A travel journal
to New Delhi by phileasfogg
Quote: Chinese food has been, for several decades now, a big hit in Delhi. Over the past few years, other cuisines from Eastern Asia—all the way from Japanese to Korean, Vietnamese to Thai and Indonesian—have also become popular. Some reviews of assorted Oriental restaurants in Delhi.
Restaurant | "Surprisingly good Thai food"
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.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 21, 2013
Asian Faire Culinaire
Chandan Market, GK 2
New Delhi, National Capital Territory of Delhi
Restaurant | "An interesting array of cuisines"
The décor here is very pleasant and cheerful: the straight lines of the blond wood chairs are complemented by upholstery in bright, solid blue, orange, green and yellow; there are expanses of wall equally brightly painted and decorated with Oriental motifs—koi carp, a bamboo fan, peach blossoms. At right angles to the bar (which is near the entrance to the restaurant) is a wall with a series of glass-covered niches, each housing a striking Oriental mask.
Led by a friendly waiter to a table beside the window, we were seated and given the menus to look through. The bar menu, besides offering the usual array of beer, wines (somewhat limited) and spirits, also offers cocktails with an Oriental twist: a Bloody Mary, for example, which is spiced up with wasabi. Since neither my husband nor I drink alcohol any longer, we had a look at the list of non-alcoholic beverages at the back of the food menu. Passing up the Coke and the different types of teas (including bubble tea), we both chose the Vietnamese style sweet and salted lemon cooler.
The food menu at Ahoy! Asia really does cover a wide swathe of Asia: there’s everything here from tom yum to murtabak, dimsums to sushi. After going through the menu a couple of times, we decided we’d opt for the less common: Uyghur dishes. Yes, while food from Szechwan or Canton is popular enough in Delhi’s restaurants, Uyghur is a novelty—I’ve never seen it figuring in any other menus around here. We therefore ordered, as a main course, an Uyghur dish each: a zhua fan (a mutton pilaf) for me, an Uyghur style spicy lamb with noodles for my husband. We toyed with ordering manti, Uyghur-style meat dumplings, as a starter, then went the Malaysian way, with a Malaysian fish kebab.
Our waiter, taking our order, informed us that Ahoy! Asia was currently holding a special promo: we were given four dice in a whisky glass, and told to roll the dice and throw. We were allowed two throws, and the higher sum of the dice would be the amount of discount we’d get on our bill. I threw 17, so we got a 17% discount on our bill. Sweet!
First off, our drinks were served up. The Vietnamese style sweet and salted lemon cooler had its fair share of salt and lemon, but didn’t taste at all of sweet. It was barely pleasant, and I actually had to force myself to finish the glassful.
The Malaysian fish kebabs we’d ordered as starters took an eternity to come. The kebabs—three skewers, each with three pieces of fish, and a couple of pieces each of red and yellow bell peppers—were quite nice, the fish succulent and fresh and marinated in a spicy, tangy marinade. The accompanying dipping sauce had a lovely spicy coconut milk base, and the veggies were still crunchy.
The main course, thankfully, was served up right on the heels of the starters. My zhua fan, though described as an ‘Uyghur pilaf of mutton, carrot, chickpeas and rice, served with curry and Uyghur style yoghurt’, had no yoghurt anywhere in evidence—and the dish consisted mostly of lots of spiced rice, with a disproportionately small quantity of mutton (goat’s meat, I’m guessing, since that is what is called ‘mutton’ in India). The carrots and chickpeas weren’t in any great quantity either, and the accompanying curry, served in a bowl alongside, was red-hot and pretty fiery. I preferred the spiced rice on its own; with the curry added, it was just too hot for my liking.
My husband’s dish, Uyghur style spicy lamb with noodles, had more lamb, cooked in a lot of sauce with cumin seeds, red chillies, garlic, spring onions, and noodles. An interesting combination of Middle Eastern and Chinese ingredients and styles, but not exceptional. What irritated my husband was that it was difficult to eat—the noodles were very slippery, and the chopsticks (ceramic rather than wooden) made it even worse.
Ahoy! Asia has an unusual dessert menu, with some desserts rarely seen in Oriental restaurants in Delhi (though the menu also features ice cream, daarsaan and chocolate cake with raspberry coulis). I ordered a mango sago; my husband chose a banana spring roll with vanilla ice cream. Like the starter, this took an inordinately long time to arrive. When we were close to giving up, our waiter came by to apologize and let us know that we’d be served in two minutes’ time. Even then, another five minutes went by before our puddings arrived. My mango sago, served in a champagne saucer, consisted of mango purée mixed with coconut milk and sago pearls. The custard-like mango-and-coconut flavoured element of the dessert was lovely and refreshing. The sago pearls had an oddly chalky, floury texture that I didn’t like one bit (and I’ve had a lot of well-cooked sago in my life!)
