Sit down dinners are a great way to showcase stories of places, events and specific themes in a formal setup that adds a whole new dimension to any meal.
On a recent visit to Guwahati I was part of a tea trial organized by Novotel Guwahati GS Road in association with Wild Mahseer by Balipara Foundation. After walking through tea gardens, visiting tea factories, I had my first tryst with a sit down dinner as a fitting finale to all things tea. Conceptualized by Sujit Chakraborty, Executive Chef, Novotel Guwahati, the table was set for a formal three course dinner where each dish was inspired by tea. The meal started with Tapas that had non-vegetarian choices like Lemon tea Grilled Prawns and Jasmine Green Tea Chicken Tender and vegetarian tapas like Chamomile Hummus with Sesame Lavash and Earl Grey Polenta Bites with Mushroom Ragout. This was followed up by Masala Chai flavoured thupka, a soup consumed in this region that was teamed with chicken or vegetables. The main course included more tea inspired dishes like Chai Spiced Chicken Supreme with Tartar Potatoes and Cajun Vegetables and Green Tea Crusted Baked Tofu with Soba Noodles and Lemon Tea Sauce while the dessert was an Orange Spiced Earl Grey Cake with Mix Berry Sorbet. In all the meal was a wonderful way to cap a journey of tea through Assam. “We choose a sit down dinner as this is the best of fine dining when all dishes are tea inspired and the creative and innovative menu ensures we are able to give all our guests personalized service that is served course wise menu with limited portion size so they can enjoy each course. Also as this is specifically curated there is not just lesser wastage of food but also more room for creativity. We also design the menu in such a way that it is nutritional and balances different flavours in each course. Also the freshness of food in sit down is completely different compared to buffets as each course is served as soon as it is made,” explains Chef Chakraborty.
Sit-down dinner is the most traditional and formal dining experience. The concept usually would have a limited number of people who would meet either for business or leisure where pre-plated dishes were served as the focus there was not on the meal but on the meeting. “In a sit-down dinner, as it has only limited people attending, it is imperative that people know each other or have a common ground as they are limited to speaking to the people in front of them or at their table only. However, today, it has taken a whole new meaning. While there still exists a certain level of formality, hotels and restaurants have introduced several innovations – whether it is with contemporary plating, interactive dining, lengthy courses and the curated company/guest list further enhances the dining experience. It is a niche experience and has a certain alluring quality about the whole process and hence it is becoming popular,” says Chef Nishesh Seth, Executive Chef, Le Meridien Goa, Calangute. Incidentally, at Jazz & Grills their whiskey bar, they have hosted sit-down dinners as part of the whiskey, wine and gin appreciation evenings as well as a special sit down dinner as part of their hotel launch for 100 of Goa’s most creative and influential people in the field of arts, culture, diplomats, academics, fashion and business.
Diners are looking for different experiences and chefs are ready to curate those experiences by putting together a special menu meeting the needs and dietary preferences. It is a great way of celebrating an occasion without having to worry about the food all the time. Smoke House Deli menu offers dishes that cater to special diets like the Keto diet, Gluten-free diet and so on. Ordering is usually the most stressful part of a meal especially when you are in a group. Sit down dinners offers the luxury of completely relaxing since most of the things are taken off. “The chef and the diner sit down and decide the menu beforehand. Other diners can be assured that the complete menu is coming to the table so they can relax, without having to worry about what to choose next. The concerns such as the quantity of food, meeting everyone’s dietary preferences, are negated,” explains Chef Jaydeep Mukherjee, Brand Head, Smoke House Deli. Likewise, Fairmont Jaipur as a palace hotel is renowned for organising varied natures of the sit down dining experience for its guests that curates a moment of exquisite luxury with some of the most elaborate and beautiful dining set ups followed by culinary extravaganzas from across the world. “For the guests looking forward to experience the traditional sit down dining experience of the Indian sub-continent, we have curated a dinner for the same at our Royal Cuisine Restaurant – Zarin. Seated together across the Imperial Tables of yore, the dining experience of Zarin ensures that each guest is welcomed with the traditional Rose Petal Hand Wash ritual followed by the Table D’hote menu highlighting the royal cuisines of the country. Thus, each month, the restaurant sees a regional cuisine like Rajasthani or Awadhi by the chef. The nature of service for the same is also quite extensive and traditional,” says Amit Kandwal, Director – Food & Beverage, Fairmont Jaipur.
