|(From top) Interiors of Bouquet Garni; chefs at work; an assortment of dishes at the eatery. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
There has been a trend in the city to name restaurants after spices, condiments and other ingredients. We have Red Hot Chilli Pepper, Grain of Salt, Saffron, Mirch Masala, Tamarind and Cinnamon to name some, and now quite recently a spacious, well-designed place called Bouquet Garni has opened at The Enclave, 17/1F, Alipore Road.
Meaning literally ' a bouquet of herbs and other ingredients (such as parsley, thyme, bay leaf, celery, leek, marjoram etc) tied up in a bunch, or put into a small muslin bag and cooked in the liquid of stews, soups and gravies, and lifted out before serving, it is a good name for a place that has a variety of cuisine, much of it Continental and Mediterranean, where a bouquet garni would actually be used.
Pan Asian, Indian and Continental (loosely used, with Mexican and Lebanese featuring as well) are the styles you will find at Bouquet Garni.
They have tried to steer clear of mainstream Chinese cuisine and focus on Thai, Indonesian and other Southeast Asian food. They have plans to bring in some serious Japanese food as well.
I was told that their Indian selection is the most popular, accounting for just over 50 per cent of the orders received, but on my visit to Bouquet Garni I chose to start with a traditional classic ' Minestrone Soup, of which I was given a pure vegetarian preparation, that is no chicken stock was used. This hearty soup, nutritious but not heavy, was a good beginning. There are many recipes for minestrone, some using rice to give it body instead of pasta, but at Bouquet Garni they do a straight ahead version with a wide variety of vegetables ' cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, white kidney beans, corn and spinach, along with macaroni.
Onions and garlic are sauteed first; wine, tomato puree and vegetable stock are added and the vegetables and pasta are cooked in this liquid. The dish is seasoned with oregano, fresh basil and crushed pepper. From soup on to starters, up came the Lebanese Platter. Five kinds of salads/ dips served with pitta and fatayeer bread. The latter is like a sambusak, the West Asian ancestor of our samosa. It is a triangular dough envelope filled with a preparation of spinach and cheese seasoned with cinnamon and then steamed and lightly baked in a salamander.
Of the five dips/salads, my favourite was one prepared by poaching cucumber, radish, carrots and green chillis in a combination of water and vinegar seasoned with bay leaves, peppercorn and cinnamon. The vinegar makes the vegetables taste as if pickled, and they are served with black olives and some excellent feta (sheep) cheese, full-bodied and salty to the right degree.
There were also the well known dips such as Tabuleh ' a simple but delicious item made with finely chopped uncooked ingredients such as onions, tomato, parsley, wheat grain, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. The celebrated hoummos ' chick peas, tahina paste (made from roasted sesame seeds), lemon juice and parsley pureed together ' was one of the dips and there was also Babaghonouj ' pulp of roasted aubergine combined with tahina paste, chopped garlic, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning.
These items are becoming increasingly popular in the city. A bunch of young diners at the next table also ordered the Lebanese Platter. Soon, hoummos, felafel and tabuleh will be well known words. And deservedly so. These items are nutritious, tasty and light and rank as good health food.
Another starter was Filo Purses with Pineapple Salsa. Ready-made sheets of spring-roll dough are shaped into little pouches and are filled with finely chopped bell peppers (red, yellow and green), zucchini, corn and babycorn and seasoned with coriander root and roasted cumin powder.
The pouches, once filled, are tied around the top, with the blade-like leaf of a spring onion and then brushed with butter, oven-baked and served with a nice, spicy sauce made with pureed fresh pineapple, green chilli and seasoning.
My choice for the main course, however, turned out to be injudicious. I asked for Pan Grilled Snapper with Lemon Salsa and was a bit disappointed. Not because the fish was not snapper but tilapia; in fact I thought this was a fine idea.
Tilapia bears a strong physical resemblance to the grey snapper, is a wonderful sweet water fish (its original home the river Nile and parts of Asia), has an exotic and ancient history of feeding pharaohs and kings and has a refined, mild, sweetish flavour. It is now farm raised in many different parts of the world including here, for the last 40 to 50 years ' and we call it American Koi.
The reason for the disappointment was that the fish was too small to be served whole and as a single piece, the ingredients of the marinade (roasted coriander seeds made into powder, onion, garlic, green tomato, lemon juice and salt) were not enough to give a distinct character to the fish and there was not enough lemon salsa.
A larger fish, preferably filleted, should be used, the marinade must coat the fish like a thick paste and the same must be more in evidence. But this is just a personal opinion.
The decision to use local resources is a commendable one but then why say snapper when Pan Grilled Tilapia will do just well'
A word about the menu presentation. I had a slight linguistic problem at first before I understood. For example, ' 'chicken steak, topped e cheese served e herbs rice' can be figured out, but what language is that'