Because after running a successful Indian restaurant Vama in London, chef Ritu Dalmia, 38, had no plans of launching one in India, but a terrible Italian meal in Delhi changed her mind. “My partner Gita Bhalla and I decided it was time to give Delhi a restaurant, which serves quality food,” says Dalmia, and the result is Diva.
It opened in early 2000. Although it is spread over two floors with a capacity of over 72 seats, finding a table during peak hours is not an easy task. But the scene was totally different when Diva was taking its baby steps. Dalmia recalls a Punjabi family trooping into the restaurant within a few days of its opening and ordering spicy butter chicken, sending the staff into a tizzy.
“The guests had no idea that we served only Italian cuisine. With hardly a few diners coming in, I simply couldn’t afford to turn away the family,” she laughs. After a round of assorted breads, arrived cacciatore, a grilled chicken breast dish tossed with fresh tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, olives, capers and a hint of chilly. And the family has been a regular for the past several years.
Interestingly, Dalmia, never learnt cooking. She picked it out of passion. A frequent traveller to Italy, she updates herself by regularly interacting with the local chefs. “It helps in knowing about regional dishes,” she says. Dalmia proudly proclaims that she stays true to the Italian traditions while cooking.
“I don’t cook to suit the Indian palate,” she says. The decor at the restaurant is simple with good lighting. “Bobby Aggarwal of Portside Cafe did the furniture, but the most important thing was right lighting,” she adds.
The staff here knows regular guests by their names and their palate. On an average, the menu at Diva is changed every three months. However, on popular demand, some dishes such as John Dory fillet and wood roasted lamb chops are retained on the menu card.
Where: M block, Greater Kailash II.
Ambience: Minimalistic decor creates a warm atmosphere.
Service: Quick. Very friendly and well informed staff.
Waiting time: Around 15 to 20 minutes.
Our pick: Arancini-allamoda Nostra con fonduta di parmigian (an appetizer).
Authenticity: Original recipes and fresh herbs make every dish special.
Innovation: One of the few places with a large selection of wine sold by the glass.
Bar-o-meter: Their wine cellar is well-stocked with over 400 high-end brands.
Meal for two: Rs 2,500 plus taxes (excluding wine).
Because a visit to Sam Giminano is a must if you want a feel of Italy even in Delhi. Of course, if you’re willing to pay a price for it. Named after a pretty, medieval hill-town in Tuscany, Italy, the restaurant makes a lasting impression on its guests. Understated yet chic interiors lend a sophisticated feel to it.
Replete with old black and white photographs of various places in Italy, the nostalgic ambience of the restaurant remains true to the town it is named after. The open-air sitting area is beautiful and recreates an Italian al-fresco dining experience. Operational since 2001, this restaurant has had a dedicated clientele over the past 11 years.
With the oil, cheese and most of the other ingredients sourced from Italy a meal at San Gimignano is a truly Italian experience. The warm staff takes pains to ensure you understand every dish before ordering. The exhaustive wine list is the perfect accompaniment for an authentic Italian meal. One wonders if an authentic Italian meal sans the Indian spices would be palatable for Delhiites.
Jan Seibold, the German executive chef of the Imperial, says, “It’s a misconception that Indians don’t like authentic stuff. People are travelling everywhere and have become quite knowledgeable. They look for genuine flavours now. After all, when I go to a Chinese restaurant, I don’t expect Punjabi Chinese.”
To get the authentic feel, the chefs from the restaurant are sent once a year to Italy. Guest chefs also come in from Italy to train the staff here. The menu is changed every two years to retain freshness.The food served, of course, is a class apart.
Where: The Imperial Hotel, Janpath.
Ambience: Though not extravagantly done, the place has an old world charm to it.
Service: Excellent service with an enthusiastic staff.
Waiting time: 10-15 minutes.
Our pick: Asparagus salad, Cappellaci stuffed with mozarella and spinach.
Authenticity: With top quality ingredients sourced from across the world, there is no compromise on authenticity.
Innovation: Nothing pops to the front on this account.
Bar-o-meter: A well-stocked bar with a selection of premium Italian wines.
