Blogger’s Table | Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi … traditional Indian cuisine with a modern twist

“Indians are the Italians of Asia and vice versa. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is the music inside the body and music is the food inside the heart. ”
Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New DelhiI was happy to be back for a meet up with the Delhi Bloggers Table. It was a special meet at Varq, the award winning modern Indian gourmet fine dining restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi.Varq‘ refers to the beaten gold / silver edible leaf which adorns many a dessert and sometimes savoury dishes in the Indian subcontinent. On the same parallel, the restaurant Varq is said to be symbolic of preciousness, luxury and elegance, a harmonious blend of traditional and contemporary sophistication.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi With the expectations sky high, we headed for Varq which was hosting a table for the Blogger’s Table. I’ve taken a small break from the group, but they were good enough toinvite me back that night {with open arms as they said}. The heart of our table, the very sweet, large hearted, bubbly, vivacious and fantastic Cookaroo was being given a farewell.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi Sadly, she is following her better half who has been posted abroad. The wretched news was broken to us a short while ago, and has been difficult to digest. With time whizzing by, no opportunity to catch a few last moments with her can be missed. A table at Varq was reason enough to make the day special! Also special because we had Nachiketa back from a stint at the Le Cordon Blue, UK, one of the Top Culinary Schools of the world.

About Varq … Grand Master Chef Hemant Oberoi has taken Indian food to a different dimension with new techniques, innovative presentations and usage of organic produce and spices. He has reinvented Indian food with unusual creations and pairings thus creating an exclusive gourmet dining experience.
Varq has recently been recognized among the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia by The Daily Mail and has been voted among the Foodie top 100 restaurants announced by Glam Media. Varq has featured in the top 50 restaurants in the Eleventh annual listing of The S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants Asia List.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  4The ambiance is stunning. Art work by celebrated Indian artist Anjolie Ela Menon adorn the walls of this limited cover restaurant. The work done almost 35 years ago was restored some time back and adds amazing dimension to the interiors. Varq also has a Private Dining Room where we were hosted. That has some stunning art work as well!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  Chef Oberoi is said to have taken Indian food to a different dimension with new techniques, innovative presentations and usage of organic produce and spices. Reinventing Indian food with unusual creations and pairings, Varq retains the Indian traditional way of cooking while using exotic ingredients like sea bass, sand crab, black cod, morels and Iranian berries.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  We were greeted with an interesting array of coolers from Pineapple Basil to Orange Tamarind. The Orange Tamarind was fantastic and many of us enjoyed refills of this interesting pairing. So refreshing and so different. Just right for the season!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  A special chefs menu had been put together for the table and began with an ‘Indian chaat’ styled amuse bouche. Gone in the blink of an eye, it gently teased the palette with undertones of lime, ginger, mango, chaat masala.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  The first course followed … the Varqui Crab or Varqui Khumb {mushrooms}. I opted for the latter. It was an interesting pairing of a finely chopped mushroom stir fry with curry powder, ginger, garlic etc layered with crisp filo pastry. The first bite made me think ‘over spiced’. It eventually grew on me. I still think it was a little over spiced. Too much curry powder maybe? A great idea though.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  Time for the Haleem aur Kebab or Palak Patta Chaat. Both were absolute winners. I savoured both. The galouti kebab was perfectly done, the haleem better than even the one we enjoyed at Dum Affairs, and the chicken gandheri delightful! ‘Gandheri’ is sugarcane in hindi. Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi The chef had innovatively wrapped the chicken kebabs around sticks of slivered sugarcane, and served them in shot glasses. The surprise element was the fingerlicking good raw mango chutney at the bottom. The pairing was spot on, and left us chewing on the sugarcane stick and wiping the chutney clean!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  The Palak Patta Chaat was a winner too. Once again the chefs creativity shone through. Little batter fried balls of spinach and chickpea flour were tossed in a delicious sweet and sour chutney. Served between 2 crisp fried spinach leaves, the one on top with a garnish of shiny trademark ‘varq’. Delectable! The polished clean platters were testimony to its deliciousness!!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  Soup or broth time and offered a choice of Lobster Rassa or Kala Chane ki Cappuccino. I chose the latter. The soup didn’t go down well with me, maybe because I’m not a kala chana/ horse gram person. The humble horse gram had been given an interesting dimension, a makeover of sorts, topped with a ‘cappuccino’ cream. Sid and Sushmita did enjoy the ‘cappuccino’.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  The meal was interspersed with specially hand picked brewed teas. Halfway down came the show stopper palette cleanser, a ginger lime sorbet. The  Japanese ginger was quite overwhelming, not quite soothing to the palette. Nothing to beat the tamarind sorbet at Blue Ginger. That was the best ever!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  Already quite stuffed, we marched onto the main course. Sounded like an interesting choice – Sea Bass on Spiced Potato Dauphinoise or a Kali Mirch Murgh {chicken breast with a creamy black pepper curry}. The chicken was really disappointing, very very average. The vegetarian Jaituni Malai Paneer {Olive Cottage Cheese} was equally so. It’s difficult to go wrong with cottage cheese. This one was all wrong. The Sea Bass on the other hand stood out. Fish done perfectly in a piquant creamy rich raw mango and coconut curry sauce, what a great dish this turned out to be! Everyone who opted for it really enjoyed it.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  Did I forget the ‘Martabaan ka Meat’ and the ‘Martabaan Chole’Disappointing again and maybe best left forgotten. The mutton was just average with no discernable pickling spices. The chole too sour and over spiced. The ‘Martabaan’ or earthen jar concept again won my heart, but sadly the dish a let down. The pizza style mozzarella tomato kulcha {flatbread} served alongside was excellent though! Cooling sides like a yogurt preparation, and salads were noticeably missing.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  It was time for the dessert platter which came beautifully and innovatively plated. The chefs passion shown through. So much care, so much talent. The sampler offered a trio of Apple Kheer, Jalebi and Khaas Malpua. What I really loved was the apple kheer with ‘chena’ at the base of the glass.  It was excellent … the balance of flavours, the fruit, the cream, the very idea! It more than made up for the courses I didn’t enjoy.

