Going back to Europe for a splurge; the best restaurants in India can’t give you the European quality

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In my blog, I generally write about my Indian-experiences and I try to be very positive about this country. One could read enough horror-stories about unhygienic markets, honking drivers and streets filled with dirt and garbage. I don’t want to fuel more anger and disgust to the expat community or scare potential travellers. This is not a strict principle of the blog and I would love to reflect on the top notch restaurant business by sharing my experience of a dinner that we had in a Michelin star restaurant in Barcelona, an experience that – in my opinion – couldn’t even be topped by the best restaurants of Pune or Mumbai.

 

Driving a car is fun but I received two fines for speeding in 4 days

Having lived in India for a long period made me sell my car in the Netherlands. It didn’t make sense anymore to have a car parked in front of the house without using it. Therefore I had to rent a car during my latest trip to the Netherlands. At that time, I hadn’t been back to the Netherlands for more than 14 months and it was weird to set foot on the ground of my home country. Being in India for such a long time does something to your mind. The poor people in the streets, the chaiwallah’s, the colourful markets…..it seems as if India becomes the ‘new norm’ and one only realises this to the full extent by returning back to Europe or some other western place. We took our rented car and headed home, enjoying the organised roads and the very clean public spaces. I really enjoyed myself driving again! However, I received two fines for speeding during the 4 days with the rental car so I do need to be a bit more cautious again.

 

We headed to Barcelona for my birthday and to drink good wine!

One of the triggers for my return to the Netherlands was a 2-day business event. The event was planned around my birthday, so I could combine a bunch of things in a short period of time. We celebrated my birthday at home in the Netherlands and continued the celebrations by traveling to the North of Spain for some extra quality time. It was awesome to be back in Spain after a few years. My partner and I both love to drink good wine which is a challenging and costly habit in India. You will not find a good bottle of wine for less than 10 euro’s in Indian supermarkets and ordering good wine in restaurants could end up in a costly affair as imported goods are taxed very heavily in India. Thus, top notch restaurants would offer very average wines for 40-50 Euro a bottle. Going local could be a good alternative, but one should be very critical about wines in India; a lot of local wines are only ok if you like the taste of sour vinegar. Spain obviously offers some good wines. Even in gritty places one would almost never end up drinking bad wine.

 

Superb quality since 1993

I started to book my dinner reservations ahead a couple of years ago after some city breaks with uninspiring food in very average places. Having done good research will avoid disappointments. So when we arrived in Barcelona we were all set, we only needed to find some good places for lunch. We spent three nights in the mountains of Catalunya with some excellent unplanned dinner locations, but the two dinners in Barcelona had been booked ahead of time. On the first evening we headed to a very posh place in the northern part of the city, a classical Catalonian restaurant that prides themselves with a long-time consistency in food and service quality. They received their Michelin star in 1993 and have kept the high level of quality till today.

 

I’m mainly interested in good food and service, not in the Michelin star

I’m not a Michelin-fetishist. However, using the Michelin platform as a culinary guide will give  some guarantees about the quality one would expect. And there is not really a good alternative. The recent story about a non-existent restaurant in London that reached the number one position of TripAdvisor made me a bit reserved in using the popular restaurant-rating platform. It is possible to manipulate these platforms, so the best restaurant could turn out as the most smart restaurant: smart in marketing but not so good in the kitchen. One of the ‘best’ restaurants could be found in the Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ category: a very good meal for a reasonable price.

 

Dining out in Spain: prepare yourself for dining very late

Evenings in Spanish restaurants generally start off late. In some of the restaurants, it’s almost inpossible to book a table before 9pm and some guests even show up for their table reservation at 11pm. Gaig, the Catalunian restaurant that I had booked for the first evening, expected us at 8.30pm that evening and of course we were the first to arrive….

 

What people in India could learn: doing less instead of more

A lot of tasks in the restaurant-business could be taught. Cooking the perfect pasta is just a simple trick and you need to do it repeatedly to really understand it. Sweeping floors or pouring a glass of wine are also simple tasks. One could learn this by doing it (a lot).  However, if you want to offer a top-notch dining experience things could get very messy. Creating the ultimate taste is something personal, especially when one wants to cook foreign dishes. And serving and entertaining guests as a waiter seems like an easy job to do, but giving customers an excellent service requires more than the commitment to work hard. It requires a feel of your dining clientele.

 

We’ve been visiting a lot of restaurants in and around Pune and I wouldn’t lie in saying we have had dinner in almost every top tier venue. I’m impressed with some of these places. I’ve had some mouth-watering food in very cool places, with trendy people and awesome drinks. Especially the Indian-cuisine restaurants, which are very good. But an Italian or French meal, with good wines is almost impossible to find and there is a reason for this.

The Indian cuisine is very tasty, some of the dishes have become evergreens for me. I would definitely miss a good Massala Dosa from time to time after returning to the Netherlands.  And some of the Kebabs are so tasteful that I could eat it for lunch every day! Nothing wrong with Indian food! However, it seems as if cooks in India would rather put ‘more’ flavours in a dish than necessary. The use of ginger, garlic and very tasty spices often creates an explosion of flavours. One could argue that European cuisines are based on the use of ‘more balanced’ flavours and it’s very hard for Indian cooks to pick up the differences between a perfectly cooked and delicious lamb from the oven and an overcooked one with too many flavours. The restaurant in Barcelona served us one of the best cannelloni’s I’ve ever tasted, with a creamy sauce that contained concentrated flavours of well-cooked broth and very slow cooked meat. Creating such a wonderful taste requires a deep understanding and culinary skills.

I now want to write about the waiters. My ideal waiter is a girl or guy who understands me without the need to communicate. He or she needs to ‘feel’ what I want. So it’s about using your senses, understanding your guests needs and wishes and applying a customized approach for every customer. But not in India. While waiters in (top tier restaurants) in Europe are serving the best dishes after a simple wink of the eye, the Indian waiters still have a lot of improvement. They are very polite and want to be helpful, but they don’t come close to their European equivalents. Let me give you an example. In very posh restaurants, cleaning the plates while others on the table are still eating will be seen as an culinary offense. In India, they will immediately remove your plate after you’ve finished your dish, even if one or more diners are still eating. And now something weird: they actually do this in all restaurants, also in the posh ones. Facility management schools in India should teach students the ‘less is more’ concept, which makes some of the restaurants experiences more entertaining.

 

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