This Sunday India's best restaurant critic--and one of its best editors--revealed his choices for Delhi's best restaurants. While I'm glad that Vir Sanghvi has resumed writing his restaurant reviews for the Hindustan Times, I have to quibble with a couple of his choices below:
First - Swagath. I know everybody loves this place, but I have never had a good meal there except the dry items that our dear friend Sunila had delivered to a party at our house one night. The gravies are all gloppy and overspiced, and, as in many Indian restaurants, most of the dishes taste suspiciously alike. The atmosphere is also terrible. Like Embassy with pretensions and higher prices. (In general, I have my doubts about Vir's take on South Indian - he doesn't seem to eat any vegetarian food, for one thing).
And - Diva? Diva? Diva? I can't communicate enough disbelief that (1) Vir actually says this place is the best non-five star hotel restaurant and (2) the Italian embassy gets owner/chef Ritu Dalmia to cater its dos. To me, this is another restaurant where I've never ordered right--once I had a beef dish that was composed entirely of gristle, another time a terribly over-salted pesto, and there were several other items I can't remember. I'm willing to accept that sometimes a place will get it wrong, but I've been at least three times with groups of four or so people, and nobody got a decent meal. (The gristle-squirrel patty swimming in salty brown sauce that masqueraded as beef tenderloin was grounds for immediate closure, as far as I'm concerned).
Rick's - Maybe they do make good cocktails, but (as Vir points out) it's uglier than an airport smoking area. Also, the crowd tends to lean toward the worst sort of Delhi elitism.
Vir's column follows below. What say you? Does he get it right?
"This is a subjective and entirely arbitrary listing of the places I enjoy going to. It is not the view of the HT Eating Out Guide -- which, by definition, is far more objective and well-considered -- but consists of personal preferences. And as I am not sponsored by ITC -- unlike the Guide -- I am not excluding the Maurya's restaurants.
Best Indian Restaurant Swagath, Defence Colony Perhaps because it is in my locality, I am always well-disposed towards Swagath and its well-priced South Indian non-vegetarian food. Go for the crab, the bombil and the prawn Koliwada.
Best Non Five Star Restaurant Diva, Greater Kailash An island of excellence in the city. Ritu Dalmia does amazing pasta, risottos and desserts. If you don't believe me, ask the city's Italian community. Ritu -- and not the city's expatriate Italian chefs -- is the one the Italian embassy has chosen to cater its parties and to run the café at its cultural centre.
Best Cocktails Rick's, Taj Mahal Hotel I've never been wild about the sterile hotel bar décor but this is the place that introduced the Mojito, the Cosmopolitan and a whole range of flavoured vodkas to Delhi. The food menu is beginning to look a bit tired but the snacks are consistently good and the service is outstanding.
Best Funky Bar Agni, The Park Hotel Best enjoyed after a couple of drinks or half a bottle of wine from the excellent list. On weekends, this place rocks and Hindi film music has never sounded as terrific as it does on their sound system. You can also order food from Fire, the wonderful Indian restaurant next door.
Best Kebabs Bukhara I've heard the claims for all the other places but nearly three decades after it opened, Bukhara is still the king. You'll find it difficult to eat a bad meal here. I also like the fact that it is a democratic restaurant. There are no great tables and no VIP stands. No matter who comes to eat -- and Tony Blair and Bill Clin ton have both been here over the last few months -- they will get the same amazing kebabs and service on the rest of us.
Most Picturesque Restaurant Olive It swings at night but the best time to go to Olive is for a cool winter lunch when you can soak in the ambience and admire the sheer beauty of the place.
Where To Take the Kids Eatopia, India Habitat Centre Rohit Khattar is a quality-conscious, highly self-critical owner so he's never satisfied with the food quality at this food court. But I like it. And so will your kids.
Best Sunday Brunch West View, the Maurya Bill Marchetti is an Australian who pretends to be an Italian. But he's also one hell of a chef and one of ITC's greatest assets. He has transformed Sundays with his fresh oysters, chorizo and Canadian bacon filled lunches. Plus there are terrific wines -- chosen by Bill -available by the glass. I am also a great fan of the Machan brunch but West View is now a better bet because a) the location and view are amazing and b) the Indian food on the Machan buffet has collapsed since Chef Qureshi flew off to Scotland. Nevertheless, give Machan a shot as well -- the oysters and caviar are astonishingly well-priced and Tapash Bhattacharya is a great manager-chef.
Best Place for a Romantic Dinner San Gimignano, The Imperial I've lost count of the illicit couples -- a minister (in the last government) plus mistress, a movie star plus girlfriend etc. -- I've caught having a romantic dinner here -- especially when they open the terrace in the winter.
Most Interesting Restaurant Owner Nelson Wang, China Garden The last real character among India's restaurateurs, Nelson can be great fun. And if he snaps his fingers at the kitchen, the food can be truly amazing.
Best Special Occasion Restaurant The Orient Express, Taj Palace Hotel. If you have a birthday or an anniversary, this is the place to go. Mohit Malhotra is Delhi's best restaurant manager and chef D N Sharma acquires new skills with each passing year. A class act.
Best Place for a Quiet Lunch Travertino, The Oberoi It is Delhi's most expensive restaurant but maitre d'hotel Salvatore Scarpino's wine-picks and Chef Tomasso Maddalena's food are worth the price. It gets an elegant, quiet crowd at lunch.
Best F&B Professional Thomas Abraham, The Taj Palace It is amazing how Abraham has turned the Palace's restaurants around. The Tea House of the August Moon has never been better, Masala Art is packed and The Orient Express thrives. I never thought anyone could affect such a turnaround so quickly. Best of all, Thomas is a low-key sort of guy who does nothing to promote himself but concentrates on operations. It doesn't give him the profile he deserves, but it works wonders for the hotel.
The Taj Palace is currently on a roll. The team of General Manager Sarabjit Singh and Thomas have really turned the hotel -- traditionally, the biggest under-performer in the Taj Luxury stable -- around so completely that it now outshines its big brother on Man Singh Road. Hotelier of the Year Gautam Anand, ITC He's not General Manager of the Maurya any longer now that he's been promoted to corporate office but Gautam is still Mr Delhi. He works his butt off, is in total control of his operation and has created a highly motivated team of professionals that maintain his high standards.
I should actually also mention Nakul Anand ITC's big boss, because the chain's hotels in other cites (such as Calcutta, Bangalore and Delhi) have been completely transformed since he's taken control of the company and introduced new levels of professionalism. But I think the credit for Delhi should go to Gautam nevertheless because of his obsessive perfectionism and his passion for F&B."