My husband’s dessert, barring a rather melty scoop of vanilla ice cream, was good. The spring roll was crisp on the outside, gooey and bananey on the inside, and sprinkled with a generous drizzle of lovely caramel sauce.
We paid a total of Rs 1,974 (after that 17% discount we’d won; taxes were included in the bill, but a service charge was not, so we added a tip). Was this worth the money? No. One dessert was passable, as was the starter. Against that we had two unimpressive main courses, an unpleasant beverage, and laidback service. I expect more if I’m going to be shelling out over Rs 1,000 per person.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 19, 2013
M-4, First Floor, Greater Kailash Ii, Greater Kailash
New Delhi 110048
Restaurant | "Delhi’s oldest standalone Japanese restaurant?"
Tamura sits in the very crowded Uphaar Commercial Complex at Green Park (try not to bring your car here—finding parking is very difficult). The restaurant, with a deep red-and-black sign, spreads over two floors. Inside, the décor is rather eclectic. On the one hand, there are elegant cane partitions that separate sections, and there are lovely Japanese paintings on the wall along the staircase leading upstairs. On the other hand, the paper placemats and the brass cat on the bar counter (with a chunk of what looked like dirty pink quartz beside it) look definitely pedestrian.
On the left are a set of three partitioned cubicle-like seating areas, each with cushioned seats arranged around a well-like area. You leave your shoes on the floor outside and step in, for a rather more traditional meal experience. Sadly, since these were reserved for larger groups and there was just my husband and I, we had to sit at a conventional table with chairs—in the middle of the restaurant, all by ourselves, between the bar counter and the cashier. I didn’t like that particular table, because it was like sitting on an island—it’s the only table in the area.
A waiter, clad in traditional Japanese clothing, greeted us, brought us menus, and left us for a while to decide what we wanted to order. Tamura’s menu features the usual (none too exotic) Japanese dishes you’d find in a Japanese restaurant in India: sushi, sashimi, grills, braises and stews, tonkatsu, ramen, etc. We passed up the alcohol and settled for fresh lemonades instead, and for food, opted for a salmon sushi to start with, followed by a ‘lunch set’ each. This, the waiter told us, would consist of rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, potato salad, and whatever main meat dish we chose. My husband and I, after some debate, decided to order two different meats—he chose a tenderloin with garlic sauce; I chose a pork with ginger sauce.
While we’d been ordering, a waiter came by and poured out a cup of tea each for us—hot and with a gloriously woody scent to it, perfect as a palate cleanser. Our drinks arrived soon after, and within less than ten minutes, the sushi was served. This, a portion consisting of eight pieces, was served on a platter with a small helping of pickled ginger and another of wasabi. While the salmon had its characteristic flavour and the rice was fine, the nori surrounding the roll was somewhat chewy.
We’d just about finished off our sushi when the main course began arriving: a bowl of miso soup (no tofu, sadly, though some good seaweed); a bowl of rice; another with pickled shredded radish, tiny black thread-like hijiki seaweed, and a little mound of blanched spinach topped with toasted sesame seeds; and a little bowl with mashed potato salad. Finally, when everything was in place, the main meat dish arrived, served on a hot sizzler. This consisted of a layer of cabbage, a thick slice each of green bell pepper, radish and carrot, a small pile of noodles, and the meat piled on top of it all.
Both my husband and I thought the meat was delicious: very tender and succulent, with a beautifully flavoured sauce. The potato salad was a little underseasoned, but the pickled vegetables on the side were good and delicately flavoured. The miso soup was good too, but I prefer my miso soup with bits of tofu in it, so that was a negative (a completely subjective negative!) as far as Tamura’s miso soup went.
(At this point I must mention a particular plus point in favour of the service staff at Tamura: our waiter, coming by to check if there was anything else we needed, advised me in a friendly way to concentrate on eating my meat first, because it would go a little tough if it sat too long. Not intrusive, but friendly, and it was good advice. I like it when wait staff can offer little tips like this; this man was obviously knowledgeable).
