Restaurant Review | Purani Dilli’s Al-Karam Kebab House … from the young and foodish!

“Time spent in India has a extraordinary effect on one. It acts as a barrier that makes the rest of the world seem unreal.”
Tahir Shah

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House You walk into a heady mix of the aroma of fresh kebabs, refreshing earnesty, a set up in the heart of Gurgaon where modern meets traditional and you hit a comfort zone! Varun Veigas puts you at ease instantly. His passion shines through, his brutal honesty surprises you but in a nice sort of way. He appreciates good food, from his competitors too, never one to play anyone down!

Khari Baoli, Old DelhiPurani Dilli or Old Delhi, the walled city, holds eternal charm. The sights, the sounds, the chaos, the mayhem, the colours all characteristic. I’ve gone there often to take in the ambiance, the pick up dry fruits and masalas from Khari Baoli, to shop for props … and of course to savour the cuisine. I love Old Delhi, and it’s wonderful to find at least the food a step closer to home! Purani Dilli, Old DelhiPurani Dilli’s Al-Karam Kebab House offers to recreate the charm of traditional purani dilli cuisine in the heart of bustling Gurgaon. They serve fare from the walled city near Jama Masjid, and do a pretty good job with it! Varun’s partner Umez Bhai has been running a restaurant {Afsar’s Al-Karam} which lies in the shadows on Karims and Al-Jawahar but claims to be only better. Varun invited us for a private tasting a few days ago.

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House The USP is fresh, good quality ingredients, honest prices and authentic flavours! Old Delhi or Purani Dilli is dotted with restaurants we’ve visited time and again. Sometimes the ride into the heart of Old Delhi for food you crave can prove cumbersome and out of reach. For times like these, Purani Dilli’s Al-Karam Kebab House is like a breath of fresh air!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House Under the able supervision of Umez Bhai, the team is professional, dedicated and focussed! The quiet and affable Varun joined us at the table. With bits of trivia peppering our conversation, his honesty and passion hit us! Mr PAB couldnt resist asking him if people mistook him for the young Rahul Gandhi. Varun burst into a smile and nodded. The gentle charisma shone through!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House The menu here has over 40 items on offer, all from the heart of Old Delhi. We began the evening with expertly made sutli kebas, where ‘sutli’ refers to string. These are tenderized mutton {or chicken} kebabs that are held together with string on skewers as they are very delicate. Absolutely delicious with a generous side of fresh onions, tomatoes and a green yogurt dip.

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House This was the beginning of many kebabs, each characteristically different. The mutton shami kebabs {deep fried} were melt in the mouth good, delicately flavoured and delicious. So was the chicken tikka … simple, mildly spiced and done just right, reflecting the freshness of the produce. The purani dilli chicken tikka followed next, these had a teeny bit of gravy that they were tossed in after being barbequed. Both tikkas had been tossed in a special dry masala mix and melted butter, very different and very delicious. Oh to have a larger appetite!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House What followed was the surprise dish that Varun was really excited to bring to the table, the keema stuffed naan … deep fried Indian puri style bread with a stuffing of delicately spiced mince meat. Mr PAB declared this to be the star of the evening. Despite being off wheat for the past so many weeks, he went on to devour the whole naan without a care in the world! Delicious he declared again, enjoying each morsel. I had a nibble on the side…it was truly good; very different. You must try this if you stop by. It’s a meal in itself, but you could dip it into some curry too!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House The curries were comforting, homey and reminiscent of the old world charm. The haleem was delicious. Gently flavoured, meat just right, slivers of ginger and almonds, this is a meal in itself. If you love haleem, then you’re at the right place! The other haleem I really enjoyed was the one at Dum Affairs. The nihari was yum too, beautifully coloured due to brown onions and minimal spices. The chicken ishtoo dished out for us was brilliant. Of course it was spicy with a liberal dose of red and green chilies, but the flavours were wonderful. If you like a hot curry, this one is for you. Fresh tandoori rotis on the side and you go back singing!

We were stuffed despite making sure we were served tiny helpings, maybe half a kebab, or a spoon of curry. Just before dessert was served, we sampled some achari chicken biryani. It was was spot on, each grain of rice separate, pickling spices standing out.

