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11.02.2016

Contrary to what its name suggests, {Niche} is instead mainstream hip, yet another speak-easy-inspired, leather-and-wood dominated bar. The curly parenthesis around it’s name do little to protect it from becoming every Tom, Dick and Harry’s version of “nice,” although there is a visible amount of effort and money poured into producing the formulaically cool.

Who or what is to blame for Delhi’s omnipresent, yawn-producing wooden patios, California-style wooden platters and necessary taco listings? And when is this over-produced, wincingly-wannabe wave going to be replaced with something local, non-referential, and non-derivative? We write this review with a more than small dose of ennui, and half a desire to make Pinterest illegal in this town.

Straight & Narrow

Niche is huge, and the outdoor seating area is nice – we use the word consciously, because that’s really what it is – bland, old, nice. The staff is attentive but even during opening week, the place is desolate. Later, we find that a restaurant called Chew downstairs has large families captivated by Punjabi-inspired Pan Asian food.

The menu, though beautifully printed and well-written, has not a scintilla of originality, suffused with “updated” Indian dishes (chicken tikka with wasabi foam) and all the other plates that belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time in contemporary urban India (grilled cheese, grilled fish, pasta, wood fired pizza).

The cocktail menu, which impressively is as large as the food menu – offers more innovation, with air in every flavor, and liquor from every corner. Moreover, the bartender is sweet enough to make us something warm, wintery and off the menu: a honey, lemon and vodka drink that comes out really, wait for a slight twist….. nicely.

Not For Everyone…. Or Anyone?

Most of the food we order is far from memorable but not bad enough to complain about loudly or send back. Malabar Prawns, which we order for starters, are generously flavored with juicy coconut and spices, however at almost Rs. 200 a pop (we only get two) we’re wondering if portion control is a way to keep this place, um, niche. New Age Caesar Salad makes us think that here, New Age basically means difficult to eat: while we love the glassy beetroot chips, the leaves are un-chopped, the dressing far from fresh and the temperature moderated egg almost too cold to bite in to. With lingering hope that things will improve, we proceed to order from a section titled ‘M.A.I.N.S’ – these letters stand for nothing, but even if the quirk is an error, we applaud it in this land of nondescript.

Unfortunately, save for some excellent chicken tikka with non-value adding wasabi foam, the dishes continue to be marked with loads of effort and zero character. A Bengali fish sandwich, accompanied with (you know it) fries in an Amsterdam inspired cone, misses any spot that could possibly be hit. We do appreciate the chef’s willingness to grill rather than fry the fish as per our request, but this customization is not enough to bring us back. Finally, the last thing we eat – chilli aam papad Chilean pork ribs – plays its part in our meh-inducing story: the pork is not tender enough to write home about, and the aam-papad Chilean hybrid is a mere theoretical match, too blah to move us, even in the wrong direction. Also, as our eating partner pushes us to add, the ribs are “weak-sized,” unlike the chicken tikka that he notices are made with “good thigh pieces and therefore not dry.”

Actually, the thing we may remember the most about {Niche} is the bill – not so much for its price (which raises no surprises) but for its presentation: it comes out in a fishbowl full of sugar-coated saunf. Because we assume we’re amongst the first to fish through the candy for the bill, we’re happy, but this does little to negate the fast onset of niche amnesia. We chant as we pay: ‘same old, same new.’

Getting there: M16, M Block, Connaught Place, Outer Circle, call 9599289970, Rs. 3998 for two with two rounds of drinks (ordered in the hope of creating a distinct experience).

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.

 

 

 

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