What does one write about the food experience that hardly has anything to find fault with? A seven-course dinner at the Maharaja Table at Jamavar, the Leela Palace Hotel, is a similar experience. From the frenching on the lamb racks and quenelling of the badam halwa, to the tastefully vibrant plating of the desert platter and the use of kokum extract to balance the sweet and mildly fragrant sandalwood sorbet, almost every aspect of the meal was curated with a surgical precision. It was perfect, and annoyingly so.
Jamavar, present in five Leela properties across India, promises a “royal Indian dining experience”. The gold and brown colour scheme runs through chandelier-lit interiors and gives the place a regal look. The so-called Maharaja Table, which can seat eight people, is separated from the rest of the dining area by beige gold drapes hanging from the ceiling. Crystal glasses, silver cutlery and a table directly under the grand chandelier complete the “royal”setting.
When I sat there for dinner recently, the wait for some of my fellow diners, and the food, was long. Thankfully, a plethora of condiments—an assortment of nuts, papad and cut raw vegetables like cucumber accompanied by various chutneys and pickles—came to the rescue. Conversation veered from demonetization and Trump to beards, whiskys and gin, becoming so animated at times that you needed some alcohol to calm the senses. It is a good thing then that there was plenty of Italian Merlot and Pinot Grigio.
The meal—starting with an amuse bouche of a Bhelpuri Crisp with coco butter and a kesar flavoured thandai, and ending with a dessert plate of assorted Indian sweets—was luxurious. The menu, curated by chef Vinod Saini, featured several dishes from the Jamavar menu as well as some exclusive dishes. The highlights were the kebab platter (tandoori lamb chop, chicken chop, ajwaini prawn and salmon with basil), the sandalwood and kokum sorbet and the dessert platter (Badaam halwa, kesar pista ice-cream with faluda, raskadam, garnished with saffron syrup and berry coulis). The meat in kebabs was succulent, the spices balanced, and the sweets hearty. Carrom seeds with prawn was offbeat but surprisingly tasty. The tiny sprig of mint used for garnish complimented the mild sandalwood scent of the sorbet well and sang through the dish.
In the mains, khazana-e-zameen (an assortment of four kinds of mushrooms steeped in caramelized onion, roasted almond, tomatoes and saffron, and garnished with Truffle oil) was the standout dish. It was earthy, meaty and the liberal use of Truffle oil tasted delightful. So much so that the few missteps—the makai and tomato shorba was too buttery and a tad bland, and the tender raan-e-mastaan (baby lamb shank slow cooked on charcoal with tandoori spices and flambéd with rum, the flambé was optional) was overpowered by the strong taste of the alcohol—were easily forgiven.
The different courses were paced perfectly for one to feel suitably hungry for the next one, giving enough time to the palate to recover and slow enough to be deemed royal. The wait staff was efficient and the service immaculate. What elevated the experience was the involvement of chef Saini who kept coming to the table with each course to discuss the food, its ingredients and the cooking processes.
And therein lies the beauty of the experience. It is like tripping on an expensive single malt. The food, like the Scotch, ever so good and distinctively similar in taste, turns you into a loyalist over time. And once you’ve discovered that pleasure, you’d want to share it with people you love in the lap of luxury.
Bookings for the Maharaja Table need to be done 24 hours in advance and the meal costs Rs10,000 per person.