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House How could we leave without dessert? The excitement in Varuns voice was palpable. He loves that he can offer patrons ‘meetha‘ or dessert straight from the streets of Old Delhi. Steaming hot little bowls of the famous purani dilli ka habshi halwa were the first to arrive. Rich, warm, gooey and not too sweet, this is a famous part of Old Delhi culinary history. Made from sprouted wheat, loads of dried fruit, reduced milk and more, it is best enjoyed in winter and promises to warm you up! Did I say rich? Clarified butter oozed out of the fudge like halwa, yet the bowls scraped clean! Delicious as can be!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House They also proudly serve the best kulfi in town, straight from Kuremals in Chandni Chowk. Kuremal, a legend in Old Delhi, has over 500 flavours in house, some which are as innovative as custard apple, kala khatta, phalsa and tamarind. The flavours on offer at the Kebab House are rose, paan, anjeer {fig} and kesar pista. I went with anjeer and the hub with paan, while Varun joined us to devour the rose kulfi. The paan one was like eating a meetha paan I heard. I enjoyed the anjeer one immensely.

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House While the interiors are very basic and spartan, incidentally like you would find in the heart of Old Delhi, the area is buzzing with activity. A steady stream of patrons flowed in all evening, some purposefully headed this way, some following their noses to the delicious aromas that rose from the barbecue. A word about the team. Very gentle, polite and courteous staff, who let you know in advance to expect upto a 30 minute waiting time. Most folk like to stand around the bbq which has a nice open area around it. Well located, we hear that folk like to drive in and be served in their vehicles, like the good old drive ins!

Purani Dilli's Al-Karam Kebab House So if you are longing for some authentic Purani Dilli grub, would rather just hop across to somewhere closer than a ride into Old Delhi, this is the place to head for. Priced very reasonably {where else would you find a moorish generously stuffed keema naan for Rs 50}, Purani Dilli’s Al-Karam Kebab House offers you good great value for money, and delivers authentic taste too! They do serve a few vegetarian dishes too. As an added advantage, have a chat with the large hearted Umez Bhai who supervises efficiently and knows Old Delhi like the back of his hand!

 

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India


Restaurant Review | Guppy by ai … Japanese cuisine at its tastiest best!

“I’m fascinated by Japanese cuisine.”
Eric Ripert

Guppy by aiIt took just one visit to Guppy by ai. It left me bowled over, wanting to return for more. I have an affinity for anything Japanese, yet little connect with Japanese cuisine but for a single trip to Japan 2 years ago. The visit to Guppy awakened my memories of that visit where I accompanied the husband who had a conference in Tokyo.


For me anything Japanese means harmony, balance, art, neatness, fresh appeal, fine aesthetics, colours that soothe, and delicate presentation. Of late, there has been delicious frenzied activity celebrating the return of Guppy by ai, the contemporary Japanese Bar & Kitchen, in a new avatar. It was an invite I couldn’t wouldn’t turn away!!

Guppy by ai Guppy by ai under the flagship AD Singh brand has reopened much to the delight of Delhiites! The reviews are out and they are all good. One visit to the eatery and you know what you’ve been missing. From the moment you step in, the ambiance wins you over. The vibrance of the anime inspired interiors greet you. They are peppy, colourful and eye catching!

Guppy by aiClever use of origami, sculpted metal lamps, ceramics that warm your heart. You can spend all day here taking in the magical surroundings. Origami kimonos adorn the walls, neat frames, little pikachus leaping from the menu card, distressed wood beamers that cleverly hide the air conditioning ducts, Kokeshi dolls, metal stacked tiffin boxes, the soothing sound of water flowing … a lot of bric a brac and vintage finds bring out a unique character. Designer Anshu Arora scores a perfect 10 to deliver a seamless and stunning ambiance.

Guppy by ai As the interiors impress, Guppy endears itself even more once the food starts flowing in {literally}. Sangeeta and I managed to make it together on the same night, accompanied by our better halves. We were greeted by the gentle, ever friendly and passionate Chef Vaibhav Bhargave, a chef I’ve known for a few years now. I’ve followed him in delight over the years at Olive and he seems to have broken new ground at Guppy.

Guppy by aiHe explains with passion…the salad bar, fresh ingredients, authentic Japanese condiments, a lavish {and very delicious} vegetarian spread, an equally rocking non vegetarian one, salads to make the heart sing with joy, pot stickers that warm the heart, gentle sauces on the side that excite but don’t overpower. The choice is amazing.

