New Delhi, India
November 21, 2013
We’d been hearing praises of Culinaire for a while now, so figured it was time to go and check it out for ourselves. Culinaire’s ‘indoor’ area consists of the small kitchen. Beyond the counter extends a canopy, and a tiny yard, hemmed in by saplings and trees. This is where the tables are spread out (no tablecloths or other frills—just paper napkins and a cruet set). We took the only available table and sat down. Within moments, a waitress had handed us menus and taken our orders for drinks (virgin mojitos; Culinaire doesn’t serve alcohol, and you can’t bring your own).
The menu at Culinaire is divided into three sections. The two dominant sections are the Thai and the Chinese section, with a (somewhat incongruous) Lebanese section, consisting of a dozen or so dishes—doner kebabs, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush, etc—tagged on at the end. The Thai and Chinese dishes are restricted to lamb (read goat’s meat), chicken, fish and prawn—don’t look for pork, beef, or anything more exotic here. We’d already been told by those who knew that Culinaire’s Thai food is their strength, so that’s what we stuck to. As a starter, we ordered Thai fish cakes (steamed; you also have an option of fried), followed by—as a main course—chicken red curry (we asked for it to be made medium spicy), and stir-fried vegetables with garlic and pepper.
The minutes ticked by. A waitress came and put quarter plates and cutlery in front of us. At the kitchen pass opposite us, we could see a whole lot of dockets (Culinaire does very brisk business in takeaways and home deliveries). A little over five minutes later, a waitress brought our starters—wrapped, oddly, in foil! We were surprised, but opened them—only to discover that these things didn’t look anything like fish cakes. We summoned the waitress (without having tasted the dish) and asked her what this was. Doner kebabs. Oops. Someone else’s order. It was swiftly taken away.
We were comforted a bit by the fact that, two minutes later, she was back—with a bamboo steamer that looked rather more promising. But, even before we could open it, she came back and whisked it away. Sorry, someone else’s order, again.
We finally got our Thai fish cakes after waiting for about a further ten minutes. Served on a bed of shredded cabbage and carrot, these were six fairly large fish cakes, the minced fish mixed with finely chopped green beans and more, with a lovely hint of kaffir lime somewhere in the mixture. It was served with Thai sweet chilli dipping sauce into which a good spoonful of chopped toasted peanuts had been mixed. A good, tasty first course.
As if to compensate for the inordinately long time we’d had to wait for our starter, the main course was served up within a couple of minutes of our quarter plates being removed. The red curry was, as we’d requested, mild, and came studded with strips of chicken, greens (including pak choy), aubergines, and kaffir lime leaves. With all their Thai curries, Culinaire serves steamed rice. A good long grain rice that complemented the curry and set off its flavours beautifully.
The stir-fried vegetables consisted of broccoli, carrot, pak choy, baby corn and beans tossed with garlic and pepper. While this didn’t taste bad (though it didn’t taste much of either garlic or pepper, as described in the menu), the texture was off—all the vegetables had been slightly overcooked and had gone a wee bit past the crunch one expects of a good stir-fry.
By the time we finished our meal, we were quite full. Although Culinaire does offer a handful of ice creams and frozen yoghurts as dessert, we decided to pass these up. Our bill amounted to Rs 1,275, all taxes included. Pretty good value for money, considering we’d had a fairly satisfying, tasty meal. Culinaire isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for fine dining. It’s informal, inexpensive, and a decent place to eat good Thai food cheap. The service seems to be a bit spotty (those mix-ups with our starter were avoidable), but otherwise, this is a place I’d definitely go back to.
From journal Delhi: A Bunch of Oriental Restaurants