On February 7, 2020, the LF Epicurean Guild Awards (LFEGA) saw the culmination of the greatest minds and talents from the F&B industry under one roof. It was a grand affair and even more spirited celebration of chefs, restaurateurs, food entrepreneurs and bloggers worthy of recognition.
As a restaurant award that seeks to acknowledge food, innovation and the people powering this, in equal measure, LFEGA’s 18-member jury, co-curator Manu Chandra and the team at LF have spent months planning, debating, discussing and secretly eating through this country’s food landscape to pluck out the best from the rest. To that end, this award has evolved with time to represent the evolving industry.
That is precisely why LFEGA 2020 had new and interesting categories like the Book of the Year, which went to human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar for her book The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship, and food historian Salma Yusuf Hussain for The Mughal Feast: Recipes from the Kitchen of Emperor Shah Jahan. It also introduced the Best Western-Inspired Restaurant award, and sub-categorised the Nightlife Category in keeping with the times and evolution of the nightlife of urban India. Sidecar, Delhi walked away with the award for the top Cocktail bar of the country, while AntiSOCIAL won the Best Live Music Bar award.
Categories such as the Best Indian Craft Beer went to Goa Brewing Co for their funky new IPA called Eight Finger Eddie and Best Indian Wines awarded to KRSMA Estate for their conscientious approach to wines and specifically the Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, sought to give a platform to and create awareness around cool, youth-friendly food brands.
LFEGA also recognised and celebrated the industry’s veterans and stalwarts. Among them, The Changemaker of the Year was Riyaaz Amlani, for his role in reinventing the night life of urban India. Chef of the Year went to Prateek Sadhu for his non-conformist approach to food, and the Lifetime Achievement Award went to restaurateur A.D. Singh who changed the Indian F&B scene by introducing cafes, diners and the idea of premium casualness in the restaurant scene in India. The award for Food Micro Blogger of the Year went to MasterchefMom Uma Raghuraman and Food Entertainer of the Year was awarded to chef and television host Ranveer Brar, for the show, Himalayas The Offbeat Adventure.
This is not all. Continuing the tradition recognising establishments that have taken the road less travelled, LFEGA 2020 also acknowledged India’s most inclusive restaurants. Namely, Ishaara, Mumbai, which is a platform for those with speech-and-hearing disability to be inducted into the hospitality world; Kitty Su at The Lalit Mumbai, for playing a veritable role in encouraging indivuals with disability and those from the queer community as performance artistes; and Writer’s Café, Chennai, which has provided a safe haven to acid attack and domestic abuse survivors.
The other much-awaited category was the Oyster Club which recognises hidden gems serving unique local cuisine that is making the right noises about Indian food. Restaurants like Pearls and Chiffon at Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner, The Culinarium in Coonoor, The Shap in Kozhikode, Michinga Restaurant in Guwahati and Sorshia & Co in Kohima.
This is your definitive guide to the best restaurants across the country - featuring establishments that offer unique experiences
Best Chinese Restaurant – Yauatcha, Mumbai
In a country that has a long historical and geographical connection with China, Chinese food has found its own repertoire, reflected best in our own version of the cuisine – Indian Chinese or Chindian. But there is an emerging interest in authentic Chinese food, which is being tapped into by a few new restaurants and a trend that has piggybacked on diners like Yauatcha, which have tried to re-introduce Indians to Chinese fare in a nuanced and informed manner. The award-winning restaurants under the Hakkasan label with outposts in the West and Middle East, entered the Indian market in a collaboration with Karyna Bajaj’s KA Hospitality and has been lauded for its imaginative and modern take on Chinese food. The brand has grown considerably over the last few years with outlets in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata and has garnered a steady patronage.
Best Japanese Restaurant – Megu, The Leela Palace, Delhi
After a one-year hiatus, The Best Japanese Restaurant category made a comeback at the LFEGA in 2020, thanks to the burst of Japanese restaurant openings across the country and a newfound intrigue in the cuisine. Located inside The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri, Megu is a Japanese speciality restaurant, known best for its modern interpretation of Japanese cuisine. The tastefully done up restaurant makes use of authentic Japanese ingredients to whip up specials like the Alaskan king crab, cucumber salad and salmon tartare.
Best Multi-Asian Restaurant – Koko, Mumbai
For the second time in a row, Koko, a multi-Asian restaurant and the brainchild of brothers Keenan and Ryan Tham from the restaurateur family, bagged the Best Multi-Asian Restaurant at the LFEGA 2020. The Tham family has had a long saga with Asian food, dating back to the 1980s, when they launched Mumbai’s iconic Chinese haunt, Kamling, which shut its doors to become Foo Town in 2019. Koko offers a range of Asian eats at relatively affordable prices and has blossomed into something of a celeb den over the years. The restaurant’s USP lies in maintaining consistency while simultaneously redefining itself.
Best Italian Restaurant – Vetro, The Oberoi, Mumbai
Vetro is a luxury restaurant inside The Oberoi in Mumbai that offers authentic Neapolitan cuisine. Helmed by Francesco Francavilla, a seasoned chef, the Vetro kitchen dishes out delicacies like ravioli, risotto, salads and fazzoletti, among other things. The restaurant has been lauded among food critics and one of its highlights include a well-stocked wine cellar and a menu that has been created with the help of Rome’s popular Michelin star Imago and Hassler Hotel to retain authenticity.