Guppy by ai If like me, you have a pretty limited knowledge of Jap cuisine, you are in for a revelation. Raw fish is not my cup of tea, and I associate it largely with Jap food, almost synonymous with sushi and sashami. How wrong could I be? Vaibhav talked us through every dish, the origins etc. And then, with the ever knowledgeable Sangeeta, the place was a treat that night! I was set to conquer Japanese cuisine, fish and all! {My photographs didn’t come out as I messed up the lens, so I’ve borrowed some from Sangeeta and used a few of mine}

Edamame Sea Salt Chilli GarlicThe menu is refreshing and exciting. With comfortable seating, we began with the starters or small plates as the menu suggests. A beautifully spiced Edamame Sea Salt/Chilli Garlic awakened our senses, the edamame was taken to delicious levels, chili and garlic being 2 of my favourite flavours. With mocktails on the side, {the liquor license was yet to come through}, we ate our way through fresh, crisp and delicately flavoured salads. First up a Guppy house salad with seasonal vegetables, palm hearts & bamboo shoots in a karashi mustard dressing {sans greens}.

Chirashi Seafood salad Next up was the Chirashi Seafood salad, an assortment of pickled prawn, tuna, salmon, crab and baby greens in goma-ae dressing. I gingery tried the seafood salad on the insistence of my good companions … it was fabulous. Beautifully balanced fresh flavours and not fishy for my discerning palette. I love good fresh salads, and I could see the sweet chef at the live sushi and bar across working diligently to stir up the goodness!

Guppy by aiStarters followed the salads. With an emphasis on the extensive vegetarian selection, and non vegetarian options too to spoil us, we were happy campers. Rice Paper Vegetables Roll, Chili Lime Dressed Agedashi Tofu, Exotic Mushroom Gyoza {Gluten-free, crisp bottom steamed pot stickers, served with ponzu soy dipping sauce}, Crisp Vegetable Harumaki {exotic vegetable filo rolls, crisp baked in oven and served with yuzu miso}, Prawn Gyoza {Black tiger prawn pot stickers, pan fried, served with ponzu soy sauce, and finally Guppy Signature Pork Belly {slow braised pork belly, glazed with soy honey and served with mustard miso sauce}. I love pot stickers and both the GF mushroom gyoza as well as the prawn gyoza were outstanding, the latter absolutely addictive with ponzu soy sauce. It was interesting to see a gluten free version included.  I didn’t eat the pork belly, but those who did found it chewy and tough, a little disappointing for a signature dish!

Wok Tossed Exotic Teppan Vegetable

Photo courtesy Sangeeta Khanna

We were rather full, yet were told that this was just the beginning. We hadn’t even touched the main course. It soon arrived and despite the protesting tummies, it was happy meal time again. We skipped the noodles, rice and carbs of course! Teriyaki Glazed Artichoke & Tofu and Wok Tossed Exotic Teppan Vegetable glazed with sesame soy were the first to arrive. I am not a fan of tofu so I gave that a miss. The wok tossed vegetables were excellent, delicately flavoured, a good bite to them.

Black Cod, Guppy by aiThe show stopper of course was the baked Black Cod which arrived dramatically, sizzling on a large smooth pebble. The good server did the honours of taking it off it’s menacing perch. I bravely volunteered to taste it as well, and it was the best fish I have ever eaten. The miso marinated cod was light, delicate, cooked just right and hit the ball out of the park! I loved it!

Guppy by ai And then there was more but I was far too full. The Grilled Jumbo Prawn served with assorted vegetables and pepper garlic was devoured by the rest of the gang. There was Teriyaki Glazed Artichoke & Tofu too, but most of skipped as the cod gave us a happy feeling.

Guppy by ai Dinner ended with their signature dessert … warm carrot cake drizzled with mascarpone. I skipped it as was happily satisfied. What I loved about the meal was the lavish inclusion of vegetarian fare on the menu, as also an interesting medley of fresh salads. All the dishes were delicately flavoured and each stood out separately. With the well designed interiors, it made for a memorable meal, a place I would return to!

Thank you Vaibhav for spoiling us that night, and thank you Guppy by ai for hosting us. I would definitely recommend Guppy to everyone. Step in and experience the ambiance. The magic will touch you. There is something for everyone here, vegetarian and otherwise, including gluten free!

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India


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.

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