Meal for two: Rs 5,000 plus taxes.
Because Dakshin offers authentic coastal specialties from Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Here, idlis and dosas are the last things you would want to dig into. The southern sojourn begins at the entrance itself with exquisite carvings on the wooden doors and traditional South Indian art works on the walls.
The decor follows a brahminical theme. Soothing Carnatic music adds to the atmosphere, making it an ideal place to relax with family and friends. Dakshin was first launched at the Park Sheraton, Chennai, in 1992. “We launched it after years of research and trials by our team of chefs that gathered information and ingredients from cooks across the four states. We then invited gourmets from each community to taste the dishes,” says Raj Kamal Chopra, 45, the executive chef.
He says that each dish on the menu is cooked in the spices that are traditional to the dish. Dakshin sashayed into Delhi in 2002, fifth in line after Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Spread over 1,775 sq feet, the friendly staff dressed in conventional south Indian attire, are just a call away to explain the intricacies of a dish on the menu.
Where: WelcomHotel Sheraton, Saket.
Ambience: Stylish and soothing. The place has a quiet setting.
Service: Friendly and prompt staff.
Waiting time: 10 to 15 minutes.
Our pick: Dakshin veinchina mamsam; boneless cubes of lamb, tossed with sautÃ©ed onions, coriander, chillies and garam masala.
Authenticity: Here chilli is sourced from Guntur and Coorg. Appalam (pappad) come all the way from Chennai.
Innovation: Iyer’s Trolley, a live trolley named after Chef Paramasivam Iyer, which serves banana flavoured dosa and rice and lentil dumplings fried in a traditional pan.
Bar-o-meter: All high-end sparkling wines and spirits are available.
Meal for two: Rs 3,500 plus taxes.
Because in two-and-a-half years, Ai (Japanese for love) has gained a reputation of a mecca for gourmet food. Exploring the culinary heritage of the Japanese cuisine replete with the right kind of expertise, it has become a food destination for many. No wonder, it gets rave reviews from swish set of the city.
Only A D Singh, 50, could have pulled off a venture like this. With chefs trained in London and Sydney, Singh pledged to bring the real taste of how the Japanese dine everyday; demolishing the myth that it would not work in Delhi. “When I tasted the cuisine, I loved it for its presentation, techniques and taste. One has to go beyond sushi and sashimi to understand what it is all about. It’s something that grows on you after you have tried it once or twice,” says Singh.
The sliding bamboo doors open into a beautiful setting in shades of beige and red. Divided into three parts, Al fresco, bar and the restaurant, it serves you variety of seafood. On good weather days, the restaurant’s terrace lounge is buzzing with guests enjoying the live Sushi, Teppenyaki and Robata counters.
“Guests enjoy it because of the interesting food we serve. Diners have remarkably accepted the taste and flavours,” says Singh. Ask him what his favourite dish is, he says, “My visits here are quite frequent and I never leave without relishing Udon noodles soup.” Stone baked cod is another signature dish loved by many. The fish is marinated for 24 hours in sake and mirin and is served on the hot river stone.
However, if you are at Ai, don’t forget to order, prawn gyoza (dumplings), which is stuffed with black tiger prawns with a hint of sesame oil. Ai has recently come with a natural menu, which offers the wholesomeness of the fresh ingredients from the The Altitude store, which houses organic and natural products. Be it chirashi seafood salad with garden greens, organic baby lamb chops or organic flour prawn tempura served with warm dashi, go organic when at Ai.
Where: MGF Metropolitan, Saket
Ambience: Subdued lighting on bamboo doors creates a perfect Japanese setting.
Service: Quick and efficient.
Waiting time: Five to 10 minutes.
Our pick: Stone baked cod.
Authenticity: Many products are sourced from Japan.
Innovation: New, natural and organic menu.
Bar-o-meter: Two labels of Sake and Shochu and 50 labels of wine.
Meal for two: Rs 2,500 excluding alcohol.
Because their menu has been the same for the last 33 years, since 1977. Engraved into wood, the menu is short and simple. The same set up for so many years has attracted people from all over the world including several state heads. “Contrary to the global trend of changing menus, we have maintained the menu and will continue this way. Our USP lies in being the same old,” explains Chef JP Singh who has been with Bukhara for 21 years.
