The Taj group of hotels have among the best restaurants in hotels located all over the world. It then is not surprising that a new restaurant that opens in a Taj gets top priority in any food related news item. Varq is one such restaurant launched at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, not so long ago, largely heralded as another feather in the Taj restaurant cap. It has been on my todo list for a while now and recently i was able to go there for dinner along with a few friends. Being very impressed with Masala Art at the Taj Palace also in New Delhi, i didnt know what to expect from Varq.
The restaurant itself is beautifully done up, very nice full wall mural by Anjolie Ela Menon on one side. It gives the right look of any upscale fine dining restaurant. Expensive restaurants like to make the customers feel special by offering FREE bite sized food creations and Varq is no different. First up was something served up in fancy soup spoon kind of way covered by a lid, urging you to open it and see what lies within.I could call what was inside a fried lentil cake soaked in whipped curd and a tamarind sauce, garnished with pomegranate seeds but sorry Monica Didi, i am calling it a dahi vada :).
Next up was another on the house palate teaser, a tamarind sorbet. Couldnt taste the tamarind but there was a distinct taste of Amchoor, which , for the uninitiated, is a seasoning made from dried raw mango, so it would be a raw mango sorbet.
I wont comment on food the others had ordered and what i didnt eat. My ordered appetizer came next, Malabari Prawns. They were fried and were sitting up on a delicate coconut chutney bed. They were a little oily but still tender and flavorful though light on the real malabari spices, i guess something more palatable for the western guests. For the main course, i had ordered the Murg Khatta Pyaz and Martbaan ka Meat. The chicken was just like they serve in Masala Art so nothing new there and the mutton was an achari ghost served in a real martbaan or barni used for fermenting and curing pickles. Anything exciting ? no except the breads accompanying these dishes were different. I had an olive naan and a tomato mozzarella stuffed kulcha, certainly these are items not available in Indian food places and would be considered "Fusion".
The desserts were probably the best part of the meal and my favourite was the Jalebi platter. Very thin and crisp jalebis on a foundation of kalakand and a not so sweet rabri which was the dipping sauce. Another dessert i tried was the malpua, which were rolled up like a swiss roll and seemed to be stuffed with a sweet carrot mince and also had the same rabri laid out in the plate.
So could the Taj have gotten a restaurant wrong ? Is the food not good ? No, actually the food is quite good. What it seems to have is an identity crisis. Its not contemporary indian food and its not fusion. The question is, who will go to eat regular Indian food in a good environment thats VERY expensive ? I think the answer is three kinds of people who would visit Varq on a regular basis. Ofcourse there would be many people who would come to satisfy their curiosity and see what new has spawned from the Taj F&B womb.
The first kind of customer would be those who want to be seen in a restaurant thats been so well received by the press and food critics and one thats clearly expensive. Unfortunately there are many such people in Delhi for whom presence is a way of life and being seen at an "in" place is very fashionable, and the food that is being served doesnt really matter at all. Such people wouldn't be caught dead even near a place like Moti Mahal, which does serve good food in my opinion but would be considered "down market".
The second kind of customer would be the very rich people of Delhi who may feel they are in a slum if they are not surrounded by expensive art, served on foreign china and crystal stemware. If they want to eat Indian food, Varq is where they would go.
The third kind of customer would obviously be the foreign guests of the hotel who will probably like this restaurant the most and will certainly come back.
Additionally, the free bite sized titbits came back in the end of meal in the form of paans, freshly made at a paan station in the restaurant. Really good, but i had to eat about 6 to really get it going.
I came away from the meal, feeling underwhelmed by the experience. There was nothing radical or new about the food. Somehow i felt the food a Haveli (the restaurant Varq has replaced) was much nicer and unpretentious. It is however unwise to judge a restaurant by one meal alone. Especially when not many of the dishes have been sampled. So i will try out Varq again and order something different the next time.