Given the sudden and voracious appetite of Indians for luxury items, from cars to food, the French invasion of Delhi couldn’t have been timed better. Until 22 June, the French government’s food and beverage promotion board, or Sopexa, plans to whet the appetite further with wine and cheese tasting platters at select New Delhi restaurants.
Earlier this month, Sopexa offered a sneak peek to journalists and also included a whole range of other French products that are already in India or on their way, from crystal to champagne, mushrooms to mustard. With import duties on alcohol slated for review by the World Trade Organization, foodies can rest assured that the French, alongside other European businesses, are fighting for their right to party—cheaper.
The tasting was designed to feel like a French market with stalls and live music, Herbie Hancock to the French electronica of Air. While the buffet set out by host Metropolitan Hotel Nikko fell flat (the quiche tasted like microwaved Mexican treats; the dark chocolate-covered rasgullas were dry), the best part was the wine and cheese—the aperitifs offered at participating restaurants.
Among the wines we liked: Castel’s Chardonnay and Royer’s Champagne. A 2005 Merlot was smooth, but the best part is the price per bottle—Rs550. The 2004 Beaujolais was even nicer—priced at Rs1,200. After doing an Internet search to see where we could buy more wine, we discovered that Bouvet-Ladubay, from the Loire Valley in France, is owned by Vijay Mallya’s UB Group. Our favourite cheeses were from the Epicure label (which sells at Hypercity and Sante in Mumbai, at Le Marche and Sugar and Spice in Delhi). Try the ewe’s milk cheese and the camembert, for sure.
Other products we liked but which won’t be on the public tasting menus: Borde’s wild mushrooms (especially tasty in risotto) and Maille’s dijonaiise (a mixture of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise).
The smell of rotting cheese hit us right away. For that, the French can be forgiven, though, as the New Delhi heat was the real culprit. The tasting was held under a tent off the hotel and the installed air conditioners (“climatized”, the press release promised) tried but couldn’t do much. Sommeliers themselves apologized to us for the hot taste of everything, and within an hour’s time, the large buckets of ice had melted. Also, while the product representatives guaranteed us they would indeed be in India, few had details on where and when.
Lucky for you, your wine and cheese platter will probably be in the confines of a legitimately air conditioned restaurant.
The platters are available at Lodi—the Garden Restaurant, Q’BA, Smoke House Grill and Spirit. Depending on pairings, the prices range from Rs2,000-2,500. It’s worth trying, for sure, but with prices coming down, the money might better be spent on an entire bottle of French wine that you don’t have to just sample—but savour.