As a teenager, I remember reading noted Indian journalist Vir Sanghvi’s superbly written article on ‘fine dining’ or rather what is the definition of it. At the end of the piece, he very crisply summed up fine dining as “It is a gastronomic experience par excellence, consisting of the multiple components of ambiance, service & food; one which we would not be able to recreate everyday in our own homes. Something which would make us feel special & pampered “ Those words are etched in my mind forever and whenever I go out for ‘fine dining’, I ask myself at the end of the experience – Have I felt special & pampered? And only if the answer is a resounding yes, do I categorize an establishment as providing the experience of ‘fine dining’ (which it claims).
A dinner with my foodie friends at Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel , Mansingh Road in Delhi turned out to be a truly excellent fine dining experience. One of Taj Mahal Hotel’s most celebrated restaurants, Varq offers contemporary Indian cuisine, which it claims is a harmonious blend of traditional and contemporary sophistication. Varq has been rated among the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia by The Daily Mail and has also been featured in the top 50 restaurants in the Eleventh annual listing of The S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants Asia List.
Now, when it comes to Indian cuisine, I am a total conservative; staunchly believing that Indian dishes taste best done in the conventional way. Therefore, it was a leap of faith for me to try out contemporary Indian food. And boy was I impressed!!
We were hosted in the Private Dining Room of ‘Varq’ and were ushered in warmly by the maitre de and other staff. I liked the decor of the restaurant, which was subtle, yet artistic & gave a sense of traditional sophistication. There are artworks by the celebrated painter Anjoli Ela Menon (done 35 years ago) adorning the restaurant, which have been recently restored and add a surreal dimension to the ambiance.
We started off with some refreshing drink; me, Sangeeta, Deeba and Ruchira ordered Orange & Tamarind Mocktail, which turned out to be a tangy refreshing drink. I was hooked to this mocktail and must have had 4-5 glasses of it during the whole meal.
We were served amuse boushe as a palate cleanser, to start off our courses. It was a mini ‘Indian style Chaat’ which managed to tingle out tongues with hints of lime, ginger, mango and chaat masala. Going over the menu for the night, I liked the fact that in each course, there was a vegetarian & non-vegetarian option.
In the 1st course, I had Varqui Khumb (layers of spiced mushrooms, morel on crisp filo sheets). I liked the combination of the subtly spiced mushrooms & crunchiness of the filo sheets together. In the non- vegetarian option, it was Varqui Crab.
For the 2nd Course, I had Palak Patta Chaat (layers of crispy spinach leaves with spinach chaat). It was awesome!! The crisp double fried spinach leaves with fried balls of spinach & chickpeas soaked in sweet & sour chutney was really agreeing to my palate. Even friends who had ordered non-vegetarian for this course (Haleem aur Kebab) tried this Chaat and loved it. We were also served hibiscus tea along with the courses, but somehow, I found it had more of kokum flavours; it was definitely not hibiscus!!
In the 3rd course, I had Kale Chane ka Cappuchino (cappuchino style flavoured black chickpea broth), served in a cup. While I liked the flavours (warm & tangy) to start off with, by the time I was half way through the cup, the chickpea broth was grainier and spoiled all the nice smooth flavours I was enjoying. This was one dish, everyone had a huge difference on, while me and Sid loved it, rest of the gang (Himanshu, Mukta, Deeba, Ruchira & Sangeeta) did not like it at all.
In between, we were served a palate cleanser, which was presented in a dramatic way by the servers. Totally loved the presentation, but it was too gingery for me and left a very ginger aftertaste on my tongue.
In the next course, I had Jaituni Malai Paneer (stuffed paneer with green & black olive tapende with roasted tomato sauce), which is the only dish I did not like. The flavours of paneer & olives did not blend well together. However, I liked the roasted tomato sauce which was also served on the side and had it with olive naan. Rekha, the other vegetarian in the group also seemed to agree wih my view as she did not take a liking to the Jaituni Malai Paneer.
In the last course, I had Martaban Chole (piquant chilli spiced chickpeas) with kofti pulao. It was sour & tangy, which I liked (since I prefer to make Chole at home a bit tangy and always add amchur). But some of my friends did not like it, mainly due to the sourness of the Chole.
Now it was time for desserts and we were served a trio of apple kheer, jalebi and khaas malpua. I liked the apple kheer best.
That should have been the end of our meal; however, the amazing staff brought for us meetha paan, which we all gobbled up!! And then there was drama again to end the dinner; a dark chocolate ball poured with hot syrup & then chocolate sauce. I was full but could not stop myself from having a spoonful of the chocolatey sin!! It was pure bliss.
It was amazing dinner at Varq and I loved the ambiance, the service and most of the food. I liked the contemporary touch Crand Master Chef Hemant Oberoi has brought to the Indian cuisine. Recommending Varq for a true ‘ fine dining’ Indian dinner in Delhi.
You can also read my other friends' opinion about Varq:-
Parul - The Shirazine
Charis - Culinarystorm