Chez Nini is a glittering place in an old Meherchand market of Delhi. Glittering at night at least.
There was a plan to go to this nifty French eatery and we were waiting for the day. On googling we found that this place is run by a lady named Nini who is the Masterchef there, supported by staff just to manage other aspects. Well, it sounded pretty good when you know that someone is passionate about food and is serving great food to people. We read in one of the reviews that she comes to every table and talks about her food too. Also, that she procures all the ingredients locally. Everything was sounding exciting enough to wait for the weekend. We landed there in anticipation. 'We' were a group of blogger friends, our spouses and a kid. Sid Khullar, Charis, Sumit, Sushmita and myself and a few more folks.Chef Murtaza of Fire, The Park also came to dine with us.
The interiors were cozy, nicely done, dimly lit and soft music playing .I liked the lighting along the trunk and branches of a tree figure and a nest holding some more lighting in the middle.
The tables looked beautiful, the crockery elegant and our anticipation was being fed by the neat arrangement of desserts on the counter. The place is quite small and you can see pretty much everything on display. It gets quite a packed room when all the tables are occupied. You get a table only on reservation and probably the place is packed almost always..
The menu card was a huge piece of hard and heavy cardboard, unnecessary IMO because small tables, smaller chairs and congested seating makes it difficult to even hold those huge menu cards. We chose to have a 4 course meal and placed our orders. Everyone chose French onion soup, hoping to get a great start. It came in a ceramic bowl, topped with a bread (specified as Melba but it was a regular slice of brad) that soaked into the soup and then sprinkled with cheese and broiled. The initial spoonfuls were aromatic and tasty because of the cheese but the soup underneath was insipid.
The breads were good, an olive Focaccia and a sliced bread drizzled with Olive oil, nicely warm, made for comfortable bites. Though it came much before the soup as a complementary platter, each platter having just 5 small pieces of bread between 4 people. Great bread served in small quantity can be a frustration :(
Charis had ordered a Beetroot lace salad which we had great expectation with. We ordered a Salad Nicoise`. I said Nikoise and the server corrected me saying Nee-suaz. I was actually glad at this and expecting the salad to be a super yummy original thing. My love for salads is phenomenal. And so was the taste of these two salads tried. Only Phenomenally Awful.
Let me elaborate.
The beetroot looked divine with the softened matchsticks, sprinkled with a blob and half of Feta. But there were some more sprinkles that ruined it. Who would like a generous spluttering of black and yellow mustard seeds when having a salad? The herb was there in color, the flavor lost between mustard seeds and Sunflower seeds turned rancid. Can you imagine how a rancid nut can spoil even the most flavorful food? The two and half segments of sweet lime saved the grace in a few bites. A great salad compromised on ill stored or cheaply procured sunflower seeds and over enthusiasm over mustard seeds.
And the Nicoise`. There were red and green Amaranth leaves in the salad, too many of them. It looked divine, tasted flat. Green beans, boiled egg quarters , few black and green olives, a few Capers. All of them to be picked individually to get taste otherwise the salad was dead. There were some halves of boiled baby potatoes. Too waxy and hard to absorb any flavor.The toasted almond flakes were slightly rancid in this case as well. No preserved fish or any kind of fishy sliver included :(
This Beer batter jumbo shrimp and chips was ordered by Nachiketa and she liked it. I didn't taste it so can't tell my verdict on it. By the look of it it is a clean dish with well defined favors. If that sauce is not as acidic as the one served with the Confied Duck legs.
This was also Nachiketa's plate and she liked it. Pan seared Sole pinwheel with an Orange sauce glaze. Those Amaranth leaves are still a turn off in this plate to.
Main course was much better for us as well.
We had ordered a Confied Duck legs and it came on a bed of fresh vegetables. The duck was good, crunchy and hard on the outside and moist on the inside. Something you get when you poach the meat first and then fry it, this duck leg was not 'Confied', talking of the cooking procedure or the final result.
It should have been soft and falling off the bone, as pointed out by Sid.
The vegetables were crisp, fresh and flavorful. There was some sweetcorn too in the platter and this dish looked divine in a deep ceramic platter. Talking of the colors and textures.
I liked all the vegetables. This was much better than the salad but there was no connection between the veggies and duck legs. May be it was deliberate. Oh yes, there was a nice cute cup of dressing or sauce with it but it was so tart and acidic it spoiled the flavors when poured on a small portion. Too runny, too acidic for my taste.
We had also ordered Crispy fried pork belly. It came on a bed of boiled green mung and chickpeas, few slices of stir fried carrots and an Aubergine mash on the side. Few leaves of Bok choy and a pouring sauce in a cute cup.
Again the sauce/dressing was too acidic and runny. The pork belly was too crisp for me but I still liked it. The inside was soft and glutinous. Flavor of pork. No other flavor to dress it up.The lentils were flat, the aubergine mash awful. Bok choy crisp and nice, but not very fresh. Good pork served with wrong ingredients.
Sumit had ordered the Aubergine gratin out of curiosity, it came in a an earthy ceramic bowl with lid. The cheesy top was edible but the mashed aubergine below was a disappointment. I took a spoonful and asked Sumit about his opinion. He just shrugged.
The aubergine with the pork belly and in this gratin both were made using the seedy variety of aubergines, probably too wrinkled and stale vegetable. Not something you expect at a plush French eatery,
We felt cheated actually. The prices are premium , the food evokes hope but falls flat. We waited for the desserts and we all chose to our fancy.
The best thing of the day came, ordered by Sushmita, relished by all of us. This was one winner dessert honestly. Saved the grace somehow.
But the Lychee and coconut cupcakes were just white cupcakes with a sugar paste top.No Lychee or coconut was discernible. We could not finish it between the two of us.
We had heard about the Carrot cake so ordered one slice. It was a normal cake with a cream cheese frosting and some caramelised hazelnuts on top.. Moist and somewhat gooey, nice texture given by nuts and yet it lacked something. Some people would definitely like it. Those who like anything cake.
This mango cheesecake was good. Sumit had ordered it probably, had a bite and liked the light thing. Not much impressive though.
May be a spoiled evening doesn't let you enjoy a few mediocre treats. We do enjoy a few of those normally.
And yes, cold and uninterested waiting staff don't make the situation better. Serving the courses in confusion, not remembering who ordered what and not bringing steak knife with the toughest of crisp fried meat to cut are some blunders hardly to be missed.
I wouldn't go there again for sure. That Sticky toffee pudding is one dessert one would like to visit Chez Nini if one doesn't bake desserts at home. Otherwise I would hop on to a French blog, download a recipe and bake for myself. Bloggers cook great food all around the world I know.
The bill amounted to 1600 plus per head as we did split the bill. I told you we felt cheated, a weekend dinner screwed up and a hole in the pocket.
Read Sid Khullar's review of the place here..