Our meal over (and the portion size was so substantial, we had no place for dessert), our waiter brought us more tea while we paid the bill—which was Rs 2,949, inclusive of all taxes and service charges. This is approximately what one would pay at a standalone Japanese restaurant for this sort of a meal, but the slightly awry seasoning on some of the items (not to mention the chewy nori in the sushi) might mean that we are unlikely to return to Tamura. Both Izakaya and Sakae Sushi are better, we thought. Not that Tamura is bad, but still.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 19, 2013
S-16, Hauz Khas
011 2653 5769
Restaurant | "Playful, fun Oriental food"
On the outside (and the inside, too, actually), Mamagoto looks stylishly wacky. The wall facing the corridor outside is painted bright yellow, with TV-shaped windows in different sizes piercing the wall. There are doodles in black and white, crazy little drawings against which lots of people like to get friends to photograph them. On the side, the walls are covered with equally nutty cartoon murals: here, a koi carp rides a scooter; there is a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, but with all the diners Orientals—and obviously enjoying a very grand banquet. There is a cartoon baby looking like a laughing Buddha; here are sprays of peach blossom.
Mamagoto, according to the menu, means ‘to play with food’. And that, in essence, is what Mamagoto’s food is all about: food from across the Orient, good food, but not fancy food. This is the sort of place where you get dishes called ‘Chiang Mai station noodles’ or ‘Hawker style Penang curry’: hearty, delicious food from Thailand, China, Japan, and Malaysia, plus some others.
I’ve been to Mamagoto countless times (which should be proof enough of how good this place is). While they do offer alcohol, since my husband and I don’t drink alcohol any longer, we tend to stick to their soft drinks—and no, not Coke or Sprite, or even the ubiquitous fresh lime soda, but Mamagoto’s own signature ‘mocktails’. My husband usually has a lovely cranberry and kaffir lime punch, while my favourite is a lemon zest and mint lemonade, a refreshing drink made with grated lime zest, finely chopped mint, loads of crushed ice, lemonade, etc: fabulous.
The menu is divided into starters (including salads), with soups, main courses, a Robata grill section (where it’s specified that the dishes will take up to 20 minutes to prepare), curries, meal-in-a-bowl dishes, and desserts. The first time we visited, we happened to order, as a starter, rock shrimp tempura with ponzu pepper—and we’ve never looked back since. The small, juicy rock shrimp come hot out of the fryer, covered with a thin crisp tempura batter, sprinkled with a teensy bit of citrusy ponzu-and-spice mix. They’re served with a side of mayo mixed with liberal quantities of sweet chilli sauce. All so addictive that we always end up choosing this as a starter.
Among the main courses, we’ve been more adventurous. The ‘meal-in-a-bowl’ dishes tend to be our favourites: these consist of noodles or rice, topped with a gravy, protein, and veggies. There’s a fabulous Penang curry, for instance (which we usually order a chicken version of, though you can also order prawn, or vegetarian), with a lovely coconut-based spicy, tangy gravy, liberally garnished with roasted peanuts. The lamb teriyaki, served with sticky rice and cooked along with pak choy and other green vegetables, is another winner. As is Mamagoto’s version of khao suey.
From their salads, a particular favourite of mine is a green bean and snowpea salad, dressed with a sweet-savoury mix of fried onions and coconut; my sister’s favourite is the raw papaya salad, marvelously crunchy and perfectly balanced in textures and flavours. Among their other good dishes, one I especially like is the Hunan grilled fish (very light and flavoursome; great if you’re watching the calories). Mamagoto does have some Oriental desserts (fairly predictable ones, like coconut ice cream). In addition, they offer Western desserts, of which the caramel sponge cake is one I’ve tried—and which gets my vote!
Mamagoto is great for an informal meal: children are welcome, hen parties are welcome, noisy families rule the roost. This, coupled with the good food and the friendly atmosphere, mean that Mamagoto tends to be very popular. Come meal times (between about 1 PM and 3.30 PM for lunch, 7.30 PM to 11 PM for dinner), Mamagoto fills up rapidly, so reservations are recommended if you don’t want to wait. One good point, though: even when it’s pretty full, we’ve never had to wait inordinately long for service at Mamagoto.
Do note that portion sizes are pretty large at Mamagoto: my husband and I, when dining by ourselves, invariably share a starter, a meal-in-a-bowl, and order a drink each, and find ourselves with just enough space left over for a shared dessert after that. Mostly, a meal of that size—without alcohol—costs about Rs 1,600 or so, inclusive of taxes and service charges.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 19, 2013
305, 306, Dlf Promenade, Nelson Mandela Road, Vasant Kunj II
New Delhi 110070
Restaurant | "The Diva takes another bow"
With Latitude, Ritu Dalmia had already branching out into non-Italian dishes. With her latest restaurant, Diva Kitsch, she moves into almost completely non-Italian territory: this is fusion cuisine heavily inspired by East- and South-East Asia, all the way from Japan to India.
