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New Delhi, India
September 23, 2013
Then, a few years back, the Taj Group (which owns the Ambassador) revamped it and made it part of their ‘Vivanta’ sub-group: plush, sleek, upmarket. Yellow Brick Road went through (or so we presumed) a bit of a makeover too. One Sunday, my sister, her husband and their children, and my husband and I decided to have lunch at Yellow Brick Road to see how it was.
Yellow Brick Road is at lobby level, down a long and winding corridor that snakes off to the right from the lobby. The restaurant, unlike most upscale hotel restaurants, has the cosy, comfortable feel of an old-fashioned neighbourhood eatery, not a spiffy luxury restaurant. The walls are painted in pale yellow and white stripes; delightful old posters, advertisements and paintings hang on the walls, and everything—furniture, crockery, linen—is bright, sunny, and unintimidating.
Even the look of the menu card—a set of printed sheets, like a newspaper—is informal and cheery. I actually thought it was specifically designed to appeal to a rather juvenile kiddie clientele, since it contains large sections devoted to interesting facts, odd trivia, and so on. The menu itself consists of a mishmash of Western, Indian, and even Far Eastern dishes. Thai curries, stuffed parathas (a large variety, to which a separate menu card is devoted), burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, salads, grills, and Indian dishes are among the highlights of the menu.
Except for me, everybody at the table ordered Western dishes for their mains (we skipped appetisers): a croque monsieur; glazed pork chops with barbecue sauce; chicken lasagne; pan-fried river sole; and cheese and jalapeno toasts. All came in large portion sizes, with fries or sautéed vegetables and a jacket potato as a side. I had ordered a dak bungalow lamb stew, which came with a massive helping of steamed rice, and a nearly-as-large side of fresh salad.
Dak bungalows, for those not in the know, were bungalows built by the British, usually along the routes followed by the ‘dak’ (the post): they were typically government-run establishments which catered to government officials when they travelled through the countryside. Dak bungalows still function as government guest-houses for bureaucrats and other government officials on the move, and they’re invariably quite predictable, down to the sort of food you get to eat in them.
Since my father had been a police officer before he retired, I’ve been to my share of dak bungalows. Yellow Brick Road’s dak bungalow lamb stew brought back memories—very pleasant ones—of the sort of mild Anglo-Indian style lamb curries you’d find if you ever happened to eat at one of the better dak bungalows. The gravy was a mild one, and along with the pieces of meat (boneless) and potato, there were other veggies that one never found in the usual dak bungalow curry because these are still exotic, ‘non-Indian’ vegetables: broccoli, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper. With the plain rice and the very lightly dressed salad of carrot, cucumber, raw onion and red cabbage it was served with, the curry made for a nice, comforting meal. It was too huge, though: I could finish only half the rice.
The rest of the family seemed quite satisfied with their meal, though my husband later told me he regretted having ordered the glazed pork chops. They were tender in places and tough in others, and the glaze was "a joke"—no glaze, but a thick sauce that pooled all around and over the chops.
For dessert, half of us opted out, since the main course had been large enough to fill up tummies. My nephew ordered a tiramisu, and my husband and I ordered a sugar-free apple crumble each. Fortunately, the waiter was smart (and kind?) enough to let us know that it was a large portion, so we decided to share one instead—and found that to be a good decision. Not only because the apple crumble was a large one (it came in a soup plate), but also because it was so disappointing that the less we had to consume, the better. This looked nothing like a crumble, and tasted only marginally better than it looked. Partially stewed apples, cut into dice, had been strewn on the soup plate and topped with a very fine sprinkling of a crumb mixture that lacked the buttery, substantial crumbliness of a good topping. (My niece, who hadn’t been paying attention when this was ordered, had one look when the dish arrived, and asked us: "Why did you order gnocchi as a dessert?"—and yes, it did look like gnocchi covered with grated parmesan).
My husband, when the sad-looking dessert was placed before him, decided he needed something to help him swallow it, and ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This arrived only after both of us had finished eating the crumble.
Our bill (including five soft drinks—none of us had alcohol, even though Yellow Brick Road serves it) was Rs 5,970. That’s not terribly expensive if you go only by the fact that this is a restaurant in a posh hotel. If you take into account the less-than-exciting food (between us, my husband and I agreed that the only good thing we’d tasted was the dak bungalow lamb stew), and the occasionally slipshod service, that’s too expensive. On the other hand, this is a decent place to eat if you’re in a largeish group where people have very varying tastes. Most of the tables that were occupied while we were there seemed to consist of large families or groups of friends, some of whom wanted familiar North Indian food, while others wanted Western dishes. A caveat, though: don’t go here expecting good Western food. It’s only so-so.
From journal Eating Out in Delhi's Hotels
London, United Kingdom
September 24, 2001
The menus were also a gimmick – set inside a newspaper (pretty tatty) with the food between the articles about Charlie Chaplin etc. We ate two meals here – the breakfast included with the room price, and dinner before we checked out to go to the airport and fly home. Breakfast consisted of a buffet affair, with mostly Indian food laid out but also bacon, omelettes, and various breads. There was also a toaster that provided fresh cooked bread to your taste, and fresh orange and watermelon juice, tea and coffee handy. We made ourselves toast, and ordered hard-boiled eggs. During the 25 minutes they took to arrive, we wondered if they’d had to go find a chicken first, but they eventually showed up.
Dinner here was better organised. We told them we were in a bit of a rush, and got the rice, lentils and chick peas we had ordered within 10 minutes, and the bill immediately when we asked for it. In conclusion, this was an acceptable, but flawed place, and the one thing I felt let down in the otherwise impeccable hotel.
From journal Eating and sleeping in the Indian capital