July 10: Perch Wine and Coffee Bar, the latest addition to the small restaurant nuggets in Delhi is buzzing with young crowds and has the potential to become a popular rendezvous but it cannot stake a claim to be the first wine bar in the capital, or even a wine bar. But I was impressed by the food, prices, ambience, service and the choices of liquor and feel it should be named as Perch Wine, Whisky, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila and Coffee Bar, or simply a Bar Cafe or a Cafe Bar like a plethora of them operating in Khan Market
Photo By:: Adil Arora
I am often approached by people from India and aboard, itching to open a wine bar. They show me fancy project reports and share the success stories in countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Dubai where they are already running them –some exclusively with their wine range and even named after their brand. There are others who visit overseas and are so enamoured by the overflowing wine bars that they feel there is a big void in India and are keen to fill the void.
I advise them to stay away from the concept as the timing is not right. I have my reasons to be pessimistic in the short term though I am bullish on the long term (and never forgetting the quote from the famous British Economist Lord Maynard Keynes that in the long term we are all dead). High real estate costs and duties, lack of the perched throats willing to experiment with wines and of course the archaic procedures dictated by the Delhi excise department.
First Wine Bar?
I was surprised when a friend told me a few days back about this ‘first wine bar’ in town. I am usually tardy in checking out restaurants due to lack of time but this seemed to be irresistible and I decided to check it out one day after my golf.
Before I proceed about wines, I must stress that the place has very positive vibes and was buzzing with people. The entry to the Bar on first and second floor was very pleasant with a cedar like smell due to the white wood of the stairs. The ambience was very attractive, with 3 different types of seating arrangements-sofas, stools and high chairs with low backs- but comfortable. Very relaxed atmosphere with the waiter quick to take the order and even suggesting dishes based on my tastes. The service was fairly quick and everyone was very warm and polite, giving personal attention to all the customers.
The Bar is owned by Vaibhav Singh who is very unassuming and goes around chatting with people and making them feel comfortable. So was his deputy, Anand Virmani who says he has spent a year in Dijon, Burgundy where he did his MSc and was with Remy Cointreau India till it folded up its operations in India a couple of months ago. is equally polite and eager to help the customers, especially looking after the wine service. He was equally alert keeping an eye on the seating, orders, service and kitchen- looking pleased that the place was buzzing within days of its opening without any launch and only word- of- mouth publicity.
All the attributes are working in their favour with a decent Menu and reasonable prices. Coffee as the name of the Bar suggests, is delicious and reasonable. It reminded me of Italy where the Bar means a place where you primarily get coffee-Espresso at €1.10 and Cappuccino (Italians don’t order it after 9 am) for €1.50. At Rs, 110 and Rs. 150 it was reminiscent of the country which thrives on wine bars.
Wine Bar it isn’t
That’s where the similarity ends. I could not find a single feature that qualifies it to be called a wine bar. The choice of wine labels is very limited-one can be excused for that since the costs of inventory of more labels is high and the illogical excise laws of Delhi imply that one cannot order less than a full case of Indian wines. But there are no features that qualify it as a wine bar. There are no wine tasting flights, no wine and food pairings, no dishes with wine to make the customer eat food with wine- in fact, there are special wine-centric programmes.
One feature of a wine bar is plenty of wine-by-the-glass options. There are not many here-11 to be precise. And that includes a few to show off. Who orders Gaja Dagromis at Rs. 4500 a glass? Or a glass of Valpolicella at Rs. 1300? Or a glass Grover’s Chene at Rs. 1300? I would think several times before saying no to a host planning to order a glass of Domaine Laroche Chardonnay for me at Rs. 1800 (Rs. 8500 a bottle) when I don’t even know whether it is a Chablis, Petit Chablis or Bourgogne or merely a d’Oc wine from South of France, costing a fourth of the Real McCoy.
I was told that the purpose of the ‘wine bar’ was to make people feel relaxed and not too stuffed up about wine. They have introduced Robert Hoots as their logo and Mascot- antithesis of Robert Parker. Perhaps that’s why the vintages are not mentioned for most wines- Barolo Dagromis (which is too young under 5 years) to Gamay Fleurie (which has a shelf life of about 5 years) are just random examples.
