New Delhi, India
September 11, 2011
Aarogan is in the form of a mid-sized dining room, overlooking one of the enclosed courtyards of the palace. The ceiling and sections of the walls are painted in pretty floral designs, reminiscent of traditional Rajasthani paintings. But the overall look – heavy crimson drapes that block out all natural light; crimson-and-cream patterned upholstery; and tablecloths with a red-white-grey check pattern – is stifling and florid.
We’d have forgiven that if the food had been worth it. But Aarogan’s menu is vapid and too predictable to be at all interesting. This is a place that believes in the dictum that as long as you provide the usual tikkas, kababs, daal and butter-laden curries (with a few so-called ‘continental’ dishes – chicken sandwiches and fries, for instance) – all is well. Even that would’ve been tolerable, if the food was well-cooked. But it wasn’t; a lot of what we ended up eating was too spicy, greasy, or otherwise just plain ol’ ‘not done’.
Some examples. At every meal, once we’d sat down and placed our order, a waiter would come by to place a small bowlful of spicy mixed pickle and a basket of roasted papads on the table. At every single meal, we found the papads soft – they’d obviously been roasted a while back, and had been sitting around soaking up moisture. At every meal, too, the pickle had the dull and dreary look of something that had been spooned into a series of bowls at the start of the shift. For goodness’ sakes, how long does it take to tip a couple of spoons of pickle from a bottle into a bowl?!
Also, for a restaurant in a hotel that prides itself on being representative of Rajasthani hospitality, Aarogan’s sadly bereft of Rajasthani dishes. True, the menu offers gatte ki curry (a curry with fritters made from gram flour), but it’s greasy and gave us a bout of acidity. The safed maas (literally, ‘white meat’ – mutton cooked in a creamy gravy) was a trifle too rich, but worse, the meat was all bone and tough sinew. And – what I found unforgivable in a place supposedly so highbrow – the kulfi is a mass-market one (the brand is Vadilal’s, not even one of India’s best brands). Not that the menu mentions the fact, mind you – if we’d known the kulfi wasn’t made at the hotel, we’d never have ordered it: it had that decidedly synthetic flavour of mass-produced food, and the texture was of ice cream, not of kulfi.
More? Breakfast. A buffet consisting of muffins (small and greasy), eggs made to order, toast (soft on one side), cereal (Kellogg’s Chocos and cornflakes), two types of juice – out of cartons – and a few Indian dishes, such as poha (puffed rice cooked with onions, peas, and a few mild spices); idlis with saambhar and coconut chutney ("It tastes like coconut grated with water and salt," said my disgusted husband. "No other flavour"); and – this wasn’t bad, thank heaven – potato-stuffed parathas with yoghurt, butter and pickle on the side.
After we’d had a couple of meals at Aarogan, we came to the conclusion that the safest thing to order here is aloo-zeera (potatoes cooked dry with cumin seeds, turmeric and a sprinkle of red chilli), with naan and some lentils. Get more adventurous than that, and you’re headed for trouble. Boring.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the service is abysmal. The entire restaurant staff disappears now and then, leaving you to your own devices, and frequent reminders are needed to get stuff you’ve ordered.
Frankly, Aarogan was the one reason I wouldn’t stay at Umed Bhawan again.
From journal Kota: More than Saris and Stone