bpb review: NicoCaara, The Chanakya

Cloudy cotton maxis swing from hangers at The Chanakya’s new Nicobar store, in tune with staff at the seamlessly attached café, wiping down their wood and marble tabletops. The café’s facade blends with the mall’s glitziness, but the inside—quite like its sister store—it’s more like its Meherchand Market counterpart, meant for people slightly embarrassed about their wealth.What fits in with Hermès and Ted Baker is a certain self-confidence in the prices on the menu. To be fair, the left-hand side of this document makes for rather good reading: it boasts the use of organic produce and free-range eggs; combinations seem original; there’s lots to choose from. Also, few places in the city dedicate themselves to “small plates,” quite unlike the wave sweeping Mumbai and Bangalore.Cheenting At CardsBut what arrives at the table underwhelms when we take a bite. We settle for mango-and-coconut lassi as the watermelon-strawberry-pomegranate cold pressed juice is actually just an outsourced bottle. The lassi is pleasant, but not really tasty: its consistency is watery and the coconut vanishingly subtle. We’re sure it’s all fresh as a newborn baby’s laughter, but wonder why we can’t taste the ingredients for the marvel they’re made out to be.It’s hard to take our eyes off a beautiful avocado, raw papaya and raw mango salsa—summery green accented with coriander and a deep magenta edible flower, but it has the same promise-fulfillment problem. The bread on the side, a nice, well-toasted mouthful, is also a mismatch and overpowers the salad easily.Their “humble egg hopper” seems thoughtlessly named: it’s a disservice to label anything served with an edible flower in Delhi “humble”. This could’ve been a great dish, and we realise the kitchen tries hard to update a Sri Lankan classic. But we may be too far up north, in spite of the Indian Ocean vibes of the brand; the hopper’s idli-esque thickness dilutes the generous sprinkling of gunpowder in the batter. The egg topping is great on its own but lacks the gusto to stand up an equal to the dense hopper, despite the coconut-ty carrot shavings that accompany it.Duck Duck GoMiso duck wades across. It’s spectacular, crisp on the outside and precisely cooked within; it makes us wish there were more than four small chunks on the plate (we get that the concept is “small”, but even tapas plates in Spain have bigger helpings). An accompanying spinach purée, however, is slightly bitter and doesn’t feel compatible. Carrot and zucchini shavings manage to add some grace, but not quite enough for it to be an altogether well-rounded dish.Still, we entertain high hopes from the Atlantic salmon in rasam broth. Can such a thing really be imported from Irish-Icelandic shores and still remain fresh? The fish itself turns out to be tender and flaky, but bland. It doesn’t absorb the thick rasam broth, which tastes a bit like warmed gazpacho.Deciding to take one last shot, we test our luck with a “Malabar coffee chocolate pot”. What arrives is actually a martini glass with coffee-flavoured chocolate mousse, garnished with faux-golden coffee beans. It’s good, if not the kind of mousse we’d feel compelled to lick every trace of. Meanwhile, an “Ayurvedic blend” tea is really a Three Clive Road teabag in hot water, served in classic Nicobar crockery.We’re not sure whether NicoCaara is experiencing opening-week confusions over its identity, trying to bring to food the same valiant attempt to look effortless among the most ostentatious displays in central Delhi. The café is clearly torn between trying to please Nicobar babes and Chanakya kids. That isn’t an easy conflict to overcome. May we recommend some more deep diving?Getting there: 215, second floor, The Chankaya Mall, Chanakyapuri. A meal for two costs around Rs 4000.Accessibility: Valet parking and an elevator up to the second floor.bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.