It won’t be fair to comment on wine glasses so long as they are stemware. But at a wine bar one certainly needs to offer something special. One-size-fits-all glasses in which I saw wines being served, might be passable for ordinary Pinot Grigio but not for most red wines if they are proud enough to stock them in the wine bar. The storage of the open bottles by not using Enomatic or similar machines would also make the quality suspect but I won’t expect them to invest in expensive equipment at this time.
Prices not cheap
I would not rate their food prices as high but most wine prices are on the higher side, just as I expec because of their having to pay full customs duty and excise. Many stand alone restaurants manage the prices well all the same and there is no reason a so-called wine bar should not. I ran a quick comparison with Latitude after the visit with similar dishes and wines (though the two entities subscribe to different labels-Latitude is much more Italian in flavour). Wherever I could, I made some comparisons:
Ti Amo, the ubiquitous Prosecco from Brindco, a glass of which is welcome at any hour of the day after 8 in the morning, sells for Rs. 2450 (Rs. 530 a glass) at Latitude. Why would anyone pay Rs. 3600 for the same-almost 50% more expensive? The carafe (half bottle) costs almost the same at Rs. 2160 (I wonder who would be naive enough to order the carafe from an open bottle unless the velocity of orders is pretty high) at this venue.
Sutter Home white Zinfandel is not my wine of choice but when I get it for Rs. 1900 at Lat. why would I fish out Rs. 3200 here! I love Pinot Noir from New Zealand. But I would rather have a Babich 2013 for Rs. 3900 at Lat.(Wine-Searcher avg price $17) than Villa Maria Private Bin 2013 for Rs. 8500 here (listed lower at $15)!( Incidentally, both the wineries are owned by Croatian immigrants). Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013 Umani Ronchi is from a well- known producer of Marche (Italy), which I have visited twice. At Rs. 2400 at Lat. It’s the top of my perceived price ceiling. Fortunately, it is still not too much higher at (Rs. 2900) at Perch.
There is a level playing field for both in case of Indian wines and these could be used deftly to illustrate the case of a wine bar. But here too, I find the comparison odd.
If I want to order an Indian sparkling wine, I’d be happy to order Sula NV Brut at Lat. For Rs. 1600 and though I equally like Grover Soiree Brut, I would have to work twice as hard to pay Rs, 3200 for a bottle at Perch.
In my book both Grover La Reserve and Sula Shiraz Dindori Reserve are similar in value and retail price too. But at Rs. 1450 (Rs. 360/glass) I would opt for Dindori at the Lat. rather than La Reserve listed for Rs. 2950, more than double the price.
And the beat goes on...but I don’t think anyone is going to blame them for price fixing -Zinfandel Sula Rose has been kept at Rs. 1650 each at both the places and is available by the glass at similar price.
Wine or Whiskey
I have reserved my vitriolic comments to the last. Here is a wine bar that has the best display of over 2 dozen (almost half the number of wine labels) labels of gin, rum, tequila, whisky, Scotch whisky and single mallet whisky. I don’t even remember the numerous wine bars I have visited overseas but enough to know that so much prominence is not given to liquor-in fact most sell wines or wine related liqueurs only. You don’t get the impression that you are in a wine bar here. Restaurants like Olive, Diva, (now closed Chez Nini and substituted by Diva Spice) are restaurants with a focus on wine and yet don’t consider themselves as wine bars. Olive Beach had made an attempt to carve out one within the restaurant but they were perhaps ahead of time.
Perhaps Perch is ahead of its time. Perhaps it is new and has many ideas to promote wine. Perhaps it will change its strategy once the existing license of Pure Punjab (the previous owner from whom the current owners bought everything-including the license).
But the place is a welcome addition to the already buzzing Khan Market and should do well-if only to keep the idea of a wine bar alive. In the meantime, the more appropriate name might be-Perch Wine, Whiskey Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila and (oh, yes) Coffee Bar.
Or keep it simple and call it Perch Bar Cafe or Perch Cafe Bar. And I need to tell my friend who recommended it as the first true wine bar in Delhi that for me that spot is as open-as the first Master of Wine from India!