Less extensive the menu, stricter are the quality checks. “For tandoori jhinga, we make sure each prawn weighs between 80 to 120 grams. Even if it is a gram less, you will not find it in Bukhara.” Singh has served Bill Clinton, Hamid Karzai and more recently Barack Obama among many others. “When Clinton was here, I wanted his autograph but his security didn’t allow.
Finally Clinton noticed and signed on my business card.” Following suit is the ambience, which also remains untouched. Rustic interiors with copper urns and ladles hanging from the wall welcome you. Adorning the wooden tables is a rose in a copper vase reminding you of the numerous eateries at Pandara Road. If you plan to spend long hours, make sure you seat yourself on the sofa as the wooden stools in orange upholstery can be uncomfortable.
And instead of the usual table napkins, there are aprons for you. Put on one and indulge as there are no forks and knives at your disposal. Bukhara encourages eating with hands, dissident to the rules of fine dining. Adding life to the otherwise dimly lit restaurant is their open kitchen offering a live view of I being tossed in the air and skewers being shoved inside the clay oven.
Singh shares the secret of their succulent kebabs. “The different kinds of pieces are cooked twice. First on medium heat to seal their juices after which they are taken off. They are completed only when the order is received.”
Where: ITC Maurya, Chanakyapuri
Ambience: Ethnic, rugged look with stone walls and flooring with an open kitchen.
Service: A little slow as the kebabs are cooked only after the order is received.
Waiting time: 15 to 20 minutes. But their melt in the mouth kebabs are worth the wait.
Our pick: Murgh malai kabab, seekh kebab, dal bukhara, kulfi and phirni.
Authenticity: The chefs go through a rigorous training to be able to gauge spices, mix marinades and judge the heat.
Innovation: Their menu and ambience remains unchanged since its inception.
Bar-o-meter: You name it and they have it. A wide collection of single malts, wines and mocktails.
Meal for two: Rs 7,000 plus taxes (without alcohol)
Because the food at Indian Accent in The Manor does not fit into any particular cuisine. Ever heard of Foie gras stuffed with galawati kebab and served with strawberry chilli chutney? Or panko (Japanese bread crumbs) crusted bharwan mirch? Fusion food here has found its groove with 37-year-old chef Manish Mehrotra.
This culinary genius plays his own variations on traditional Indian food. He calls it the, ‘modern Indian cuisine’. Started by Rohit Khattar, 48, the head of the Old World Hospitality (OWH), which manages the restaurant, he wanted to offer something beyond butter chicken and paneer makhani. Known to have given us Chor Bizzare in Delhi and London, this venture took at least a year-and-half to gain momentum.
With the help of Mehrotra, who has been working with OWH for the past 11 years and looks after the other restaurants such as Tamarai in London, a new concept was born at The Manor.
“It was difficult for the older generation to understand our menu. Once we had an elderly guest who didn’t like the choices. He told us to offer him basic Indian food. It was only after he tasted our recommendations that he became familiar with the concept. Now he is a frequent visitor. And when he comes with his friends, he is the one to place the order,” says Mehrotra.
Tucked away in the interiors of Friends Colony, its location could be a bit of a dampener. Specific directions are highly recommended. Once inside, you will be in for a surprise. Its simple interiors overlook a lush garden. The restaurant offers one-of-its kind chef’s tasting menu, which comprises 12 (veg and non veg) dishes along with a selection of rightly paired wines given by UK’s celebrated wine consultant Charles Metcalfe.
The chef claims that the tasting menu is like a crash course to make the guests understand the cuisine they offer. Starting with the blue cheese naan, flavours of which explode in your mouth to dal chawal risotto with achari tiger prawns and aloo pappad, everything here makes for a unique combination.
“The blue cheese naan gained such popularity that one of our regular visitors wanted me to make her a birthday cake out of it,” he says. The food here aims to give you a unique taste complete with unusual ingredients from all over the world.
Where: The Manor, Friends Colony (West).
