Indian Journey Part XVI: Bukhara!

July 18, 2010 in Food, India, Travel by pacejmiller

For lovers of Indian cuisine, no visit to Delhi is complete without a trip to the “world famous” Bukhara, named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world and the finest in Asia by Restaurant magazine.

As pigs, we of course made the special trip to ITC Maurya New Delhi Hotel, where the restaurant is situated.  It was going to be our last meal in India, so we decided we might as well have the best.  We mentioned it to Kumar (our driver) and he gave us one of the biggest smiling head wobbles of all time.

(to read on and see the pics click on ‘more…’)

“Oh yes,” he said.  “Bukhara is the best restaurant in all of India!”  He even said he was lucky enough to have been there with a wealthy relative/business associate.  The meal was very expensive, he warned us.

Nevertheless, we decided to go all out and asked Kumar and his boss to book us in when we were at his office.  After several attempts, we were assured that we had a reservation for 7pm under “Kumar”.

“Remember my name,” Kumar repeated again and again, even getting us to say it a number of times just to make sure.

Anyway, after driving us around Delhi for the day and then shopping in the afternoon, Kumar took us back to our hotel (The Park) to gather our bags so we could head to the ITC Maurya, which was supposedly a fair ride.  We were going to eat and then head straight to the airport.

Kumar drove slower than the cows we saw on the side of the road and it still only took us 15 minutes to get there.  I guess he didn’t want to wait outside for longer than  he had to.

ITC Maurya is a spectacular hotel.  It’s a “true” 5-star, with a fabulous lobby, incredible high ceilings, and class from top to bottom.  It made us wish we had stayed there instead of The Park, which was very good but didn’t compare.  Location is important, but when you have a driver taking you everywhere, it doesn’t matter all that much.

As expected, we arrived almost an hour early, so we went to the sports bar to watch some soccer and have a pre-dinner drink.

When 7pm rolled around, we hurried to Bukhara, located just around the corner from the giant lobby.  From the outside, it looked like any other normal restaurant in a 5-star hotel — expectedly classy but nothing too extravagant.

Inside, we repeated the name “Kumar” a number of times but they couldn’t find the name on the list.  Great, I was thinking, until I saw my name on the list.  I suppose they must have accidentally made two reservations.

Nevertheless, they guided us to a cosy little spot with a great view of the glass kitchen, where we can see the many chefs making naan and other grilled meats.  They all looked very professional and busy.

The menu was on a big piece of wood, as though chopped directly from a tree.  After struggling to comprehend what a lot of the items are, we ended up going with the Bill Clinton special (I think it was the “Presidential Platter”) — and no, it was not an assortment of lovely, scantily clad ladies offering “special” services.  Apparently, this was the tasting menu Mr Clinton tried when he visited India a few years ago.  Well, if it was good enough for Mr Cigar, then it was good enough for me.

Now, the thing with Bukhara is that it’s not your usual Indian restaurant.  There are no creamy curries or butter chicken.  This place is a “grill” and it’s somewhat of an acquired taste.  It’s mostly simple, grilled meats that you tear with your hands, dip into some sauce, and then eat with some naan.  Their signature dish is this shredded lamb, which is very nice, but only if you like lamb (I’m okay with it).  They have this kind of dipping sauce you use for the meat that took 11 hours to make, but it’s made from lentils.  So if you don’t like lentils (like me), then it’s not exactly going to blow your world.  The only other flavouring is this yoghurt, which is mixed with chopped cucumber, onions and tomato.  It’s pretty good, but I’m not a huge fan of yoghurt.

This is what Bill Clinton had many moons ago

So lamb, lentils and yoghurt, three of my least favourite things — and yet I still finished most of the food.  Bukhara may be a top restaurant, but to be perfectly honest it really wasn’t for me.

The dessert…well, I’m just going to flat out say it: I don’t like traditional Indian desserts/sweets.  That said, what we had (this incredibly sweet fried ball and a strange ice cream with cold sweet vermicelli) was better than most I’ve tried in my time.

That's not what it looks like...

I may sound like Bukhara wasn’t the best experience but I still think it was a worthwhile one.  It just happened to be that I didn’t fancy a lot of the things they had.  But the rest of the packed house around us (mostly Japanese business men) seemed to be having an absolute ball.  We didn’t have any alcohol, so the price ended up being very reasonable.  Cheaper than most Michelin starred restaurants you would find in any European country.

All things considered, I’d give Bukhara a 7 out of 10.

[PS: Kumar was shocked, disappointed, and a little peeved that we had ‘forgotten’ his name.  ‘You forgot my name!’ he said over and over when we made our way to the car.  Apparently someone from the restaurant called him but he told them we were already inside.  I assured him we had indeed remembered his name.  “Harold and Kumar”, I said.  “Harold and Kumar!”