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi  16This happy yet sad, energetic, excessively boisterous and very chatty table finally bid the good hosts adieu. Thank you Bhavna, Deepali and Nafisa for playing the perfect hosts. We really did have a wonderful time and you were very gracious. Thank you too Chef Oberoi and your team for all the attention to detail, the effort you made to connect with each of us, and the time you spent with us on the busy night.Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi

Thank you Taj Mahal Hotel for hosting the table. Any shortcomings were more than made up by the ever attentive staff, always there, delighted when we enjoyed something, anxious when we didn’t. They are what makes Taj what it is!

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi

Note: I found the menu was slightly over spiced and not easy on the palette as a whole. Maybe not for summer. The chef might consider adding some traditional coolants like a raita or a lassi, maybe a salad? While a few dishes really did stand out and were excellent, the menu altogether did fall short of a restaurant as celebrated as Varq. I did come back somewhat disappointed.

The others at the table that night were Sid, Charis, Sangeeta, Sushmita, Rekha, Mukta, Parul, Nachiketa, Ruchira & Himanshu. It was wonderful meeting up after such a long time. Ruchira you will be missed {to put it mildly}. Virtual meetings are never good enough. Come back soon! Only you could have thought of individual gifts for everyone, the quiz, the handwritten cards, the works! Thank you for the stunning platter. I can’t wait to use it.

Blog Event | Our MasterChef Australia moment … Breakfast with George Colambaris at Olive Beach, New Delhi

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
Gilda Radner

Breakfast at Olive with the MasterchefsThe Best thing in life is ‘the unexpected’. Pinch me, was I dreaming? This was one of those days. Didn’t think in our wildest dreams that we’d get an opportunity to meet up with Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris of MasterChef Australia. They’ve created tsunami like waves in India on a multi-city visit promoted by the Aussie government. Savouring Indian food from fine dining to street food, rickshaw rides, book signings, farm visits, jalebis & malpuas, chai & much more, miles of newspaper columns ran daily accounts of their India trip! The Bloggers Table was honoured to be a small part of the visit.

