Dining in the hills: Restaurant NAAR by chef Prateek Sadhu plates up a Himalayan crash course
JAN 18, 2024 | By Pratishtha Rana
For many, food is a form of art. For chef Prateek Sadhu, food is his routine. It is also his performance. And NAAR is where he readies the stage for his audience — the curious diners!
A mega flock of clouds blankets the lemony sunlight peeking through the sky. As I zip through the swervy, thin-edged roads for two hours straight to a small village Darwa near Kasauli, the rugged mountain peaks are the first to greet the eyes. It is the first few hours of pre-winters here, when the air is brazenly clean and crisp — and on the agenda is to savour this slightly frosty season for a quick 27 hours at NAAR, the new restaurant in the hills by chef Prateek Sadhu.
Some would even call it a restaurant built in the middle of nowhere, but only that it co-exists inside Amaya, a sustainable boutique resort, which ELLE DECOR India featured in April- May 2023 issue. Having heard of Sadhu as a rule-bending chef for years who takes the cuisine(s) of the Himalayas rather seriously, my first meeting with him at NAAR shows me a little more. The other side that he calls a ‘nomad’.
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“I am a native of Baramulla (in Jammu & Kashmir) and have worked in different cities from Delhi, Udaipur and Mumbai to New York and Copenhagen.” He tells me, while picking up a stranded pine cone on our short evening trail.
“NAAR was a eureka moment, when I was visiting Amaya and met its founder Deepak (Gupta). The decision was a big risk and many called me crazy but unless you won’t do it, you wouldn’t know.” A meal at NAAR is a crash course in the cuisine of the Himalayan Belt, asserts Sadhu. All I can do is agree as I devour the last remaining morsel of ‘Askalu’ the Yak cheese cigar as chef along with his kitchen confidant Kamlesh Negi prepares the next platter of ‘Shabdeg’, the Mushkbudij Kashmiri rice topped with sunny egg yolk and smoked lamb neck. The idea is to whisk six seasonal menus based on the six seasons in the hills, with winter being the next in line from January to February.
Ingredients are all locally sourced. Foraged, too. Be it the variety of cheese including Yak cheese from a nearby vendor, the trout fish fresh from the rivers or the Gondhoraj lemons, cactus, prickly pears and pine.
The experience at the 16-seater restaurant unravels even before you’ve stepped inside NAAR. Every seat inside promises a scenic vista. And as Sadhu confesses, “We probably have the best dishwasher in the country with a view!” A cocktail round at the Salon, lit by a soft-glam chandelier and floor lamps begins the night.
On a cold winter evening, it’s easily a cosy, home-like spot one would want to down the mixology potions — some liquors made in-house too — jazzed up gently with the 80s playlist curated by the bartender, the youngest in Sadhu’s team. “I personally love the hip hop genre,” Sadhu quickly quips. Entering NAAR, the diner becomes a part of Sadhu’s team too, albeit only during that one meal. The setup is such that the kitchen and the dining trickle into each other. There are shelves that store big jars with fermented ingredients. There’s also a wood fire hearth where ducks, chicken, lamb and other ingredients are smoked. Recipes are cooked and garnished right in front of the eyes.
“You’re literally dining inside a kitchen. To understand a mountain home you have to realise that the kitchen is one of the biggest spaces inside because it’s warm.
And most of the meals are had inside the kitchen.” Beyond spontaneous conversations and theatrics of Himalayas on the plate, a meal with Sadhu and his team spills over three hours, where each recipe is served with a story of the ingredients’ discovery and how this serendipitous kitchen in the hills is revolutionising the other side of India’s cuisine!
Scroll below to see more glimpses of NAAR by chef Prateek Sadhu: