New Delhi

“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.

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”
Chinese proverb

Pan Asian, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New DelhiYet another evening well spent with good food midst good company. This time around the Bloggers Table was hosted at Pan Asian for an oriental meal with Japanese Chef Nakamura. It was set to be an interactive dinner, hosted in a private dining room, a lesson or two in Thai/Japanese salads, and maybe a go at the teppan grill.
Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi We battled New Delhi’s traffic to get there, resorted to the Google Gods to find the way … and walked in slightly late to be greeted by the very courteous and smiling staff at Pan Asian who escorted us to a private dining room reserved for the table.
Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi 3The evening took off pretty soon with food, food and more food making its way to the table throughout the evening. I overate … really did. Again. The thing with small bites is that you lose control over how much goodness you can embrace; a definite way to overeat.
Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi The starters were delicious. An assortment of sushis and tempura, dumplings, dipping sauces, pickled vegetables, boiled soy peanuts … the works. Could have been a meal in itself; should have been a meal in itself! We talked, laughed, giggled, wined and nibbled; ate till we were ready to burst.
Chef Hakamura, Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi Would have loved a live salad demo with Chef Nakamura but that didn’t happen for some reason. We did have a go at the teppan grill. Much to the chefs horror, we managed to char some silken tofu. We also dabbled at yakitori grill. That was fun, the end result of chicken yakitoris, amazing. The simplicity of Japanese street food, the subtle flavours came through beautifully.
Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi And there was more! I did small taste tests from here on. The Miso Soup was so comforting. Then came duck. It was the first time my tastebuds met ‘duck’! Indeed a nice first meeting with Peking Duck served with Cucumber, Spring Onion, Pancakes And a Chef Special Sauce  ending up in delicious rolls. Mmmmm…!

Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi There was tonnes to eat, maybe more than we could handle, me at least. By the time the main course arrived, I could barely eat any more.  The  KaengPhak or Green Curry Thai Style was perfect. I loved it, and wished I could have had more. I also loved the Kung Phad Xo or Pan Fried Prawns With Thai Style Chili X.O. Sauce.

Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi
Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi 15Crispy Hua or the Stir Fried Sliced Red Snapper Chili Garlic Sauce was the show stopper as it was flambéed  at the table. Neither me nor Ruchira could take a bite as those eyes stared at us while the flames leapt high!

Pan Asia, WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi It was a sticky sweet end to the meal with Fig And Toffee Pudding served with Darsaan or crisp honey noodles. The dessert was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t have asked for a better and more satisfying end to the meal. The whole Pan Asian experience was very nice; the food, the ambiance and the staff, all excellent. Thank you Pan Asian for hosting us!

The others at the table that night were …
Sushmita @ My Unfinished Life
Sangeeta @ Banaras Ka Khana
Ruchira @ Cookaroo
Parul @ The Shirazine
Mukta @ Bake-a-Mania
Aishwarya @ Aishwarya Eats

Kung Hei Fat Choy… Happy CNY. Today begins the Year of the Snake. Hope it brings good luck for all of you!

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