Delhi Bloggers Table with George Colambaris, Aussie MasterchefWhat Masterchef Australia has done to food in India is HUGE! Schedules were built around the MC TV slots, dinner appointments cancelled, generations glued to the telly to watch the euphoria and emotional drama unfurl; a strange sense of disbelief as the youngest to the oldest sat united in viewership. Uncanny but true. The show changed the way we perceived food, especially the ability to home cook & create! A generation of young culinary enthusiasts were born, while ‘resident’ cooks became innovative and adventurous!

Astha @ Breakfast at Olive with the MasterchefsSo when we heard the duo were visiting there was a song in the heart, yet a good meeting seemed out of reach. It was Astha’s hesitant call late one evening that nearly had me pass out. She asked if I was free on Friday to meet Gary & George. I almost died! Free? I was already doing a crazy jig. The kids were duly warned not to fall  sick on Friday, the 27th!!

with George ColambarisThis is what dreams are made of. The invite was for an informal breakfast with Australia MasterChefs Gary & George hosted by the folk we love to love –  good old Saby {Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, India’s top chef}, the very sweet Chef Astha at the wonderful Olive – chic, rustic and warm!

Breakfast at Olive with the MasterchefsInformal breakfast with Gary & George strictly by invitation only? You will not believe how I shot up in my teens eyes. Suddenly from screams of “No, you’re kidding, don’t tell me, not possible…”  to “YOU ARE???” Then it was a L O N G list of friends who wanted autographs … 

Olive Beach, New Delhi The day was truly the best in a long time. Love the idea of a breakfast meet where everyone walks in chirpy, bright & happy, tea and coffee are on the boil, good moods bubbling happily and clear headed mindless chatter takes over!

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchefs‘Olive Bar & Kitchen’ never fails to deliver. The hospitality, the punctuality, the attention to detail, the warmth, the camaraderie … so characteristic of this beautiful place! 

As always, we were greeted by ‘ever charming‘ Astha and nattily turned out Saby who is quite the best. Warm, friendly, funny, chatty, relaxed, hospitable … more about him at the Leonardo Meet & the Blogadda Workshop.

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef, George Colambaris Sadly, Gary couldn’t make it as he got hit by the dreaded Delhi belly. George Colambaris was at his entertaining best. Spoke passionately about food, culture, the beginnings of Masterchef, Matt and his 45 minute make-up routine vs Georges own 5 minute make-overs. Oh, his love for the jalebi too, lactic fermentation and all!

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef George ColambarisSupermarkets are for toilet paper!” You got to love this man! The audience hung on to every word he said, roaring with laughter at his witty quips. He talked about fresh seasonal produce, home cooked meals, introducing kids to ‘real’ food, growing vegetables in your backyard, how MasterChef changed his life …

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef, George ColambarisHe took questions from the audience which included an enviable line up of all the top chefs of Delhi who had turned up in their crisp whites to meet the two. The Ozzie wit shone through, a man passionate about his Cypriot-Greek heritage {reminded of my Greek witty friend Peter @ Kalofogas} yet characteristically Aussie in every way. Laid back, honest, so grounded, he spoke from the heart!

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef, George ColambarisHe did get flustered by a short, simple question from Ruchira, “Food or sex?”, she posed rather nonchalantly. That got him rather red under his collar and for once at a slight loss for words. The poor embarrassed guy eventually asked if there was another question! 

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef, George ColambarisWe ate … LOTS! Good food once again, and well managed as always. Breakfast IMHO is a difficult task yet Saby & his team made it seem effortless. A sweet man piped delicious churros while masala chai did the rounds in earthen pots {a break from Olive tradition}. There was fresh fruit, cheese platters, varieties of tostadas, pigs in blankets, amuse bouches, financiers, baklava, chocolate fudge cake, nut tarts … and much more.

