Thursday, April 10, 2014

Contemporary Indian Fine Dining at Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed Bukhara, which was voted India's best restaurant. That stalwart was unapologetically traditional Indian cuisine, so today we're going to review a more contemporary restaurant - Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Varq is also ranked on this year's Acqua Panna / San Pellegrino list - 4th best restaurant in India and the 32nd best in Asia!

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi

I'm pretty happy that Varq also makes allowances for the solo diner - with the Varqui Lunch option. For 1500Rs (SGD 31.20), you get a pick of either starter, soup or dessert plus a main course, from anything off the menu, served with a selection of Indian bread. I take my picks and settle down to the amuse bouche which reminds me a lot of palak paneer (cottage cheese and creamed spinach).

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Amuse Bouche

One problem I've found when ordering in India is how to properly communicate the spice level you want. For example I ordered the Sukha Mutton, which I understood is traditionally a very spicy preparation. Naturally I asked the waiter to get the spice level tuned down "a little," but it ended up being tuned down "a lot." Wish there was a worldwide standard heat level which we could all use to talk to each other - "I'd like a 4-star heat level please" :)

In any case other than it perhaps being not as spicy as it should, the starter is gorgeous! Lamb with coconut shavings in a black pepper preparation with curry leaves - all served up in an Asian fried spring roll bowl. I find Delhi cuisine to be generally less spicy but bigger on flavour, creaminess (from milk, cream or butter) as compared to most Indian food we get back in SG/Malaysia - and I like it here a lot.

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Sukha Mutton

The main course - Kali Mirch Ka Murg - is Corn Fed chicken breast with mango relish served in a creamy black pepper curry. This actually tastes very, very Italian. Like a spicy, peppery carbonara sauce. The chicken is expertly cooked - tender and juicy - and that sauce is oh-so-delicious. Plus points for them providing an additional cup of it on the side for lapping up with the Indian breads!

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Kali Mirch Ka Murg

Speaking of breads, instead of a 'bread basket' or an assortment being served to you all at once, they cook up small 5" diameter breads to order. So you're almost always eating your bread fresh and hot out of the clay oven. Great concept! I ordered a butter naan (which surprisingly ended up more like a parata), and two wholemeal actual paratas - all delicious and piping hot! Apologies for the not-particularly-presentable half-eaten photo here :)

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Fresh Indian Bread

I still have some room in the tummy so I order up an Apple Kheer (Rs 475 or SGD 9.89) - this is a stewed golden apple with reduced sweetened milk and nuts. It turned out to be pretty nice, although I must admit that Indian desserts are in general a taste that I haven't fully acquired.

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Apple Kheer

Nor, it seems, have I acquired a taste for indian palatte cleansers - in Varq we get a few Betel leaves wrapped around something or other. That something or other isn't that important because the pungent acidity of the leaf simply overpowers every other flavor. Good thing the waiter warned me before hand to take a small nibble instead of popping the entire mouthful :)

Varq Restaurant Taj Mahal Hotel New Delhi Betel Leaf

In comparison with the higher ranked Bukhara, I actually enjoyed Varq a lot more. I thought there was very interesting usage and crossover of ingredients and flavors from other cuisines, the dishes were presented in a more upscale fashion, and the food was simply better overall. Five thumbs up.


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