Diva sits on the first floor of a cheerful lemon-yellow building on the main Defence Colony road (parallel to the Metro line). We came here for lunch on a quiet Sunday, and going up the staircase into the restaurant, found ourselves in a lovely, cheerful (and yes, slightly kitschy) place. Large windows overlook the road and Metro line. The walls, ceiling and chairs are in shades of grey ranging from pearl to charcoal; the table runners, the menus and the napkins are in a delightful contrasting hot pink. There’s a penny farthing, hung with fairy lights, near the bar counter. In niches in the walls are rows of brightly coloured glass bottles, and little mannequins of studious frogs and tipsy-looking cows.
Diva Kitsch does not yet have a liquor license, so their bar menu consists of soft beverages, aerated drinks, mocktails and juices. It didn’t take us long to decide on a fresh lime soda each. The food menu, rather longer and with many interesting options to choose from, took more time to examine. This is divided into ‘small plates’ (starters, including some delicious-sounding salads, dumplings, tempura, rolls, satay, spare ribs, scallops, etc), ‘big plates’ (main courses) and desserts.
Both my husband and I wanted a dessert, and figured we wouldn’t be able to fit in a starter and a main course as well, so picked a main course and a dessert each. The main courses range from the obviously East Asian (tom yum, roti bawang, etc) to the Western-with-an-Asian twist: panko-crusted fish and chips with wasabi fries and wok-fried edamame, for example. After much thinking, my husband ordered a ‘steak and an egg’, a wasabi-rubbed tenderloin piccatta, topped with a fried egg, potato mash, and mushrooms. I chose a chilli and caramel flavoured fillet of red snapper with orange peanut nahm jim. You can also order sides for your main course (these include mushroom ginger rice, rock salt edamame, oriental greens with soya and sesame dressing, and garlic and red chilli flat noodles), but we passed these up.
While we waited for our food to arrive, our waiter brought us our drinks, and a small complimentary amuse bouche: a little fried dumpling made of rice and covered with a sweet chilli dipping sauce: delicious, and (as we regarded it) a good omen. The main courses did prove that this wasn’t a flash in the pan. My red snapper, fillets piled onto lots of beautiful pak choy, came smothered with a tart, sweet, salty and spicy sauce of orange (juice and segments), lots of roasted peanuts, and chillies. Delicious without being too hot.
The tenderloin my husband ordered was delicious too. This came on a substantial bed of mashed potatoes, with a big helping of sautéed mushrooms on the side. The thinly sliced tenderloin steak had been rubbed with wasabi (not, in my husband’s opinion, enough), and topped off with a crisp-fried egg. My husband, while he liked the dish a lot, thought it was far too rich and heavy a portion. Secondly, while he’d asked for a medium steak, what he got was definitely well done. Thirdly, when he asked for some extra wasabi on the side, what he got was not wasabi, but wasabi mayonnaise—big difference!
Despite that, we were both pleased with our main courses.
Diva Kitsch has all of five desserts to choose from. I ordered banana spring rolls with burnt palm sugar sauce and ginger ice cream; my husband chose a basil infused panna cotta with passion fruit coulis. These looked pretty as a picture on the plate, but (like our main courses) were rather discordant sizes. The banana spring rolls—one large banana, wrapped in a spring roll wrapper and deep fried, served with a large scoop of ginger ice cream sitting in a nest of spun sugar and a pool of burnt palm sugar sauce—was really quite a large and filling dish. The panna cotta, on the other hand, was pretty tiny: four spoonsful, and it was over.
While I liked my banana spring roll a lot, I could’ve done with the ice cream being a wee bit less gingery. This one was almost eye-smartingly sharp, and I needed to ensure I had sauce and banana with each spoonful of ice cream. The basil infused panna cotta, sadly, didn’t taste of basil—we figured we probably wouldn’t have known that was what it was supposed to be, if we hadn’t read the menu. The passion fruit coulis, though, imparted a lovely flavour to the dish.
We paid Rs 2,927 for our meal at Diva Kitsch, inclusive of all taxes and service charges. It is expensive, and there are some flaws in the food, but this was such a pleasant place, we’ll almost certainly be back. Not for the Asian cuisine purist, but worth a try if you like to be adventurous.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 19, 2013
D-17, Defence Colony
New Delhi, India