Doing it Right
The key to planning a sit-down dinner is to know the audience and ensure that the menu offerings are in line with their preferences. “You want them to interact with the people at the table and also with the dish/drink in front of them – however the key is in the subtleties. We have taken great care to ensure that our teams both culinary and service are well-versed with the flow of events and how to replenish or interact with the guest without interrupting them. Our effort has been to create a seamless experience,” avers Seth. At The Courtyard an experiential space in Bengaluru, sit down dinners happen quite regularly and each time the theme and concept varies. The sit down dinner is a pop-up dining experience where diners gather to partake in a specially created and curated meal. While sit down dinners are generally still exclusive, invite-only evenings, ours diverge from these high culture roots. We stage them with a lighter touch and there is a greater communal aspect. It is where strangers meet around a single table and bond over dishes created by chefs with incredible talent. Each iteration will also need to feature a different theme/narrative. The only criterion is that they all tell a story with their food,” says Akhila Srinivas, Founder, The Courtyard.
Sit down dinning encourages communal gatherings and socialising between guests and the hosts. It allows the chefs the creative freedom to truly control the experience of the guests while enabling them to enjoy hassle quality time with the other guests, while each of the dishes served act as ice breakers or conversation enhancers. At Lore, Bangalore the menu is about harnessing quality local produce in an innovative approach while trying to engage all of the senses of the diner including tapping into their memories. “We were initially nervous about the guests not understanding what we were trying to do but the response has been quite overwhelming, most of our guests said they had never experienced anything like this and were looking forward to more. It has been a wonderful learning experience for us and having almost every guest sharing a unique memory associated to the flavors and dishes that were presented was the highlight for the team,” says Kaushik Raju, Founder, Lore Bangalore. Sit down diners are becoming popular among discerning food lovers who are looking for a unique gastronomic experience. Kanishka Sharma, Consultant Chef, The Courtyard & Founder, The Tenth Muse says, “minimum numbers are 26 seated at a long table with 5-6 courses, plated and served. Cuisines range from modern Indian to Asian to tapas and even a pork nose to tail. We are trying to showcase as many chefs as possible and let their creativity flow. The Courtyard is a culture and community space and the sit down dinners embodies this with great spirit. Not only does it build up an eclectic community of discerning diners but also a deep cache of talented, experimental and deeply passionate chefs. What really ensues is a form of food artistry that is an experience that should not be missed.”
The key challenge in a sit-down dinner is that it limits the number of people attending the do, as everything is planning. All the minute details need to be taken care of and that sometime can be a bit challenging. But sit-down dinners also offer a creative outlet for us as a team and can be a lot of fun while being equally meticulous. Chef Akshay Bharadwaj, Eastman Colour Private Limited adds, “the main challenge is to match the guest preferences and the creativity of the chef. Sometimes flavour profiles are a problem or sometimes the creations are not a perfect match. Thirdly the biggest issue is awareness as we need to help people understand the food as well as the concept which they are unaware of.” One of the other challenges in sit down dinners is that some guests have preconceived notions either through a prior experience or not having experienced a dinner like this before which may prove tricky to design the menu. “This apart, sudden changes at the last minute becomes a little difficult as we put in a lot of thought into every diners dietary restrictions beforehand when they make their reservations. That being said we have seen that once they do experience it their perspective completely changes and the appreciation towards the effort gone in makes it all worth it,” says Sharma. Sit down dinners are certainly a great way to take your taste buds on a culinary tour.