Ambience: Simple yet elegant.
Service: Quick. The waiters are loyal and don’t let the guests go unhappy.
Waiting time: Around 10 minutes on busy days. Reservation recommended.
Our pick: Bheja fry, Foie gras stuffed with galawati kebab.
Authenticity: It is mainly fusion food so, authenticity is off the plate.
Innovation: The global ingredients presented with traditional Indian food.
Bar-o-meter: All high-end wines are available.
Because it is the only restaurant in Delhi to serve Peking duck,Beijing’s most famous dish, that too cooked and served in a traditional way. Huge wooden doors welcome you to China Kitchen, which is adjacent to the pool. Overhead wooden beams, an open kitchen with five sections (Peking duck, dumplings and noodles, steam, the wok and the dessert kitchen) and the wood work catch your attention.
Everything about this place is Chinese-the chefs, ingredients, food, the artefacts and even the names of their five private dining rooms (Sichuan, Hubei, Guangzhou, Anhui and Hunan). 50 labourers from China were called to help build the restaurant. Even before the restaurant opened its doors in 2007, it witnessed hard hat parties. And its popularity continues to grow, courtesy traditional Chinese food.
For instance, Peking duck is roasted in an old-fashioned wood oven and the skin is crisply done. It is then brought to the table and the chef carves or slices the skin and the meat in front of the diners. If you have warded off the duck before because of its bad odour and chewy nature, try Peking duck. It is served with accompaniments such as pancakes, spring onions and two sauces.
Where: Hyatt Regency, Bhikaji Cama Place.
Ambience: Minimalist with dominant wood work.
Service: Gentle and attentive.
Waiting time: Around 15 minutes on busy evenings.
Our pick: Ten treasure salad, Kung pao chicken, spinach with mustard and sesame.
Authenticity: All their ingredients are imported from China.
Innovation: Every six months, the chef introduces new dishes in the menu.
Bar-o-meter: A wide collection of finest malts, sparkling wines, cocktails and champagne.
Meal for two: Rs 2,400 without alcohol plus taxes.
Because despite of being tucked inside a mall, the restaurant can give you the five-star experience. Set’z (earlier known as Zest), the rooftop restaurant at the DLF Emporio, designed by Japanese design firm Super Potato, and managed by famous restaurateur Prasanjit Singh, has been doing just that for a couple of years now.
“It’s not the buzz, but how you keep up with it that matters in the long run,” avers Singh. With the luxury of space, the 280-cover gourmet theatre offers an interactive dining experience. From the showmanship of the talented chefs, representing the distinct flavours of their seven open kitchens, their juggling act at the live Tepenyaki grill counter, the dramatic look of the patchwork-glass wine cellar, to the outdoorsy feel of the Rafi Palm tree in the central-dining area- it’s not just your taste buds that will squeal with delight.
When you have such a complex setting, all you need is experts who can handle it with ease. “We know we’re exposed to customer scrutiny, but why let this burden us, when simplicity is the key to great taste,” says their executive chef Nicholas Van Riemsdijk, who heads the team of 60 culinary chefs, out of which 26 are expats.
The menu is an eclectic mix, which ranges from cutting edge European cuisine to pungent flavours of coastal Indian food. The lavish buffet priced at Rs 1,450 is also a major crowd-puller. The name may have changed, but the experience is as “Zest”ful.
Where: DLF Emporio Mall, Vasant Kunj.
Ambience: The intricate yet contemporary decor enhances the modernday dining experience.
Service: The staff is competent and fairly cordial. The chefs can be your best guide, if you find their 28-page menu confusing.
Waiting time: 20 minutes to an hour.
Our pick: Gosht ki pasliyan, Cheung fan rolls, silky sigri ke seekh kebabs and wild almond (charoli) kebabs.
Authenticity: Import of high-quality ingredients for foreign cuisines and use of fresh produce.
Innovation: Different food counters for different styles of cooking-steamed, stir-fried, grilled and salads.
Bar-o-meter: The Island Bar offers inventive yet refreshing cocktails.
Meal for two: Rs 2,500 excluding taxes.
