Two kids and a decade later, my quest to woo the wife leads me to Zora...
Whiskey, with biryani masala in it? And so the evening starts with a question. One that is answered with a mildly tangy, smoky beverage that arrives in a regular tumbler but with a bay leaf sticking out of it and bits of ground spices floating in it. One sip and I’m sold on the idea of Whiskey Masala. It’s nothing like anything I’ve tasted before, and thus the tone is set for the rest of the evening at Zora. It all started with a post dinner conversation when my wife told me that we hadn’t been on a date in close to a decade! I suppose, despite my best intentions, I had let life’s inevitable routine, the stress of work and splitting attention between two children, take its toll. Dumbstruck, and somewhat abashed, I decided to take the bull by the horns. I asked friends, searched on the internet and then asked around some more before finally zeroing in on Zora. The brainchild of Priyanka and Joravar Sachdev, Zora is a casual dining restaurant unlike any other. There is absolutely nothing on their menu that you would get anywhere else for Priyanka, who is also the executive chef, believes in mixing things up. The cuisine is definitely Indian but is always served with a twist, something she would rather define as ‘Modern Indian’ cuisine instead of fusion food. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Zora is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Ishãnya mall in Yerwada, Pune.
In most cases that would be an instant negative because shopping malls are… well… shopping malls. They are noisy, crowded and parking is always an issue. Not at the Ishãnya mall though. Primarily a collection of furniture stores, some restaurants and pubs spread over a vast space, it is quite unlike any mall that you would normally come across. In this one exceptional case therefore, it is a plus. We chose to dine in airconditioned comfort given Pune’s current heat wave over the romance of an al fresco dining experience. The décor is a tad too contemporary for my tastes but doesn’t ruin the ambience. What I did like though was the way the place is lit up. Lights give a room warmth and create atmosphere. The lighting is subtle but not dark. So while it’s not great for selfies or food shots (they tend to come out a bit too yellow) you can still see what’s on your plate and therefore appreciate the presentation. The other thing I liked about this place is the volume of the ambient music. I frequently get put off at restaurants where the management’s idea of light background music can actually serve as an example of din. It’s a conversation killer and has the potential to give anyone a headache. The music at Zora is actually background music and it does really stay at the back. The menu, food and bar is superbly curated and every single thing you see in the leather bound menu is eclectic.
All soups are served with lavash bark while the shorbas are served with garlic buttered brun. There is a good selection of salads to choose from as well (we were told that the spicy okra salad in amchoor vinaigrette is the one to go for if you like spicy food) but the starters and main course looked good enough for us to skip salad and go straight to the starters. But before we get to that I must take time out to mention the kind of cocktails they serve. Of course you can get your regular selection of spirits and beers but I would really urge you to try out their signature cocktails. The missus, a great fan of the legendary Bloody Mary, chose to go with a Mowgli while I, a dyed-in-the wool whisky fan, decided to fly with the Whiskey Masala. I must say, both are top class and highly recommended. For the entrée we were recommended the Bhut Jolokia Tandoori Murgh with Cilantro foam. It is essentially a conventional tandoori chicken but the marinade contains extracts of the super-hot Bhut Jolokia chilli from Assam. The other entrée we chose was Kerala Prawn Fry with Coconut foam. Both turned out to be excellent. The tender and succulent pieces of chicken had a pleasantly stinging quality on the tongue, the prawn was more neutral (not sweet). Our main course, again on the recommendation of the staff, comprised Matka Butter Chicken Lasagne with Crusty Masala Naan and Laal Maas with Sharp Cheddar Naan Pancakes. The butter chicken is a fusion between the traditional dish and conventional lasagna with layers of cheese separating layers of chicken. Slightly sweet on the palate, it is served with the masala naan to balance out the flavours.
The laal maas, on the other hand, is more on the traditional side with the cheddar naan pancakes setting the overall dish apart from a traditional laal maas. We finished the night with White Chocolate Blueberry Kulfi with Kumquat Mousse and Strawberry Splat and an Old Monk Chocolate Cake with Malai ice-cream and Brandy snaps. By the time we were done we could barely move. Although I must say, the entrée and the main course has the edge on the desserts. I could really go on and on (and perhaps I have) but I think I’ll wrap this one up. Zora is a place for the new age evolved man and his better half. It has taken everything from the world of convention and has added a contemporary twist to it while retaining the essence of that food. It is for people who like to experiment with food and try different flavours. As for me, better late than never, said the wise men from the distant past. And Zora was a great start to rekindling date night for us. How can a decade worth of memories and shared moments be anything but enjoyable, especially when teamed up with good food, a wonderful ambience and a gracious host? Till the next date night then, adios.