May 16 2024

How fine dining is borrowing from art, music, storytelling, animation and AI to lure diners into restaurants.

When you go to a restaurant, what do you go for? If it is just food, I would argue that you can get better food at your home or a relative’s home.  Most of us go for the experience, the theatre, the presentation, the service, the feeling of being cosseted.  This is what we pay for. The question is how much premium are you willing to pay for this?

For restaurants in luxury hotels, this becomes a key question. “The problem is that there are too many standalone restaurants competing for customers,” said one luxury hotel’s general manager ruefully.

It’s true.  The Bangalore restaurant scene is surging with new openings, many of them brewpubs. Standalone restaurants are packed, even on weekdays.  This is normal in Delhi and Mumbai, but Bangalore was considered to be a sleepy city.  Not anymore.  These days, Bangalore is changing from an IT-driven city to one that is embracing the good life. Given the competition, hoteliers and restauranteurs have to figure out how to get footfalls.

The Ritz Carlton Bengaluru decided to use animation and AI to create an immersive experience.  They have partnered with a global outfit called “Dinner Tales” to create a story called “Banquet of Hoshena.” Frankly, when I attended this banquet, it had too much “jing-bang” as we call it for me to pay attention to the storyline— about kings and queens.  There were levitating dishes, candles that lit when you pointed at them, a ceramic statue of a lady whose eyes moved, projected flowers on the table cloth, speaking plates.  Kids would love all this. Depending on your point of view, this takes fine-dining to the next level or distracts from the food. The contemporary Indian food created by Chefs Anupam Gulati and Imran worked hard to stand up to the overstimulation, and largely succeeded.  Conversation too is interrupted by the story so if you want an intimate uninterrupted meal, this is not for you.  This experience would be perfect for corporates though, because you can wow your colleagues or clients without having to engage in too much chit-chat.

Another approach is live acts. On Mother’s Day, the Four Seasons introduced a monthly Sunday brunch with a mix of music, food, art and wellness.  Music is already part of Sunday brunches, although I wish they would keep the volume of the live music low.  How then to add more layers to the Sunday brunch? Art and pampering seems to be the approach adopted by the Four Seasons.  They partnered with Art ‘n Soul, whose tag line on Instagram says, “empowering female creatives globally.’ The way this is done is through hotels, many in Scandinavia and also through global brands like Soho House, Milan Design Week and now the Four Seasons.  Two musicians, Akshita Mengi and Gowri Bhat sang a mix of Carnatic, R&B, folk and pop. I personally am waiting for Bangalore hotels to invite folk musicians who will mix some Kannada with their songs. Artist Aanchal Gupta painted live alongside the music. In a corner, Shankara, a cosmetics brand, offered foot and hand massages with a soft-sell of their ayurvedic products.  You could walk around between courses, get a massage, listen to music and watch the painter.

When people think of Bangalore food, they don’t think of five-star hotels but what we call “darshinis.” The thing though is that this state’s cuisine is more than the idli and dosa.  This point was made to me at a recent food festival that MTR Foods organised. The advertisement said that there would be over 100 dishes, all vegetarian.  I must have eaten every single item.  I could do this because the portions were small with throwaway eco-friendly leaf-plates. I drank wood-apple juice, piquant kokum rasam, jowar roti with a variety of brinjal preparations, had spongy steamed sannas wrapped in jackfruit leaves and tasted a mind-boggling array of chutneys. Heard of bilimbi chutney? It is a sour citrusy fruit about half the size of a melon.  Made into chutney, it goes well with the millets that are the mainstay of Uttara Karnataka. From Kodagu (Coorg), we vegetarians who are always made fun of because we cannot eat their famous pandi (pork) curry had an option—it is called “moodaray kanee” a soup made with horse gram.  I dislike horse gram in general, but this soup/kanji, I could drink every day. And so it went at every counter—representing the regions of Karnataka.  Something new, others familiar, always fresh and healthy. The food of this state is super-healthy.  Most people don’t know that but it really is the foodie takeaway of this column.

Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.

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