A fine-dining restaurant should offer more than just good food; it should impact all your senses and that’s what Varq sets out to do. While Wasabi still remains the most expensive eatery at the Taj group, a meal for two without alcohol at this new 80-seater restaurant will cost you about Rs6,000 (plus taxes).
Varq, which takes over from Haveli, the former Indian cuisine restaurant at the Taj Mahal, retains a few touches from the old eatery, such as the now-restored Anjolie Ela Menon mural. But the new elements, such as the emphasis on presentation, the gold-leaf work on the ceiling to establish the vark connection, the red beaded drum-like chandeliers and specially created music by Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash, define the Varq experience.
The good stuff
Appetizers such as Ganderi Kebab and Kukkad Chaat stand out because they are a presentation of old dishes in a new way. The first is a serving of minced chicken kebabs on sugar cane sticks dipped in saucy tamarind chutney placed in shot glasses. The sour taste of the extra spicy chutney and the sweetness of the sugar cane sticks make this kebab enjoyable. The Kukkad Chaat, essentially chicken tikka, is served with coloured bell peppers and onion. The pieces of chicken are ringed by a wall of crispy dough which in turn sits on swirls of yoghurt, mint chutney and tamarind sauce. Vegetarians who are partial to Delhi’s chaat counters are in for a treat, too. Warm Khurmani Ke Kebabs, dipped in cool yogurt, served with raw mango chutney and stewed apricots, are sure to lure them away from the local chaat shops.
The Murg Sikka Pyaz is a perfect blend of spicy and tangy and quite unlike the usual chicken curry that finds its way on all Indian food menus.
Accompaniments (mini side-portions of staple vegetarian dishes such as dal, aloo, spinach) on the menu allow you to get the full feel of an Indian meal without over-ordering. Thankfully, the bowl of Lal Moth Ki Maharani (red lentils) is not the usual variety of dal drenched in cream and spices.
Though I was sceptical about sipping tea with my “dal and roti”, I ended up trying four varieties. The signature blend Varq Special (a blend of Darjeeling and Basil) came out on top, while white tea supplemented with natural fruit (I opted for mango over strawberry, pineapple and apricots) was a close second. I ended my tea adventure with Van Gulab, which accompanied the dessert platter.
While Martabaan Ka Meat is a recommended must-try for mutton aficionados, the description on the menu is misleading. The lamb pieces, supposed to be cooked with pickled chillies in a traditional martabaan (white and fawn earthen pickle jars, a familiar sight for north Indians who favour home-made mango pickle), need some serious spicing up.
Now, I am not a paneer-hater but both the cottage cheese dishes I tried did not pass muster. I have tasted better marinade on Bhatti Paneer (tandoori paneer tikka) in local dhabas. Another avoid in my book was Peak, the restaurant’s version of a Baked Alaska—chances are, you won’t even taste the layer of kulfi and gulab jamun buried under the mountain of cream. And this one didn’t meet the restaurant’s good looking food criteria either.
Mount Kailash, a cool blend of Himalayan herbs did nothing for me. The sugar cane sorbet (much like ice lollipop) had too much kala namak (black salt), drowning out the taste of sugar cane.
The tea selection starts at Rs225 (a pot of regular tea at Emperor’s Lounge in the hotel would cost the same) and if, like me, you are not sure about mixing tea with dal, ask for a small sampler portion first. Non-vegetarian appetizers start at Rs650, the main course at Rs795, while vegetarian appetizers begin at Rs425 and the main course at Rs475. The accompaniments start at Rs145 (taxes extras).
For me, the best part of the meal was the tea courses with my dal.
For reservations, call 011-23026162