I am the first to admit my double standards when it comes to restaurants that serve Indian food. Most friends who have eaten with me will criticise me for being too demanding of the food and the service. I have always maintained that I go to restaurants for one of two reasons: great food, great service. Ideally both, but definitely one. All that is forgotten though, when I eat Indian food. Quite clearly because it is the food I have grown up on, Indian food to me is about hospitality, ceremony, and a great deal of love.
When I heard that India’s favourite black daal was coming to London I was beside myself. Memories of some of the best meals of my life came flooding back. I couldn’t tell you about the first time I ate at Delhi’s Bukhara, but I can tell you about the last meal I had there with my grandfather, and how we ate bowls of their Daal Bukhara and hot tandoori rotis for hours. I can tell you about the time my friend proposed to her (now) husband over his favourite meal in the world. And I can tell you about the last time I was in the presence of their majestic Sikandari Raan.
Bukhara, India’s favourite restaurant, has decided to visit London for two weeks in a pop up avatar at the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge. My Twitter-bud Dolce Dini couldn’t make it to their preview lunch and I was more than happy to take her place. Thanks to her I was able to relive some of my favourite food memories from home, right here in London.
The afternoon began with glasses of bubbly in a canopied bar bursting with Indian colour. Kashmiri carpets, silk cushions, Rajasthani chairs… they had managed to squeeze the most clichéd Indian decor into one tiny space and yet make it look beautiful. It’s a shame this bar isn’t a permanent feature at the hotel! There we stood, a group of bloggers and food critics, making polite conversation with each other; but really all we wanted was to get to the main event – the grand menu that had travelled all the way from India.
The room we were led to gave us no indication of the sumptuous meal we were about to receive. We were seated at round tables with token candles in a banquet room that lacked any splendour, glamour, or character. I ignore the bland room, and the waiters discomfort in their kurtas… thalis of the food had started to arrive.
They offered us a sampling of the tasting menus that they will serve over the next two week (Vegetarian at £59 and Meat & Seafood at £79). The first round of sharing platters had the famous malai chicken kababs, king prawns, fabulous paneer tikkas and (cold :-() naans and rotis. Thankfully the Daal Bukhara arrived soon after and everything else was forgiven. The daal tasted exactly as I remember it. Nothing else has ever come close, and I’m willing to bet, no other daal ever will.
Next, the Sikandari Raan. When we have this in the original Delhi restaurant, there is a moment of silence on the table as we pay our respects to the sheer magnificence of this dish. The lamb will be tender and make you sing as you rip into it. The London cousin didn’t inspire much singing but was close enough to the original.
They served two desserts. A decidedly uninspiring phirni and an orgasmic (I don’t use this term lightly) gulab jamun.
I am surprised to say that after the daal my favourite dish of the afternoon was the tandoori aloo, something I almost never order in Delhi. With each mouthful of the fluffy potatoes drenched in ginger, chilli, coriander and stuffed with nuts and raisins, I disappeared from the room a little. I was six and decorating Mamma’s Gingerbread Men. I was seven, on the roof with Papa, stealing ber off our neighbour’s tree. I was nine and had just touched snow for the first time at Rohtang Pass. I was twelve and was waking up from my first night on a houseboat in Kashmir. I was fifteen and kissing my grandmother goodbye for the last time. I was home.