When the first-ever chef to get a Michelin Star for Indian cuisine opens a restaurant, you book a table.
Yes, that sounds like FOMO and I am not someone who experiences it, dare I say, at all. However, Chef Suvir Saran opening The House of Celeste last December did make me feel like I was missing out. Our dates to meet didn’t match, and I was soon travelling, which meant I didn’t get to experience his company or his food till a month later. As luck would have it, once I returned, he was scheduled to travel. After months of planning and a flurry of messages and coordination attempts later, we finally got to make each other’s acquaintance last week. And the whole fear of missing out melted away within minutes, because Saran, or his restaurants, don’t pander to that ‘new launch frenzy’.
‘Borderless cuisine with Indian elements’ is what Saran says The House of Celeste is about. While that may seem like ‘Indian dishes gone global’, it is actually Saran making his learnings count — he shares that they prefer to do what they know well. After all, this ethos earned him a Michelin Star in 2007 for his restaurant Devi, New York.
So, instead of spreading themselves too thin, the menu is a compact 25 dishes and three desserts. The point is driven home with the freshly-made Dal Makhni Celeste — Saran tells me they make all their preparations daily (none of the “stored and reheated curries and chutneys at TheHouse of Celeste”). The fact that you can taste the sprouted lentil, and not just the makhan, in this non-heavy curry is proof. Easily one of the best Dal Makhnis I have had in Delhi.
The Masala Pebbles are gol gappas if a Michelin Starred chef had to make it. Saran has created ‘pebbles’ of white chocolate and pepper, with a filling of chilli pineapple soup, tamarind chutney, and saffron tart. This sweet and salty (not spicy) treat is a fun way to start a meal. Continuing the play on street foods is Delhi 6 Clouds. The flavours are that of an impeccable chaat, but how it’s done is what steals the show. A take on papdi chaat and daulat ki chaat, the flavours are of the former with an airy texture of the latter—done through a yogurt mousse, and topped with fried potato cubes and chutneys—it’s the most indulgent yet light chaat you’ll try.
The Beet Balls is one of the most innovative dishes on the menu – a rare creation that is entirely vegetarian but imitates non-vegetarian flavours. Beetroot balls with a filling of smoked goat cheese cream come together to give an illusion of meat balls—in both look and taste. A meat lover trying to be veg or a vegetarian who wants to know how meat tastes – it’s ideal for both.
The real meat on the table, Gilafi Apricot Seekh, comes as a make-your-own taco with the seekh on the sheermal parantha and accompaniments on the side. Add mint, coriander, cranberry chutney, pickled onions, and yoghurt as you please, roll it up and dig in. The meat is ground together with bell peppers before making into a seekh, and the sweet yet tart flavouring cuts through the denseness of an all-meat seekh as well as complements the mildly sweet sheermal.
The Gun Powder Prawns impress with their quality (not surprising for a chef who didn’t put fish on the menu for lack of quality supply). Paired with millet khichdi, coconut milk stew and podi, it makes for a wholesome dish. It’s always nice to see chefs take humble dishes like khichdi and elevate them to fit the menu, and this is one of those. Of the sourdoughs, I tried the Roast Onion-Garlic flatbread, and it will compete with your love of regular garlic bread. The two ends of the garlic bread strips are filled with Kerala-style onion jam and buffalo mozzarella cheese each, with garlic aioli on the side.
The Fried Chicken Makhni s the one dish you can’t not try. A bed of makhni sauce topped with kachumber salad, red rice risotto, and chicken schnitzels (thin, fried slices of chicken) — it’s an indulgence where you’ll leave guilt far behind. The tangy-sweet sauce is buttery yet light, the risotto and salad make it well-rounded, adding that dose of greens and fibre and a crunch to the texture. The schnitzel is the best I’ve ever had—from Europe to Australia, there’s never been one that’s so crispy on the outside, tender inside, and weightless. If for nothing else, try it for the schnitzel. Then again, it’s a rendition of butter chicken, so you’re going to want to have all of it.py on the outside and tender inside. It’s a rendition of butter chicken you’ll want to try.
The desserts, while as experimental, don’t quite tie well together as the savoury dishes. The Milk Skin, Milk Fudge & Chocolate has a base of dhodha, dehydrated milk, and buttermilk sorbet. The sorbet that’s supposed to cut through the sweetness is a tad too tart if you happen to bite into it alone. The dhodha on its own is worth returning to, however, it’s the combination that doesn’t make the cut. Their bar has an extensive collection of whiskies and gins. They’re also happy to make cocktails as per taste if you’d like.
It’s lovely to see their ethos not restricted to the food, but seep into all aspects of the restaurant. The sleek interiors are done up with mirrors, solid colours punctuated with floral upholstery, lush planters, and strategic lighting. And the private dining room, Pinjra, recreates Delhi, i.e., birds hidden in trees chirping away amidst a concrete jungle, as Saran puts it. The India-meets-international character makes you feel like you could be eating this Indian food anywhere in the world.
Saran’s young team, all sous chefs are under 25 as well as service team, are hospitable to a fault. Understandable, as the chef says he selects them basis “the kindness and willingness to create a great product as he believes skills can be taught but not human nature”. As that transpires into your time here you’ll realise that The House of Celeste is not just another meal but an experience itself.
Where: 32nd Avenue, NH 8, Part 2, Sector 15, Gurgaon
Contact: 011 6610 3984
Opening hours: 12 pm to 3:30 pm and 7 pm to 12 am
Recommended dishes: Fried Chicken Makhni, Beet Balls
Price: Rs 2,700 for two (including alcohol, taxes extra)
Noise levels: High in the evenings
Service: Amicable and prompt
All images: Courtesy The House of Celeste