Amuse House has the décor of a European bistro- muted lighting, diner-like couches along the eastern wall, square tables to the left and a faux-wooden bar counter facing the entrance. What really puts you at ease, as you go through the Mediterranean menu, is the appropriate volume of the music. No need to shout to be heard and it allows diners to settle in for a meal without a 90s popstar blaring in the background.
Located in Ansal Plaza, Amuse House has a no-nonsense approach to food. At any restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine, you’re usually served a bread basket while waiting for your food. Amuse House goes a step further by adding three condiments prepared in-house- garlic butter, chilli and bacon jam. It’s the perfect springboard for what comes next. Take the chickpea and mint falafel served on a bed of mint yogurt and dressed with chives. Or the bruschetta topped with an artichoke and potato ragout sprinkled with parmesan. Chef Arvind Bharti takes Mediterranean staples and tweaks them just a little, creating a menu of familiar sounding dishes that stand out from the horde.
The non-veg Bourak is packed with minced chicken, onions, cheese, parsley and cinnamon. A light, phyllo-pastry that looks like a spring roll and is a staple of countries in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The melt-in-your-mouth pastry has just the right amount of filling making it a near-perfect appetizer. The fried seafood buñuelos are served with green apple-plum salsa and horseradish aioli. I could’ve gorged on these crispy dough balls all night if I wasn’t served chillies stuffed with sweet corn and manchego, a Spanish cheese. Even though I try and stay away from vegetarian offerings, these chillies were oozing with a flavour unlike any other I’ve tasted before.
A rectangular slab of chicken terrine topped with chicken liver pate and a poached hen’s egg on the side was a fitting conclusion to the course. Chef Bharti explained how they always sourced the freshest of ingredients and prepare all their sides in their kitchen. A fact I’m willing to believe as I tasted the grilled goat cheese with beetroots. A few drops from a burnt orange and it turned out to be a great way to steady my palate for the next course.
There’s nothing better than a slow-cooked pork belly and Amuse House cooks theirs for 36 hours. That first cut is like slicing through butter. Dip it in the parsnip cream and prune puree and one of the most common cuts of meat is elevated to culinary utopia. The grilled lamb chops are garnished with spicy gremolata and served with an aubergine dip. For some unexplainable reason, the top layer char on those lamb chops reminded me of all the romantic poetry I read in college.
The roast chicken served with baby potatoes sprinkled with rosemary is a classic I’ve tried innumerable times but never with the flavoursome chicken au jus at Amuse House, that adds the perfect glaze. However, the standout for me was the fish tajine. This North African dish gets its name from the earthenware pot it is cooked in. Just the right amount of saffron to flavour the fish and topped with roasted almonds for crunchiness. I poured some of the thick gravy over a sizable helping of couscous with golden raisins and spared a moment of silence for all the animals that were justifiable felled for this princely feast.
From the Amuse House Med Box, I picked out the basbousa and the finger Zainab. The former is a sweet cake made out of semolina and the latter is the Middle Eastern cousin of the Spanish churro. I nibbled at the pistachio baklava but it was nothing to write home about. There was no way I could leave without trying the chocolate cake with peanut butter and it turned out to be a good decision.
What sets Amuse House apart from the other Mediterranean restaurants in the city is its careful experimentation. Chef Arvind Bharti speaks of his dishes with pride, explaining their preparations, and pointing out that his plan is not to stray completely from the Mediterranean’s rich culinary history. His take on these dishes is thoughtful, refined and exploratory. A meal for two will set you back by about two-thousand rupees, but it’s a small price to pay for a menu that is a guided tour of Mediterranean delights.