Because they cannot afford to go wrong when it comes to taste and authenticity. After all, being in Sundar Nagar, a neighbourhood dominated by expatriates, their claim of authenticity is put to test regularly. And perhaps that’s why they have not just survived but thrived for the past seven years. Andrea Aftab Pauro, 33, started Baci in 2004, a time when there were hardly any Italian fine dining places in Delhi.
With an Italian father and Sikh mother, Pauro wanted to bring authentic Italian food to Indians which he’s grown up eating. “Things have changed drastically in India over the years. Today, people actually have more disposable money and can even go to Rome, taste the food there and come and tell if we’re serving authentic stuff or not,”says Pauro.
The young man’s zest for the best seems to reflect on the food, which is deliciously Italian with no dilution. Francesco, the senior Pauro is still actively involved in the kitchen and ensures nothing but authentic Italian is served to his guests. “My father would rather die than serve anything but pure Italian,” says Andrea vehemently.
The Pauros claim to source most of their ingredients from Italy including top quality olive oil. Spread over three floors, the restaurant fits quite well into the affluent surroundings of Sundar Nagar. Done up in simple colours, there’s nothing over-the-top in it. However, the food makes up for the plain interiors. A simple two- page menu surprisingly covers everything interesting in Italian cuisine.
A wee bit of tampering comes in the form of ‘Baci special burger’, which seems to stand out in a menu replete with difficult to pronounce Italian names. Pauro, however, causally shrugs and says, “People love it.” Pauro’s claims, of course, prove true. The show stealer was the Felix salad made with rocket leaves, seasonal fruits such as mango or orange, dressed with goat cheese, pine nuts and argo dolce dressing.
Light with subtle flavours, the salad, named after Pauro’s cat Felix was the perfect beginning to the meal with the delicious pumpkin soup. The Penne con Gumberi e Zucchini, a prawn zucchini pasta with a touch of cream was delicious. Apart from the totally Italian sinful Tiramisu dessert, the Tuscan style baked mascarpone and white chocolate with vanilla sauce was quite a treat.
Where: 23, Sundar Nagar Market.
Ambience: Slightly dull but welcoming.
Service: A little slow but the staff is helpful.
Waiting time: 20 minutes.
Our pick: Felix salad, Ravioli di Zucca and Tiramisu.
Authenticity: All ingredients are sourced from Italy.
Innovation: Not much to speak of.
Bar-o-meter: A wellstocked bar with a variety of Itaian wines.
Meal for two: Rs 2,000 plus taxes.
Because this moderately sized restaurant in the outskirts of the city has been casting its spells for the past four years. The pebbled pathway, verdant greens and soothing sound of water welcome you. Soft music, dimly lit lanterns and wax candles relax your shoulders. Brainchild of famous food critic Marut Sikka, 42, and wife Anusuiya, 38, promises a treat not just to your eyes but also to your palate.
The idea behind setting up Magique was to create a place where people could lighten up and rejuvenate themselves and that is why they chose the Garden of Five Senses. Initially people were reluctant to drive down as it was a little out of the way but as Magique cast its spell, more and more people began to make way to enjoy a meal in this ecologically sensible environment.
The restaurant promises an exciting culinary voyage and has a rather interesting menu comprising dishes, (for instance, watermelon salad served with feta and toasted pine nuts soaked in red wine) which aren’t available anywhere. The menu is brainchild of sous chef Mohan Gurung and Marut himself. The best time to be at Magique is twilight when the sitting area is lit up with lamps and makes for a romantic evening. In the middle of this all you will find yourself intoxicated-not on alcohol but on the aura.
Where: Garden of 5 Senses, Mehrauli Badarpur Road.
Ambience: Simply divine and leaves you spellbound.
Service: The staff is extremely hospitable. The waiters are attentive.
Waiting time: Depends on what you order. But it is not more than 15 minutes.
Our pick: The grills here are definitely the best that the city can offer.
Authenticity: The recipes are original.
Innovation: It lies in elegantly presented dishes.
Bar-o-meter: The bar is well stocked with wines and spirits from across the world.
Meal for two: Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 exclusive of taxes.