For years, dining out has been the go-to option for friends and family in the metropolitan city of Dhaka. However, the recent trend has been not only to eat but to live a little lavishly for some, pampering themselves to take respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Although 'Bangla Chinese' remains a favourite and the First World continues to flood Dhaka with their lower-middle class targeting brands, people have begun asking for more. Whilst dining with a group of friends comprising of the biggest food lovers in town, the question of fine-dining came up. In between mouthfuls of the most delicious salmon ever cooked, prepared by Aroyee, a picture of the Bangladeshi urban culinary scene was painted. Kanishka Chakraborty, a famous food-blogger, resident food lover and a regular columnist for Star Lifestyle expressed his disdain. “The fine-dining industry can be said to be have regressed,” he said. He pointed out the fact that the fine-dining restaurants did not go the distance in fine-dining, restricting themselves to oft-times a hastily put together menu. “There is a problem in the kind of chefs available; there aren't enough good chefs,” Phillip Choudhury, the Head Chef and Creative Director of Aroyee added. Both points were true. While the restaurant industry has come a long way, a 5-star dining experience is still hard to come about. Even though the concept is being promoted, many fine-dining experiences are hardly what they try to be and the lack of trained or informed chefs does not do the whole “ordeal” any justice.
Shaila Rahman, Managing Director, Quay Asia Ltd (Bangladesh) pointed out that the fine-dining experience isn't just about eating fancy food outside. There was much more to it. The food, the service, the ambience and a lot more played an equally important part. As one of the co-founders of Aroyee, her expertise was unquestionable. Aroyee, a fine-dining experience, leaves no stone unturned in their pursuit for perfection. Menus are custom-designed for each individual order. The meals are made from the best and freshest materials sourced directly. Your menu card consists of each item in your dining course and comes especially inscribed with your name. The tables are set to a certain standard too; different kinds of forks, knives and spoons set on the right and left, along with different glasses for different drinks. At Aroyee, you feel pampered; you feel special. The chef is known to come out to explain the menu or item prepared, explaining the choice of ingredients and what your taste buds are to expect. Every part of your dining-experience is catered to. Aroyee can be reached at email@example.com.
The notion of fine-dining is relatively new but it is an experience that must be tried by those who can afford it. Family outings are now being planned, keeping fine-dining in mind. Dressing up your sharpest and taking your kids out, who are equally looking dapper, to a meal to remember is fast becoming a trend in the city. Capitalising on this, a number of restaurants have either opened up or repackaged themselves, highlighting the luxury aspect of eating there. Armed with a discernable palate, an appetite and a nose for the classy, the Dhaka crowd sets out for these restaurants on most weekends. But while the options are seemingly endless, the wrong choice can make a mess of your entire plans. Imagine going to a fancy restaurant all dressed up to have a number of dishes piled on your table with that annoying jazz music in the background. Restaurants that have been playing the same tunes since 1996 are a dead giveaway to what you are about to get. The other such signs are old looking plates, dirty tablecloths and a menu that promises all kinds of cuisine. The best option is to get recommendations.
3 Dragons at Pearl is touted as being a go to destination for this kind of a gourmet treat. Authentic oriental food is combined with an expert chef, an original ambience and an excellent service. The food is just as you would imagine befitting such a good restaurant and rest assured, you will come out satisfied. While there aren't specific courses designed, if you are going to opt for fine-dining, you might as well know how to order: finger food, appetiser, main course, dessert. Or you can add a second main course, some juice to work as palate cleanser and go crazy with the set up. Remember, it's not always what you eat that makes it fine-dining, but how you eat it. 3 Dragons at Pearl is located at Rangs Pearl Tower, House 72, 12 Rd No 12, Dhaka 1213, Bangladesh.
Lotus Etang is another restaurant making a name for itself. Pan-Asian cuisine at its finest, while the restaurant is relatively new, it comes highly recommended. Kaniska - or KC, as he is affectionately called by his friends - gives this restaurant his much-coveted stamp of approval. He riddles his description of the place with a ton of complimentary adjectives. Those who have been, also return pleased with what is on offer. Lotus Etang is located at 23 South Avenue Bay Building, Gulshan -1, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Thai Emerald can be yet another restaurant that can be considered fine-dining. Their coconut ice cream alone is reason enough to visit, but if you want fine-dining with a family-dining experience, than Thai Emerald is the place to go to. The service is stellar and the food leaves you wanting more. Thai Emerald is located at House 24, Road 2, Gulshan 1, Dhaka 1212. Contrary to popular belief, fine dining isn't restricted to international or exotic food. Fine-dining can be had and done anywhere. Khazana is a prime example of fine-dining using just Indian food. Numerous 5-star hotels also come with numerous restaurants that also fit the ideals of fine-dining, such as the restaurants at Westin, Le Meridien and much more. Izumi offers yet another option and it is perhaps one of the best fine-dining experiences, provided you make it past the security.
Of course, apart from these restaurants, you can also have fine-dining at home. Set yourself up a nice table and follow the fine-dining rules. Start off with your table. Place a set of forks on the left side and the set of knives and spoons on the right side. The fork/spoon furthest away from your plate is the one you start off with. In-between mouthfuls, which should be of small portions, set your cutlery down on your plate and enjoy the tastes and sensations each dish invokes. Placing your knives and spoons with the tips crossing means you aren't done. Place them vertically at the center of your plate to signal to the server that your meal is done or you are ready for the next course. If you are having dessert or soup, remember there are distinctive spoons for each. A napkin should be ready. Do not tuck in your napkin in your shirt but rather spread it on your lap. Also, remember to dab using your napkin and never wipe.
Fine-dining also means a seating plan. Each seat should have the diner's name on a name card to show the designated place for them to sit. Finally, the kind of conversation that fine-dining allows must also be restricted. Politics and religion are a general no-no. Now that we are thinking of involving your kids, another thing you mustn't do is bring up their grades or try to use it as a way to teach them lessons or criticise them. Keep the conversation as civil as possible. If your mother or father is the one to have cooked, although this applies to almost anyone, do not begin by salting your food. Salting your food is considered an insult in many places, so take a bit first and then decide if you really need the salt. Finally, create the perfect ambience. If you have a server, then get him a tuxedo. This only adds the “fine” to fine-dining.
Finally, proceed to eat your meals like you usually do.
The typical Bangladeshi meal, in a classical sense, actually follows a certain sequence, with rice being the central item throughout. The sequence begins with something bitter, which is followed by vegetables of sorts, from 'shakh bhaji' or 'shobji-bhaji' to 'niramish torkari'. Then we move on to small fish, after which we have bigger fish. Only after that, we eat meat. The last item is 'daal'. Then, we have desserts, which is usually sweetmeats. Bangladeshi meal, one may therefore argue, follows the concept of course-by-course breakdown in the sense that a particular sequence is maintained.
If you actually take the effort to set the appropriate mood and if possible, dress up a little, fine-dining at your home is very much possible. Dressing up isn't mandatory but wouldn't it all be so much better if all of you looked your best for this one special meal? It will make it all the more worth remembering. And there will of course be plenty of pictures to capture the whole thing forever. Once a month, this can actually be a bond-building exercise, more powerful than the stuffy, quiet-while-you-eat meal times we are all used to sharing.
Fine-dining is a growing industry in Bangladesh. While we have strides to take, the concept itself should not be lost in the shuffle. Fast food is great but if healthy food is served in the right fashion, then it makes a much more rewarding experience. Thus, if you get the time, try fine-dining sometime. Start off at home if you wish and then take it from there!
Osama Rahman is the Sub-Editor of Star Lifestyle and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: LS Archive