having a Chinese wok), and they got me a – hold your breath – off the street cheap as hell pair. You know the one that is glued at one end that you have to break open? Remember this is a fancy restaurant with wines priced at Rs117,000 (plus taxes). I mean what the hell? I have better chopsticks at home (someone special sent me a nice collection from Chinatown in NYC, but I digress). I was really shocked. This place pretends to be at the upper end of the dining experience – what were they doing handing out take-out style chopsticks?
Oh, By the way- we weren’t shown a drink menu; I had to beg for one, literally. I am not sure why, maybe they thought we weren’t drinking… but my brother had already stopped at the bar for a beer (and the apple juice for his daughter). Very strange. Earlier, we had waited at the bar for the table to be ready, and shockingly the bar guys made us settle the bill at the bar itself, while we were walking in for food. Inexplicable, don’t you think? And then the final straw, the fancy drinks menu didn’t list any Indian/IMFL booze, yet people all around me were chugging kingfisher (including, eventually myself). Apparently the menu and its owners were too ashamed to actually write Kingfisher and Smirnoff alongside “Maison de pommes bla bla bla” (or maybe there was another Indian drinks menu, which is even worse”
Look, the food was great. The ambience was chic. And so ZEST had a lot of things going for it. But I didn’t like the fact that it wanted to come across as pompous, supercilious and fake. Be real. We are real people. Be nice. Make us smile. I am not impressed by white skin waiters and French wine lists. I am not cowered down by hostesses wearing dresses and ear pieces with wireless headsets walking efficiently around the floor.
Don’t pretend to be what you are not. Zest wouldn’t get a Zagat or a Michelin star, but would certainly win as a superb observatory of the quite revolution that is sweeping our elite.
I wonder what Vir Sahgvi would make of this place….