Oriental Spice

It’s easily one of the most preferred fine dining spaces in the city today. Lantern, a destination dining experience at the Ritz Carlton, is casual, yet edgy in its decor. The food, however, perfectly crafted by the hotel’s Michelin star Executive Chef Anupam Banerjee, is a work of art unto itself.

We invited a few diverse guests to dine with us at this fine space. Aslam Gafoor is someone who needs no introduction in Bengaluru. He’s an avid foodie, the COO of Weber Grills, a member of the Bengaluru Wine Society and a keen observer of the nuances of fine dining. Arohi Singh is an artist by profession and a nonconformist by spirit; she calls herself temperamental but reiterates that she seeks to express herself honestly in everything that she does. She even found inspiration in the dim sum from dinner! And Meenakshi Shankar, the flamboyant yet elegant lady with a penchant for teaming up western wear with striking Indian jewellery, is a writer. She specializes in writing on interiors and admittedly couldn’t take her eyes off the stunning decor of the restaurant.

The city of Bengaluru has evolved in its palatte. From eating at run-of-the mill Chinese places (mostly serving Tangra-style Chinese cuisine) and graduating to fine Oriental dining at spaces such as Memories of China, Schezwan Court and now Lantern at Ritz Carlton, the demographics of Chinese food have changed drastically.

Over cups of fragrant Chinese tea, we began our gastronomic journey on this exploration of fine Oriental cuisine as we awaited the star of the evening, Chef Anupam Banerjee. We were keen to ask the chef his ideas behind putting together the exquisitely delicate but complex menu at this restaurant.

As the chef arrived at our table and took a seat, the dumplings began to roll out. Basket upon basket of these steamed treats lined the center of our table and the aromas wafting out of them were truly delightful. All we wanted to do was pick up our chopsticks and dig in, but etiquette demanded that we have our questions answered first, before our mouths were too full to get a word out.

Chef Anupam Banerjee believes that one should only taste the filling of the dumpling and not its rice paper or wheat starch covering. Each dumpling, appearing like a work of art instead of an artfully decorated morsel of food,  looked unique and tasted even better. The contrast of colours and textures proved to be truly fantastic.

The translucent wheat starch skin of the Crystal Vegetable Dumpling offered peeks of colour of the Asian veggie treats inside. Aslam Gafoor reminisced about how, just a few years ago in Bengaluru, one couldn’t eat such intricately crafted Oriental delicacies. “All we found were thick, chunky momos at average Chinese restaurants. Dining spaces such as the Lantern have raised the bar for Oriental cuisine in the city,” he said.

Meenakshi Shankar, despite being a vegetarian, is a huge fan of Chinese cuisine. She spoke about how the textures and flavours of this kind of food were what made her come back for more. “Just biting into this juicy morsel (as she popped a piece of Crispy Vegetable Cheung Fun into her mouth) takes me to gastronomic heaven. The contrast of textures in this bite – crispiness, softness, a hint of spicy and sour tastes – it’s just perfect,” she says.

Dumplings are the standout dishes on Lantern’s menu. Hence the chef suggested that we stick to those for dinner and sample his entire variety on the menu. From Corn and Asparagus Dumplings to the famous Truffle Scented Edamame Money Pouch, Crystal Prawn Dumplings, Chicken Shumai, Char Suibao and the Lobster Money Pouch, they all found their way from the kitchen to our table. “We’re constantly evolving the menu,” said Chef Anupam Banerjee. “ It’s just about a year since the restaurant has opened and we’ve already had five menu revisions.” The chef’s formula is simple – keep the favourites on and include seasonal specials, occasionally doing away with a dish that may not be faring as well on the menu.

Arohi Singh, a kind of Oriental cuisine novice, if we may call her that, was extremely enthusiastic to try out a piece of each and every dumpling that arrived at the table. Being an artist, it is in her nature to feel and savour each experience. And that is what she did. Eyes closed in rapture she savoured every morsel that passed through her lips, she was also relieved to not find “that peculiar odour” that assaulted her senses the last time she dined at another Chinese restaurant in the city!

We’re hoping her next series of art will bear some correlation to dumplings and their like!