Breakfast at Olive with the Masterchef, George ColambarisAs you can see we really enjoyed the ‘event’ and loved the company too. Thank you Saby & Astha for thinking of us. It was truly wonderful …

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

The Best thing in life is ‘the unexepected’ as I said in the beginning. A good day got even better as I got an early Christmas from a friend and food blogger in Belgium as her sweet hub flew into Delhi for a music fest the same night. Thank you Finla for this HUGE surprise ‘sack’ of goodies you sent for me. I am at a loss for words, but brimming with ideas! I also unexpectedly won a Phillips Air Fryer at the Philips Foodathon the next day … lucks looking up!

 

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Culinary Event | Up Close and Personal with Chef Saby & Leonardo … & Sizzling Gamba {recipe}

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!”
Mae West

We were brought believing that too much of a good thing is bad! Times have clearly changed and with good times come dispelled notions! Our afternoon at the decidedly charming Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli sponsored by Leonardo Olive Oil was nothing short of magic.

{Warning: Long post}
Leonardo Olive Oil @ Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli Nine Delhi food bloggers, Italian cuisine and olive oil that flowed nonstop, celebrity Chef Saby with his passionate efficient team, warm and light hearted hosts Himani & Chandana, and one of my favourite eating places OLIVE – it was food heaven under one roof! Four hours with one of India’s top 10 chefs passed by in a heartbeat!Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiI’m an ardent admirer of the super talented Chef Saby. Having missed a couple of opportunities to see him create culinary magic, this was one event that I wasn’t going to miss. Apprehensive about meeting a guy who has won just about every chef award in India, cooked for India’s top families like the Bachchans & Ambanis, someone inspired by Sydneys Tetsuya, he instantly put us at ease. Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi

 Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiI walked in on the dot of 12 noon, the given time … everything was ready, in place and waiting. Have been to events before where apparently a wait of 30 minutes+ is seemingly acceptable. Not so here. The anti pasti counters gleamed invitingly, Leonardo flavouring the spread –  apple relish, onion & chili jam, mushroom pate, hummus, Caprese salad, the exotic cheese platter, stuffed little red peppers with whipped feta {my favourite}, Leonardo olives, more olives, cured meats …Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi Himani Dalmia, Senior Manager Corporate, Leonardo and Chandana Paul went out of the way to make us live the experience – Up Close and Personal with Chef Saby and Leonardo”! It was soon time for Olive fish & chips, asparagus the vegetarian option! Crisp & delicious! Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiThe Chef? Jack of all trades and master too, wonderful human being, as level headed as he is large hearted, ever smiling, humorous, an engaging speaker, fantastic team leader, eagle eyed, perfectionist … too many adjectives but it’s impossible to describe the man in a few words! His accolades speak for him – Best Chef of India Awarded by President of India, National Tourism Award, 2011-12, Director of Kitchens – ai, lap, olive qutab, olive beach , the moving kitchen by olive yet so down to earth! {He even walked us to the porch and waited for our respective cars to come}.Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi

For him, cooking is an art, the ultimate form of expression. “The platter is my canvas and the food ingredients, my colour!” … in the case of this artist you can eat his art. At Olive, he brings his love for all things culinary to life as he cooks right in front of the guests at a rustic kitchen called the Greenhouse on the Ridge. His recipes, as always, satiate and leave guests asking for more.

