In a world where collaborations, pop-ups and celebrity-driven food have become the norm, it’s admittedly hard to break through the clutter. But The Ritz-Carlton in Pune is willing to try. The luxury hotel has just launched a concept residency restaurant at its poolside bar and grill, Alta Vida. The space will be home to the well-known Bali-based restaurant, Nusantara, for the next six months, dishing out authentic Indonesian fare, inspired by the island nation’s diverse culinary repertoire and regional influences. After six months, Alta Vida will feature a completely different concept and cuisine. The idea is for it to act as a canvas to showcase a line-up of international chefs/restaurants, each of whom will bring their own culinary expertise and know-how.
Director of Culinary at The Ritz-Carlton Pune, chef Mayyur Tiwari, tells me that the program seeks to offer new experiences to discerning customers. “We have two speciality restaurants, Aasmana and Ukiyo for Indian and Japanese fare. We weren’t too excited about adding another permanent F&B offering. Plus, we didn’t see the viability of changing our speciality restaurant menus every six months. So, we thought, why not showcase a concept where we can have a roster of different international chefs come in and cook for guests for an extended period, instead?” It ticked all the boxes, he explains, adding that in the last couple of years, people have been starved of travel. “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, given that markets like Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru are often considered top picks. “People here know their food well. They are travelling a lot and it’s an upcoming market.” Nusantara was a good first pick because Balinese food aligns well with the Indian palate, he points out. “Indians like travelling to Bali and the cuisine is quite flavoursome.” Given the limited kitchen space that Alta Vida offers, the concept will lend itself well largely to grills, rather than full-fledged main courses, which also works in the case of Balinese cuisine.
Chef Tiwari believes that this way, it not only challenges the in-house culinary team but helps them upskill and learn new techniques with every restaurant residency that they host. But how does a concept like this work? Chef Ray Adriansyah (who also co-helms sister restaurant Locavore, regularly rated among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants), along with his team will lead the first episode of the residency program. He will visit Pune every other month after getting things in place and training the in-house team. The kitchen will be led by a dedicated team of all-women chefs from the Ritz-Carlton hotel, who will be running 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 a concept of this kind, outlining the fact that the hotel has also strived to be at the top of culinary trends in the city. It breaks the monotony for not just their team, but those visiting their restaurants in-residence, too. “Guests will look forward to trying new cuisines helmed by international chefs, ever so often,” he adds.
While sourcing ingredients native to a particular cuisine can be a challenging affair, the hotel has tried to manage this as locally as possible, by working with alternative ingredients that are sure to ease up inventory management. For instance, cassava leaves are sourced from Kerala. To that end, the team is also working with local farmers to grow lemon, basil, chayote, kyuri cucumber and moringa leaves.
A Tropical Sojourn
Coming back to Alta Vida, it has a breezy, open-air setting, making it an ideal spot for an evening soiree. High-top tables overlook the sleek bar and open kitchen so you can watch the chefs in action, while cabanas and sofas take up the rest of the space.
The menu for their first residency is divided into six sections, featuring amuse-bouche, small plates, big plates and rice preparations, alongside a list of fiery sambals and desserts. The cocktail list is compact, Asian and tropical, with just seven craft beverages. If you want to experience tableside theatrics, try out the signature Minuman Rasa Kelapa, a mixology experience where you can watch your cocktail being made and then served in a young coconut and topped with garnishes.
Nusantara, which translates to ‘archipelago’ in Indonesian, is known for spotlighting local, seasonal produce and using ethically-sourced meats, gathering inspiration from the over 17,000 islands that make up the country. Many of the dishes they cook are lesser-known, hyperlocal and not typically found outside of those regions. And you’ll find that here as well.
The snack wheel or berbagi rasa works as a great primer for Indonesian food with an assortment of small bites, such as tropical fruit marinated in rice vinegar and chillies; cassava crackers; salted fish; and deep-fried yam. Though, this can be an acquired taste for some.
Moringa soup or jukut kelor mesanten from Munggu, West Bali, is served inside a coconut with the flesh intact so that you can scoop it out later. Other worthy dishes include the stir-fried banana blossom, a dish native to North Sulawesi; marinated chicken cooked on a wood-fire; flavoursome rice; sate languan, which is essentially marinated tuna grilled on skewers and popular in Central Bali; and desserts like Es Legenda, made with frozen coconut milk infused with pandan leaves, fresh jackfruit, avocado, white bread and mango jam. Skippable from this list are the braised prawns in a soupy broth and Klappertaart, a sweet but dense dessert.
What’s telling is that the food manages to transport you to Bali, with relatively unexplored flavours, in India at least. Chef Adriansyah points out that their aim was to break the stereotype or notion that Indonesian food is limited to mainstream dishes such as Nasi Goreng or satays. “We’ve made the decision to cook this style of provincial fare, just how you would find in that particular region.”
For five-star hotels that are now competing with standalone restaurants, it’s certainly an interesting time to be upping their F&B game, given that diners are constantly looking for innovative experiences. “We’re doing something similar to what some standalone restaurants do internationally. They close up for two months, journey to find new flavours and come back with a new menu. We’ll do it every six months,” chef Tiwari promises.
Alta Vida is open everyday (dinner only)
Timing: 6:00 pm to 12:00 am
Reservations: +91 20 6767 5000
Address: The Ritz-Carlton Pune, Golf Course Square, Airport Road, Yerawada.
Image credits: Ritz Carlton, Pune.