On a different plane
Richard Hargroves is busy mixing a Sakazuki Cooler cocktail for a select audience comprising food critics, bloggers and journalists on a Saturday evening. The occasion is the informal launch of Dragonfly, a tastefully-designed Pan-Asian restobar, the brainchild of restaurateur Priyank Sukhija and rap musician Badshah, a few days before its formal opening on May 18.
"There is a buzz about Aerocity these days. I have experienced a similar excitement at Cyber Hub, when I visited India a few years ago. At that time, Cyber Hub provided an alternative to those bored with Connaught Place and Khan Market. But Aerocity has other things going for it. It is an emerging food district attracting the best names in the food business, with good reason," says the celebrated UK-based mixologist.
The cavernous Dragonfly, with cocktail bars spread over two levels, isn't the only new F&B outfit opening its doors at Aerocity. Equally being anticipated is One8, Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli's second foray into food entrepreneurship in the national capital region after Nueva. Adding to the list of marquee names in the food industry already here - such as Zorawar Kalra's Farzi Café, The Kylin Experience by Saurabh Khanijo, Kampai by Avantika Sinha Bahl and Liv Bar by Umang Tewari - are new players such as the tapas bar La Roca and Daryaganj, which wants to resurrect and popularise traditional Old Delhi cuisine.
According to Sukhija, the biggest factor driving diners as well as restaurateurs to Aerocity is the international vibe it exudes. "It boasts close to 5,000 hotel rooms with almost 80 per cent occupancy right next to the airport. This provides restaurateurs with an enormous captive audience. There is a large expat population from across the world that works in its many corporate offices and shopping arcades and this includes Japanese nationals. Apart from weekends, this demographic of working professionals ensures that walk-ins are decent even on weekdays. On weekends, well, you'll be lucky to find a reservation."
THE BIZ BEHIND THE BUZZ
On a Saturday evening, MAIL TODAY decided to discover for ourselves what the hype around Aerocity was all about. At the outset, when you first go through the clockwork security checks adjacent to the neat array of five-star hotels close to Terminal 3, you may be lulled into believing that you are in for a quiet evening. But a few metres away, you first hear the buzz of diners talking animatedly as they alight from their cabs and walk towards Aerocity's restaurants and clubs. They are revved up about experiencing its throbbing nightlife and eating at the many quirky restaurants. Take Plum by Bent Chair, a collaboration between Bent Chair, a décor and furniture brand and a restaurant chain. At the bright, cheery outlet, we bypass the serpentine queue of those waiting to be seated and run into a gang of girls led by 25-yearold event management professional Ashna Khanna. Khanna and her group are busy cutting a cake, ordering Blueberry and Elderflower cocktails, and, of course, posing for selfies. "The place has a theme that we haven't seen anywhere else," says Khanna. "Everything along with the food - the chairs we sit on, the carpet on the floor, the furnishings, even the decorative horses suspended from the ceiling - can be purchased. Clearly, a lot of effort has gone into planning its décor." Also, it makes for great pictures. "The neon sign that reads 'Don't be glum sugar plum' inspired a hashtag which was trending on Instagram," says her friend Priyanka Khokker, 25, a Civil Services aspirant.
Adjacent to Plum by Bent Chair is Farzi Café, a name most foodies associate with dramatic presentation of food. At Aerocity, they've amped up the drama a notch higher, with live music. The evening we visit them, the band RigMona is in the house with Rigden Yolmo setting the tone on the guitar, keyboard and drums and singer Monalisa Rai serenading guests. "Even before you order one of our signature dishes such as chicken tikka masala served in telephone booth, you've got into the groove to liven up your mood," says restaurant manager Govind Khanna. "Unlike many others, we like to promote home-grown talent. Some of the bands who've performed at Farzi include Rig-Mona, Delhi Indie Project, Antariksh and Lekka Collective," says Khanna. "The idea is to position Aerocity as an entertainment destination, along with of course, the food."
In case rock doesn't rock your boat, or you are in the mood to explore the clubbing scene, check out Toy Room, a world-class club that has set up shop in Delhi after Athens, London, Rome, Mykonos, Istanbul and Sao Paulo. The nomenclature is a trope on playfulness in an adult setting. A large sign near the entrance reads 'Sinners Welcome.' The vibe is distinctly young with loud hip-hop music being belted out by deejays Kaushal and Nikunj and signature cocktails with risqué names such as Porn Star Martini doing brisk business. And if you have the urge to splurge and deep pockets to go with it, the club will indulge you with champagne and make a big deal of it. "Champagne, after all, is about celebration. So, when anybody orders a bottle, customised signs with messages such as 'Happy Birthday' slide down from the ceiling. The order is accompanied by entertainment in the form of artistes and dwarfs," says Vipin Vijay, GM (operations), Toy Room Delhi. Vijay says Toy Room gets about 35-40 orders every day. So clearly, purchasing power isn't an issue here. Which brings us to the popular clubbing options in the five-star hotels.
ONE FOR PROFESSIONALS
Steve Wadsworth, 35, a sales manager from UK, says the proximity of Aerocity to the airport is a big plus. Sitting on a bar stool at the luxe Hong Kong Club with fellow Englishman Jim Collins, 32, a technical manager based in Lucknow, Wadsworth says Aerocity reminds him of Clarke Quay in Singapore. "The Hong Kong Club, for instance, is a classy outfit run professionally. Also, it is really spacious. Coming in here, with its large wine racks and island bar, you feel you are walking into a skyscraper. Also, the service here, like most places I've visited in Aerocity, is top notch." Aditya Vij, 31, a businessman and jewellery exporter, has strolled down from Roseate House, where he is staying, for a drink at the Andaz. Vij says the music and drinks here are presented most interestingly. "They customise the cocktails based on zodiac signs. According to Chinese astrology, I was born in the Year of the Bull and they have a drink to go with my sign. Also, deejay Nicole, who is playing this month, keeps away from Hip Hop and Bollywood numbers. As a businessman who has to travel frequently, the House Music at Hong Kong Club goes with the club's understated ambience."
According to restaurateur and food historian Osama Jalali, the biggest factor going for Aerocity vis-à-vis other food districts is its setting. "It is positioned bang in the middle of a bustling hotel district. In fact, it's a food hub that has come up around a hotel district. The occupancy is high since the rentals - from `5,000 to `20,000 - cater to audiences with different budgets. With the addition of new clubs to the nightlife - upscale restaurants such as Kampai, Farzi Café and La Rocha can even serve as pre-party destinations."
One of the facets of Aerocity which goes unnoticed is a sense of security and ease of parking, says Mohit Pruthi, vice-president, head retail, branding and brand communication, Bharti Realty, that has developed the Worldmark towers, which house many of the popular eating outlets, luxury band stores and corporate offices. "Crowd management is easier with private security augmenting the police's efforts," adds Pruthi. Advocate Vikas Pahwa, 50, says Aerocity is conveniently located for him to meet friends in Gurgaon. "It has many more open spaces than Cyber Hub." Naysayers who doubted Aerocity's viability when restaurateurs began thronging it a few years ago have been proved wrong. In any cosmopolitan city around the world, whether it is New York, Sydney or Singapore, the emergence of a new hub needn't come at the cost of another, reasons Chef Vikramjit Roy of Whisky Samba. So the popularity of Aerocity needn't pull down a Cyber Hub or a Connaught Place. "Every city should have multiple nightlife and food hubs. All of them end up promoting the eating out habit. The client database is expanding. And we should be glad for it," says Roy. We are not complaining!