Best Western Inspired Restaurant – Toast & Tonic, Bengaluru
A new-age European diner located in BKC, Toast & Tonic, co-owned by Manu Chandra with chef Chirag Makhwana heading the kitchen, is a homage to modern American dining and tries to imbibe the spirit of the ubiquitously present and chic diners of New York’s East Village. On offer are a range of delectable eats that are culinarily imaginative, making use of the best ingredients, like cheese from the Begum Victoria cheese cave, home-cured meats and fresh produce along with modern cooking techniques.
Best Seafood Restaurant – Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel, Bengaluru
Launched in 1990, Karavalli located inside The Gateway Hotel Residency in Bengaluru from the Taj Group of hotels, is a seafood lover’s go-to spot. The well-researched and authentic menu pays homage to heirloom recipes and the vibrant cuisine of India’s south. It has been lauded for using the freshest of catch with diners being offered a glance at the catch of the day so they can choose their pick. The menu, designed by chef Naren Thimmaiah, features coastal treats from the southwestern belt, many of them sourced from Thattu Kadas in the region.
Best Progressive Indian Restaurant – Avartana, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
Avartana means rhythm, iteration, mysticism and magic – all of which the South Indian restaurant inside ITC Grand Chola in Chennai tries to imbibe. Presenting South Indian flavours and the robust culinary heritages of the Deccan, this luxury fine dine offers a plethora of dishes, alongside carefully curated tasting menus, comprising authentic dishes and modern takes on traditional recipes. As a restaurant that tries to reimagine heritage South Indian cuisines with modern plating and new-age techniques, Avartana is as much Indian as it is progressive, making it a befitting winner for this category.
Best Emerging Indian Restaurant – O Pedro, Mumbai
Since its inception in 2016, O Pedro – a Goan-Portuguese casual dining space from the Hunger Inc hospitality brand (which gave Mumbai The Bombay Canteen) – has been functioning like a melting pot, where all the stories of Goa and its Portuguese culinary heritage come together. Helmed by chef Hussain Shahzad, O Pedro offers a refined experience for discerning diners who are looking to deep dive into Goan food. Here, it is redefined and revised using modern formats and culinary frameworks offering a peak into the possible future of Indian food.
Best Traditional Indian Restaurant – Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel, Bengaluru
In the last two decades, Karavalli has maintained a steady patronage by upholding the values of authenticity and quality. One of Bengaluru’s finest diners, the beauty of Karavalli lies in its ability to weave innovation and expertise into traditional recipes from the South. It has shone the light on several untapped micro-cuisines from the southwestern belt, which has culminated in a menu featuring dishes from Mangalore and Coorg and representative of communities such as the Syrian Christians, Calicut Muslims, Havyaka Brahmins and the Portuguese from Goa.
Best Live Performance Venue / Nightclub – AntiSOCIAL, Mumbai
At the close of 2017, a fire inside Mumbai’s Kamala Mills ultimately led to the shuttering of several cherished spots in the city. Of them was AntiSOCIAL, a dedicated performance space built inside the basement of a Social outlet. After much anticipation, and curiosity among diners and music aficionados, AntiSOCIAL found its independent brick-and-mortar space inside Todi Mills. A sprawling space built premeditatively with a banging PA system, fantastic acoustics and fun food and drinks menu to go along with it, makes this a truly good live performance venue, which is one of its kind at this day and age.
Best Cocktail Bar – Sidecar, Delhi
The brainchild of co-founders and bartenders Yangdup Lama and Minakshi Singh, Sidecar is an emerging new bar located in South Delhi’s Greater Kailash 2, which in just over a year has already drawn praise from all quarters. The swish, bar-forward, two-storied space has been named after the ages-old cognac cocktail and boasts of a luxurious bar stocked with all kinds of house-made concoctions, bitters and other elixirs. As the restaurant industry in India evolves, it is natural for F&B spaces to have a more focussed approach. To that end, Sidecar is an important addition that is trying to foster an interest in the bar programme with an informed and nuanced approach towards its cocktails.
New Restaurant of the Year – Comorin
As consumers increasingly crave holistic experiences, rather than a simple dinner or lunch, restaurants like Comorin, which opened its doors in Gurugram last year, are bound to come to the forefront. The concept restaurant encloses a bar, restaurant, café, a luxury private dining space as well as a market offering gourmet and artisanal products. Another gem from the Old World Hospitality group, Comorin offers modernistic Indian dishes created by chef Dhiraj Dargan, alongside a bar programme helmed by Varun Sharma.
Iconic Restaurant - Dum Pukht, ITC
Around since 1990, Dum Pukht has blossomed into a restaurant adored by all, notwithstanding its five-star status. And that’s because as a fine-dine, it beckons us to relive one of the most vital periods of our culinary journey as a nation. In a true tribute to Awadhi cuisine and spearheaded by chef Qureshi who has a royal lineage, Dum Pukht’s tantalising fare has retained its position as the best place for Awadhi cuisine that harks us to the royal kitchens of yore, making it iconic, in every sense of the word.