India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
June 20, 2012

More Power To Lunch

Text by Sonal Ved.

Call it ‘table d’hôte’ in your sleek French accent or simply say ‘set meal’. But the next time you want to power lunch, Verve suggests you indulge in this impressive, pre-designed, prix fixe menu

It’s lunchtime. SanQi, the two-storied restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai is buzzing with power-suited businessmen. All ready to talk business over an ambrosial lunch, yet too busy to be bothered with skimming the longish menu. In comes Vikas Sharma – host for the afternoon and the director of F and B at the hotel. He instructs the staff to clear the table covered over with food and drink menus and hands out one lean board. This page is titled ‘set menu’ and if Sharma is to be believed, set meals are the next ‘it’ thing on the corporate circuit, making them the power lunches of the moment.

A set meal, as the name suggests, contains dishes that are handpicked by the chefs from across different courses. When put together, these components form a wholesome meal that aptly fits the idea of a spiffy, working lunch. “While meeting potential clients, business partners and investors over a midday meal, this is an excellent way to connect with like-minded people, set meals provide an excellent background for networking,” says Chef Paul Kinny from InterContinental, Marine Drive. At Chef Kinny’s restaurants Koh, Corleone and Kebab Korner, set meals are an integral part of lunch-time requests, and a majority of the diners are working professionals.
Since most work luncheons are tight-scheduled, set meals fit the bill just right. “Here diners simply have to pick one ‘set’ and be assured of a good meal,” says Cedric Klein-Jochem, executive assistant manager of food and beverage at The Oberoi, Mumbai. Such a setting works better than ordering from an à la carte menu or repeatedly getting up to refill plates from the buffet spread.

The reason why set meals are taking over humdrum lunching options is because they make dining fuss-free without cutting down on the opulence that one associates fine dining with. Take for instance the charming Italian restaurant Vetro, at The Oberoi Mumbai. Here, set menus are no less than a grand, four-course affair. The epicurean journey begins with the patrons choosing from an array of anti pasti options that range from Italian-themed salads such as fig with feta, mozzarella and tomato caprese, artisan cheeses and pickled vegetables. Next comes a steamy bowl of hearty, gourmet soup made with ingredients such as asparagus, prochini mushrooms and smoked tomato. The mains are a tasteful selection of mascarpone and artichoke-stuffed ravioli, potato gnocchi, linguini with clams, seared sea bass with a delicate potato timbale and the likes. The last course fills you with a healthy bowl of chopped fruits.

While designing set meals for lunching professionals, most chefs try to create the right mood with the help of food. Since most businessmen are likely to indulge in business talk over lunch more than dinner, this meal needs to be light, healthy and energising. One such set meal is available at Koh, InterContinental Marine Drive’s Thai restaurant. “The Asian set lunch has healthy options such as a mushrooms, broccoli and baby corn stir-fry with fresh spices, light Vietnamese rice with wood ear mushrooms and scallions to fill you just right without preparing you for a siesta,” says Chef Kinny.

The same can be said for the Thai set meal at SanQi that comes packed with a crispy satay, green papaya salad and ginger-tossed tofu served in a svelte glass plate. Or the golden-wood cased Japanese bento box full with udon noodle salad, garden fresh vegetables, miso soup, plum-powder sprinkled rice and a tastefully done green tea sorbet with red bean jam for that midday sugar rush. “The food needs to be carefully crammed with vital nutrients and sugar to help you get going through the day,” says Chef Kinny.

While Indians have just hopped on to the bandwagon, wooing clients over set meals is a thing of the past for New York-based Per Se, a restaurant by Chef Thomas Keller and London’s Dinner and Claridges by Chef Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay respectively. At these restaurants, well-heeled businessmen have been indulging in hand-crafted, fine menus for over half a decade and it still continues to be a hot favourite among Wall Street walkers.

In India, a power lunch is usually a place where deals are negotiated, sales are discussed, agreements are made and deals are struck. With little planning, you convert this prix fixe lunch into a meal to remember. Not only will it help during cost crunching days, it can also save the chaos of figuring out what to order course-by-course. At least that’s a fine start – adding more power to your power lunch.

DIY set lunch at home

  • When it comes to business lunches, the meal should be restricted to three to four courses. It is important to have the right number of courses, as too little may not amount to a meal and too much may take away from the essence of a working luncheon.
  • Ensure that you opt for foods that retain texture when kept out for long. Instead of a spinach or cabbage-based salad that wilts or desserts such as tarts and sorbets, opt for sturdy dishes like a mixed green salad, couscous salad, gooey chocolate cake, potato mash.
  • Your first course should always be soups. During summers, opt for cold soups; go for warm broths for winter. Follow this with a light salad or an appetiser. Move on to a filling main that is easy to handle like a hot savoury soufflé or a quiche. Lastly, you can choose from a fruit-based dessert, chocolate truffles and macaroons.
  • While cuisines such as Asian, Indian and Italian are most preferred, you can also experiment with Spanish and Mediterranean food.
  • Business lunches can be served in a stylish box or tray, except dessert which needs to be pre-plated on a dessert plate and served with a dessert spoon or fork. With a box, you will have to restrict your courses to three – soup, salad and one main. If you plan on serving it one by one, you can do more courses – starting with soup, followed by salad, an appetiser, one or two mains and a dessert.
  • A basket of homemade breads at the centre with some herbed butter can win you brownie points. Pick from healthy options such as multi grain, rye or spelt bread available at delis across the city.
  • Keep in mind your guests’ likes, dislikes and allergies so you can incorporate them into your cooking.

(Inputs from Chef Ashish Shome from Hyatt Regency, Mumbai and Yakuta Sarkari from Cold Food Company.)

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