In a world where collabs, pop-ups, and celebrity dining have become the norm, it’s admittedly hard to break the clutter. But the Ritz-Carlton in Pune is willing to try. The luxury hotel has just opened a concept in-house restaurant at its Alta Vida pool bar and grill. For the next six months, the space will house the well-known Balinese restaurant Nusantara, which will serve authentic Indonesian dishes inspired by the island nation’s diverse culinary repertoire and regional influences. After six months, the Alta Vida will come up with a completely different concept and a completely different cuisine. The idea is that it acts as a canvas to showcase a range of international chefs/restaurants, each bringing their own culinary expertise and know-how.
Chef Mayyur Tiwari, Director of Culinary at The Ritz-Carlton Pune, tells me the program aims to offer new experiences for discerning customers. “We have two specialty restaurants, Aasmana and Ukiyo, for Indian and Japanese cuisine. We weren’t too keen on adding another permanent F&B offering. Additionally, we saw no way to change our specialty restaurant menus every six months. So, we thought, why not come up with a concept where instead we have a list of different international chefs and we can cook for the guests for a longer period of time?” It ticked all the boxes, he explains, adding that the people in the starved of travel in recent years. “It made sense that we use food as a bridge to offer guests something new and exciting every few months,” he notes.
Why Pune? I ask him as markets like Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru are often considered top picks. “People here know their food well. They travel a lot and it’s an emerging market.” Nusantara was a good choice because Balinese food suits Indian palates, he points out. “Indians like to travel to Bali and the cuisine is very tasty.” Given the limited kitchen space Alta Vida offers, the concept lends itself more to grilled dishes than full-fledged main courses, which also works in the case of Balinese cuisine.
Chef Tiwari believes doing this not only challenges the in-house culinary team, but helps them educate themselves and learn new techniques with each restaurant residency they host. But how does such a concept work? Executive Chef Ray Adriansyah (who also heads sister restaurant Locavore, regularly ranked among the top 50 restaurants in Asia) will join his team to oversee the first installment of the residency program. He will visit Pune every two months after setting everything up and training the internal team. The kitchen will be managed by a dedicated team of Ritz-Carlton Hotel chefs, who will helm the show in his absence as well as for future restaurant residencies.
In terms of building a profitable business model, Chef Tiwari is confident that Pune is ready for such a concept, underscoring the fact that the hotel also strives to be at the forefront of culinary trends in the city. It breaks the monotony not only for her team but also for those who frequent her restaurants in residence. “Guests will look forward to trying new cuisines under the direction of international chefs,” he adds.
While sourcing ingredients from a specific cuisine can be a tricky proposition, the hotel has tried to keep this as local as possible by working with alternative ingredients that certainly make inventory management easier. For example, cassava leaves are sourced from Kerala. To this end, the team also works with local farmers to source lemons, basil, chayote, Kyuri cucumber and moringa Leaves.
A tropical stay
Getting back to Alta Vida, it has a breezy, open-air setting, making it an ideal spot for an evening soiree. Tall tables overlook the sleek bar and open kitchen, allowing you to watch the chefs at work, while cabanas and sofas take up the rest of the space.
The menu for your first residency is divided into six sections amuse-bouchesmall plates, large plates and rice concoctions, alongside a list of fiery dishes sambals and desserts. The cocktail menu is compact, Asian and tropical, with just seven craft drinks. If you want to experience theater at the table, try the Signature Minuman Rasa Kelapaa mixology experience where you can watch as your cocktail is made and then served in a young coconut and topped with accompaniments.
Nusantara, which means ‘archipelago’ in Indonesian, is known for putting the spotlight on local, seasonal produce and using ethically sourced meats, drawing inspiration from the 17,000+ islands that make up the country. Many of the dishes they prepare are lesser known, hyper-local and not typically found outside of these regions. And you can find that here too.
The snack wheel berbagi rasa makes a great base for Indonesian food with a selection of small bites such as B. Tropical fruits marinated in rice vinegar and chillies; manioc Cracker; salted fish; and fried yams. However, this may be an acquired taste for some.
Moringa soup or jukut kelor mesanten from Munggu, West Bali, is served in a coconut with the flesh intact for you to scoop later. Other worthy dishes include fried banana flower, a dish native to North Sulawesi; marinated chicken cooked over a wood fire; tasty rice; Sate langua, which is essentially marinated tuna grilled on a skewer and popular in central Bali; and desserts like It Legendamade with frozen coconut milk that is infused with panda Leaves, fresh jackfruit, avocado, white bread and mango jam. Skippable from this list are the braised prawns in a broth and rattling taart, a sweet but dense dessert.
Revealingly, the food manages to transport you to Bali with relatively unexplored flavors, at least in India. Chef Adriansyah points out that their aim was to break the stereotype or notion that Indonesian food is limited to mainstream dishes like nasi goreng or satays. “We made the decision to prepare these types of provincial dishes, just like you would find in that particular region.”
For five-star hotels now competing with standalone restaurants, it’s certainly an interesting time to step up their F&B game as guests continually seek innovative experiences. “We’re doing something similar to some standalone restaurants internationally. They close for two months, take a journey to find new flavors and come back with a new menu. We do that every six months,” promises chef Tiwari.
Alta Vida is open daily (dinner only)
Timed coordination: 18:00 to 00:00
Reservations: +91 20 6767 5000
address: The Ritz-Carlton Pune, Golf Course, Airport Road, Yerawada.
Photo credit: Ritz Carlton, Pune.