Return of the diva
- Chef Ritu Dalmia continues to explore modern Asian flavours in the relaunched Diva Spiced
- This seems to be a year of announcements for her, with Spica, a young, experimental space, having opened in Milan in June
A warm, sun-kissed space, overlooking lush green treetops, is the new home of Diva Spiced. This modern Asian eatery by Ritu Dalmia, which shut shop in Delhi’s Mehar Chand Market, reopened with a new look at N-Block market, Greater Kailash I, earlier this month. The décor is minimalistic, with whites and blues dominating the colour palette, and earthy jute and cane furniture. The only splashes of colour are the lampshades and crockery, featuring prints of lush flora and fauna, and photos and artworks on the walls. Even though the restaurant has only 46 covers, it gives a sense of a bigger space than its previous avatar.
Dalmia was the first to offer authentic Italian fare in a stand-alone format, first with the long-shuttered MezzaLuna, and then with Diva Italian, which opened in 2000. She shifted her focus to modern Asian flavours in 2013 with the launch of Diva Kitsch (it closed in 2015). When she decided to visit South-East Asian flavours with Kitsch, she opted for a warm café-style format and designed the menu without the stereotypical curries, opting instead for salads and soups—the highlights being the Bomra’s Tomato Salad and Chilled Avocado Soup. She further broadened the the menu with Diva Spiced, which launched in Mehar Chand Market in 2015 with some Kitsch favourites and additions like Kerala-style calamari and a bevy of dumplings.
Her focus on fresh ingredients and clean flavours ran like a thread through all her restaurants. However, the location didn’t work for Diva Spiced. “It was not the best choice of location. Despite that, whoever visited ended up becoming a regular. When we shut down due to the sealing drive, we got hundreds of messages expressing their sadness about it," says Dalmia over the phone from Milan, where she runs a restaurant, Cittamani, featuring a fusion of Indian and Italian dishes.
This seems to be a year of announcements for her. June saw the launch of Spica, a young, experimental space in Milan that features dishes from the travels of Dalmia and her collaborator chef, Viviana Varese. “It is bespoke without being intimidating," she says. And now the relaunch of Diva Spiced.
“Seventy per cent of the dishes are from the existing Diva Spiced menu, but we have taken one step ahead with bolder flavours. While earlier we had dishes from South-East Asia, now we have drawn inspiration from the Indian subcontinent as well," she says. So, the Chilli Caramel Fish on the menu is joined by Calcutta Malai curry, Kadhi Samosa, Ubudh-Style Papaya & Lychee Curry, citrus prawns in orange chilli dressing, and more. Unlike Café Diva, where wine is the centrepiece of the menu, Diva Spiced focuses on cocktails with fresh ingredients and in-house syrups. “The bar menu here is more gin-centric, although we have a small intelligent wine list as well," says Dalmia.
Designed in an international café-style, all-day dining format, this space hopes to create an intimate dining experience. “Eateries that open just for lunch and dinner don’t work. If someone gets free at 3.30pm from a meeting, why shouldn’t they get a proper meal?" asks Dalmia. “They are looking for fun, semi-casual spaces where they don’t have to dress up for every meal. And Diva Spiced hopes to offer just that," she adds.