It was a year of comebacks, optimism and courage. A sentiment of resilient hope was needed to bounce back from the pandemic that had battered the restaurant industry, and this was distilled in pop-ups, tasting menus and new openings throughout 2023.
Some of the most exciting launches included Indian Accent Mumbai; Naar, a 16-seater experimental restaurant near Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, led by Prateek Sadhu; and the Little Bit Sober bar in Kolkata. They elevated the dining scene in India, and turned the focus on hyper-regional ingredients with inventive menus.
“Premium experiences through high-quality ingredients for nostalgia-inducing food was a big trend this year,” says Pravesh Pandey, founder of Handcrafted Restaurants Pvt. Ltd, the parent company of the year-old craft house Roxie in Bengaluru. As 2023 comes to an end, it’s time to take stock of the trends that defined the year and will spill over into the next.
For decades, Kolkata went through a lull with the most exciting dining spaces being 6 Ballygunge Place, Kasturi and Flurys. 2023 was a transformative year for the city, bringing new bars and restaurants to its residents. Craft cocktails picked up with the opening of Little Bit Sober, Sorano and the massive brewery-cum-bar Olterra.
Even as the bar scene picked up, standalone restaurants created inventive menus. An example is Sienna Store & Café, which opened about eight years ago, but introduced a seasonal tasting menu after the pandemic. Kumro (pumpkin), gathi kochu (taro roots) and mishti doi are used to prepare gnocchi, schnitzel and flan. In October, it ranked fifth in the coveted Condé Nast Traveller Top Restaurant Awards. In November, the premium restaurant Madam G opened in the city, giving a modern spin to heritage recipes. On the menu are dishes like ghewar burrata chaat, Kochi vegetable stew streaked with curry leaf oil, and malai toast on brioche, all signalling the rise of a dynamic culinary scene in Kolkata.
Pop-up spaces like The Magazine Street Kitchen in Mumbai and The Conservatory in Bengaluru have featured some of the most intriguing menus this year with chefs who run delivery kitchens and host supper clubs.
In August, Magazine Street Kitchen had a weekend pop-up with delivery kitchen Charoli, which spotlights the royal cuisine of Malwa, and served dishes such as Murgh Bagheli and Borani Ke Kebab. In September, they brought Anurag Arora, who runs a brunch-style supper club in Bengaluru.
In Bengaluru, The Conservatory has provided a space for independent chefs, food writers and small businesses owners to flex their culinary talent with multi-course experiences. For Christmas, they had a Syrian Christian feast with minced beef potato cutlets, chicken roast with vattayappam (steamed rice cakes from Kerala) and shepherd’s pie prepared by chef Tresa Francis, who runs the catering service Travancore Tasties.
Pop-ups work as a format for restaurants too. Pandey says, “There margin of demand and supply is high. There are fewer restaurants than there are newly minted chefs. Pop-ups give them the opportunity to be innovative and for us to offer variety.”
Latin American cuisines, especially from Mexico and Peru, have caught the fancy of diners. In June, the acclaimed restaurant Central from Peru’s capital city Lima ranked No.1 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. In September, global alcohol behemoth Diageo organised Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year 2023 in Brazil’s São Paulo. A few weeks ago, Peruvian ceviche received Unesco’s intangible heritage status. All of them have drawn attention to cuisines and spirits from this part of the world. Agave spirits, tequila and mezcal continue to rule, and their out-sized influence led to a proliferation of bars and restaurants influenced by the region. In India, a number of new places spotlighting Latin American food and drinks have opened in the past year. These include tequila bar Juju in Pune and Mexican restaurant Pompa in Mumbai. Kolkata, too, is set to get a taste of Mexico with bar-and-restaurant Mehico.
In the world of cocktails, there is a growing preference for light, elegant drinks and nothing exemplifies this better than clarified drinks. It’s a trend that beverage consultant Avinash Kapoli and co-founder of the bar Jammin Goat in Goa and Bengaluru has noticed too. Clarifying a cocktail, he points out, makes it easier to drink and gives it a good texture. They have become ubiquitous in bar menus because they allow mixologists to experiment with a wide range of flavours and look good.
Bakers too have made a shift towards hyper-regional ingredients and dishes. The two-week old Maska Bakery in Mumbai has a Dilli Carrot Cake that’s made with red carrots, black carrot halwa, toasted walnuts, whipped cream cheese frosting and candied carrots.
Pastry chefs are reaching into their family larders to find recipes and ingredients. Bengaluru’s Vinesh Johnny has given the achappam or rose cookie a fun twist by dipping it in chocolate and coating it with colourful sprinklers to turn it into a playful pinwheel. Meanwhile, in Delhi, pastry chef Bani Nanda has used kinnow, roselle flowers and custard apple for a decadent Bûche de Nöel.
Apart from going local to create sweet treats, there is a growing awareness about traditional baked goods. “Specialized communities of bakers have emerged; including the kandurs in Kashmir, nanbais in Lucknow, Hyderabad, and Delhi, paders and paowallas in Goa, Parsi and Irani bakers in Mumbai and Gujarat. Together, these communities contribute to a diverse array of baked goods,” observes the Godrej Food Trends Report 2023. Chefs, too, are using such breads to offer a taste of local delicacies.
It was the year of Australian wines gaining a firm foothold in India after the free trade agreement between the two countries in 2022. At the wine trade event ProWine in Mumbai last month, the biggest wine booth was by vineyards from Australia. The flow of premium and high-end bottles from the major wine regions of Australia like Barossa, Victoria and New South Wales is likely to continue.
Mumbai-based sommelier Gargi Kothari, who conducts interactive wine-tasting sessions, says curiosity about wine was at an all time high. “Malbec seemed to be the grape of choice and people are veering towards sparkling wines like prosecco and cava,” she notes. She recommends prosecco from Villa Sandi and cava by Gramona. For those looking for Indian sparkling wines, Kothari’s choice would be the fresh, light and food-friendly Fratelli Gran Cuveé Brut.