India is (finally) shining. It may not seem like a complete even sheen but it sure does have a certain lustrous appeal about it. It’s the beam of a satiated belly, a good Indian meal downed with some good wine.
No, wait, I am not going to rant about Indian food and wine pairing for 2 reasons: I have bored too many too often with it and secondly, I charge for it.
What I am on about is how restaurants in the capital have upped the ante thus taking local competition to a whole new level. Having reached a certain sense of peak with respect to decor and dining props – cutlery, crockery, freshly flown-in fish et al – the stripes now belong to the one who can slickly and superbly pair off the food with some wine. Gone are the days of Punjabi Chinese and stale Sushi. The new places take every precaution to make sure that you get great food and superb service – supreme satisfaction. But they are still not cheap, who said anything about cheap.
So here is a list of restaurants which I feel are doing a fairly good job of choosing the right food and wine and then making sure that the two come together at the right time on the right table to culminate in unparalleled culinary delight, or big tips, whichever happens first or more often.
Varq: This long-awaited baby of Chef Hemant Oberoi recently opened doors at the Taj Man Singh in New Delhi and is doing a splendid job. The place is as pricey as a Michelin 3-Star but the service may fall a tad short of certain expectations. The food is delightful but you may get confused with too many seemingly tempting choices – my suggestion, go back a few more times. I like the food presentation;the dishes too are fairly adventurous and experimental without being too deviant but I think there is still scope for improvement and fine tuning. It is the best Indian restaurant by far and so I am tempted to compare with some similar styled outlets in London and I feel that a few more turns of the wrench could make this place truly stand out. The wine-list is nice and long (and not financlially challenging) but could use a few more New World Pinot Noirs which also happens to be one of my preferred wine styles to pair with many Indian cuisines.
Manré: The centre of the capital just relocated to Saket what with its fancy malls et al. As much as I hate the trip I make it and this restaurant was pretty worth it. I am still not sure if it is to be pronounced Man-Ray as the artist, or Maan-Ray as the Indian Bhangra artist married to a Bengali film director but the decor is truly international. South East-Asian French fusion executed fairly well; something was amiss but I couldn’t put my finger on it during my visit. Perhaps future visits will help form a more definite view. The wine list though written well was expensive and inconsistent – lots of gaps and holes – and for a food-forward restaurant they will need to step it up.
Magique: Again in the Saket neighbourhood, consider it truly magical if you actually find the place! Whoever said that the hunt for good food is a journey must have surely eaten here. The food is good, once again fusion with South-East Asian influences. Seems to be a trend catching on in the capital, like Expat Thursday nights. The wine list is fairly extensive but on the expensive side and no this is not the good expensive; this is more of the why-shall-I-pay-so-much-for-a-wine-that-is-so-much-cheaper-elsewhere kinda’ expensive. Good food but service fell far short of expectations. Sure I enjoy nice long meals with little disturbance but not to the extent that I have to flash to get the attention of the staff. Menu knowledge and other such aspects which most diners have come to take fro granted too need to be worked here. but, on the whole, I wouldn’t hold any of that against them, the trip is worth the ambience and the food.
IndoChine’s Forbidden City: This place stuns right from the entrance: Terracotta figurines, the chunky wooden stools, the whole atmosphere is so beautifully contrived. The food is South East Asian – yes, Delhi does everything by the dozen – and the chefs pull it off really well. I was truly transported back to the Singapore Riverfront where the mother-ship landed. Service is appalling and a real set-back. Wine list is average. So why then am I recommending it: once again, for the ambience and the food and yes, in that order. That’s it.
China Kitchen: Hyatt is always king when it comes to F&B, outside of Indian food that is. None of their outlets ever fail to strike it right with such resounding resonance. As I have multiple visits under my belt, I speak with much confidence that they know a good Peking duck when they baste one. The wine list is smart and well-stocked but what is even more intriguing is the list of Chinese liquors and teas that they are unique in having. Many have complained of food and service so seem to have had a lucky run so far.
Spice Route: Restaurants may come and go but legacies like this can live on forever. From the stunning interiors to the absolutely to-die-for food which covers cuisines from well, all along the Spice Route, to the best wine list in India which is managed by the very capable and dashing (and still single) Stephane Soret. A visit to Delhi is incomplete without a pilgrimage to this shrine of good food and wine.
I’ll stop here for now but that doesn’t mean the list ends here…please feel free to add, or subtract. As for me, I will follow where my stomach next leads me, in search of that beaming mug of a happy man with a tidy meal in his belly.