The only thing I remember about our fourth day in India was dinner at Bukhara. It took a very long time to get from Jaipur to that restaurant in Delhi-- it felt like we were trapped inside the bus the whole day. But oh, was it worth it.
When I saw our itinerary weeks before our trip, I knew that the only way I would survive all those mediocre buffets without cracking up was to have something to look forward to. After consulting The Miele Guide and reading the reviews on Tripadvisor, I sent an email to the ITC Maurya Hotel to book a table for six people at Bukhara.
To say that this was my best meal in India might not mean much, given the quality of all our other meals, but it was really good. It made me feel bad for the rest of our group who didn't join us, because 1) they missed out on an authentic Northern Indian cuisine experience, and 2) that same evening they had the worst pseudo-Chinese food-- part of the itinerary-- that they ever had in their lives.
As soon as we sat down at our table, our friendly and efficient waiter gave us some light and crispy papadums to munch on. The green chutney was OK, but the sliced onions sprinkled with spice were wonderful. Good start. 4/5
Apparently, Bukhara is the most popular restaurant in New Delhi right now and they are always, always busy, but during the two hours that we were there, we never felt rushed or ignored by the staff. In fact, all the diners seemed happy and comfortable, never mind that we had to wear bibs.
Bukhara's Sikandari Raan, a whole leg of baby lamb, is famous and rightfully so. It was tender, smoky, moist and packed with flavor. Very slightly gamey, just enough for us to know that we weren't eating beef or pork, with distinct whiffs of cinnamon and cumin. Steph took the leftovers home and ate them in Manila. 4.25/5
But it was the Murgh Tandoori that blew me away. First of all, it was perfectly cooked chicken-- sounds easy to do but so many restaurants can't do it right. And the flavor was the perfect balance of salt, sweet, tart and heat. So this is what tandoori chicken is supposed to taste like! Alas, I have been spoiled and will never be able to eat this dish elsewhere ever again. 4.75/5
Everyone agreed that the Tandoori Jhinga was the unexpected favorite of the evening. The prawns looked like a mess on the plate, but tasted sublime. The garam masala flavor was not too aggressive and the use of yoghurt created a delicate, melt-in-the-mouth texture. This one dish is worth going back to India for. 5/5
The Tandoori Pomfret 3.5/5 and Tandoori Simla Mirch (capsicums) 3.75/5 were our attempts at eating healthy. Not bad but not great. We also ordered Barrah Kabab (lamb on sticks) which was so unremarkable that I didn't even bother to take a picture. We should have ordered more prawns instead, or maybe a big hunk of Paneer Tikka.
Another dish Bukhara is famous for is the Dal Bukhara. As I already mentioned, we were served dhal at every meal while we were in India and I tried them all. Bukhara's was a completely different animal. We could tell right away from the first mellow spoonful that it had been slow-cooked forever. The dollops of cream and butter didn't hurt, either. 4.5/5
We had some Butter Naan, Garlic Naan and Tandoori Roti which were simply delicious and worlds apart from what we had been eating the past few days. Think Mercedes Benz versus Toyota. The garlic one was a particular favorite of our group. 4/5
We thought that we had to have some yoghurt with our meal. The Mixed Raita with fresh chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers was very refreshing, but in hindsight not really necessary since we didn't order anything that was overly spicy. 3.5/5
We chose two desserts: Phirni, ground rice pudding in a clay bowl, and Kulfi, Indian ice cream. They were OK but not really my thing. I'm glad we tried them, but I much prefer fresh fruit or chocolate to end a meal, wherever I am. 3.75/5
While waiting for our bill, we were given some cardamom, sugar and coconut in little bowls. Put a bit of each into palm, pop all into mouth, chew... et voilà! Instant palate cleanser and breath freshener.
The menus are painted on wooden boards-- a nice touch. There are some set meal options, for both vegetarians and meat-eaters, but we ended up paying much less per person for ala carte.
If you're going to India with an itinerary like ours, make sure that you eat at Bukhara or someplace similar for a taste of real Indian food. Even if, or especially if, you think that you don't like Indian food. You won't regret it, I swear.
My tips for eating at Bukhara:
1. Book ahead but if you can't, they accept walk-ins after 830PM. You will have to wait, though. At least 30 minutes, I was told.
2. Be prepared to spend some moolah. Our bill was 20,400 rupees (US$370) for six serious eaters. For India, that's expensive, but majority of the diners were locals and they seemed eager to shell out.
3. Bring your friends and family. The portion sizes are meant for sharing. More people means you can order more stuff. If you're alone, I suppose you could try the set menus.
4. The drinks are expensive. Bukhara is located inside a hotel, after all. The wine selection is not too shabby but extremely overpriced.
5. There is no service charge, so please leave a tip. Rarely am I this impressed with an establishment's service. Bukhara is a well-oiled machine and it's the staff who make it so.
Located at ITC Maurya New Delhi
Tel (91) (11) 26112233