He threw his kitchen open to us, patiently guiding us into every nook and cranny {it was buzzing at lunch}, explaining kitchen procedures, chef training, sourcing fresh produce … the works! Once inside the cold room, you can imagine the grin when we saw the Padano! If we could have lifted that 40kg block of cheese we would have run for it!Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiThe menu for the day demonstrated different uses of Leonardo products – pasta, green and black olives, India’s first non-alcoholic beer, and olive oil of course! Non stop banter and photographs continued while discussing olive oil, the myths particularly surrounding pomace, the changing face of ‘food on our table’ … Pasta Marinare @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiOlive oil is the juice of the olive, the only oil on the market that is extracted from a fresh fruit is universally accepted as the healthiest of all edible oils. Adding olive oil to your diet is the easiest change you can make towards a healthier lifestyle. I ♥ olive oil! Mr V N Dalmia @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiLeonardo Olive Oil the first Indian brand of olive oil introduced in 2003 is a brand owned by Dalmia Continental Private Limited the flagship company of VN Dalmia {seen above; he joined us for lunch}. It offers four of the finest versions – Leonardo Gold, Leonardo 100% Pure Olive Oil, Leonardo Olive Pomace Oil and Leonardo Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The product list includes Leonardo Olives, Hudson Canola Oil, Granora Pasta, Indian pickles too.

Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi

Photo courtesy Rekha @ http://www.mytastycurry.com/

By the time we were done, we were ready to burst, yet Saby could have hypnotised us to eat another marathon round! He held us in good humour woven around the food and drinks, gently introducing each variety of olive oil used in the menu from batter fried asparagus shoots and basa fish, to the mind blowing apple & feta saladLeonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi… to moorishly beautiful fresh baked artisan skillet bread {close to the Indian pav something like I recently made, but up several notches} served with individual pestle and mortals to make your own olive oil dip {YUM} …Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi… melt in the mouth classical lasagna Bolognaise in a skillet, followed by black truffle porcini risotto {excellent was the word} …Black truffle porcini risotto … and then a variety of wood fire pizzasMarinara pizza; Asparagus, smoked Scarmoza cheese, walnuts, Parmesan, truffle oil; Spinach, sundried tomato, olives, feta; Pepperoni jalapeno; Olive’s signature Milano paper pizza … fresh from the rustic oven in the courtyard of this picturesque restaurant.Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiHe has us eating out of his hands, all this while his super efficient team set up the dessert counter and had us hopelessly distracted! I’m definitely a small eater but I was amazed at how far I stretched it. How could there possibly be so much deliciousness on a single day? I am proud to say I tasted everything, well almost  … Sizzling Gamba @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiI’ve never had a gamba before, not always food adventurous, but having it stirred under your nose does something to your taste buds. Mouthwatering and sizzling good, I loved the way it was served? Beautiful flavours, the undertones of olive oil marrying the ingredients so well, the freshness of the produce and the passion of the chef! {You an find the recipe at the bottom}Tiramisu @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiOlives signature tiramisu made with inhouse mascarpone had me swooning! It was delightful, as was the praline mud cake! I regret that I didn’t get as far as the apple & walnut crumble with the stunning spun sugar! Desserts @ Tiramisu @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhiSaby or Chef Sabyasachi Gorai is the Executive Chef at Olive in Delhi. Launched in 2003 by AD Singh, Olive was immediately chosen as one of the world’s best new restaurants. One of Delhi’s must visit eat out places offering hand picked recipes from the Mediterranean, overlooking the romantic Qutab Minar, it is housed in an ancient Mughal mansion.Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New DelhChic in every way –  the old world character beautifully blends with the rustic charm of old wood, vintage furniture, light furnishings, an open courtyard, indoor eating places, a terrace sit out overlooking the monument … and of course, the ancient banyan tree! {Thank you Sangeeta for clicking me clicking Olive}Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi My deep love for the vintage feel and distressed wood makes me love this place!  The Olive Bar and Kitchen is a rustic hideaway where good food, laughter, culture and conversation come together in a delightful Mediterranean melting pot. Leonardo Olive Oil Meet @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi Thank you Himani and Chandana for playing the perfect hosts on behalf of Leonardo, and for the generous goodie baskets!Leonardo Olive Oil Meet - Goodie basketsThank you Saby, Vaibhav and Astha for the outstanding food, warmth and fun you served up, and for the ‘bottle cakes‘ and chocolates …Bottle Cakes @ Olive Bar & Kitchen Mehrauli, New Delhi …and thank you Sid for being the glue that binds the Delhi food bloggers together!

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