Delhi may not be universally popular with my colleagues who go there on a regular basis. Bureaucracy, traffic, pollution, noise, heat and more bureaucracy all take their toll but if you can somehow find your way through that then the dining options can be superb. I’ve already written about Indian Accent which has become one of my favourite restaurants on our network and is clearly Michelin standard, but there are many other Delhi restaurants that provide, if not quite Michelin standard, excellent food that can be enjoyed at great prices.
One of those restaurants is the Taj Palace’s Masala Art, serving traditional North Indian fare with a little bit of ingenuity. The food is good, the staff friendly and the prices are reasonable considering its location. However, it was time to try something new and so we booked into the new flagship restaurant at the Taj Palace’s sister hotel, Varq at the Taj Mahal.
Decorated in dark reds, burgundy walls, crimson lampshades and a textured geometric feature wall with Indian friezes and trinkets in an attempt to create an intimate boudoir experience. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. The room is too boxy, there’s not enough soft furnishings which allows sound to echo around the room and the tables are just too far apart. The lack of clientele on a Monday evening didn’t exactly help either.
Service was perfunctory with little real engagement from the staff who seemed almost reticent to talk, banter or attempt to ensure you were made welcome.
The wine list seemed intent on ensuring that very little wine was drunk in the restaurant with what looked to be fierce mark ups. Meerlust Rubicon? £90 a mere snip. Indeed looking around the place I only saw a bottle of wine on 2 out of 8 occupied tables, everybody else was on Kingfisher or water.
All of this could have been forgiven if the food matched up to the prices but that proved to be a disappointment too.
Varqui Crab starter
Layers of crab meat with tandoori prawn on filo sheets. Not too bad to start with, a good crab and savoury coconut flavour. Filo pastry was well done but this dish quickly became cloying. Just too rich with an excess of butter.
Gimmicky presentation with dry ice which didn’t add anything to the dish. Very tasty sorbet though with just enough salt to keep it on the savoury side. Very good palate cleanser.
Duck 4 Ways
Presentation was OK but again it seemed more like the chef was trying too hard and not concentrating on the harmony of the dish. Each component didn’t need to be in individual dishes and the fried duck egg would have been much better poached and not stuck to the bottom of the pan. Spice level was ideal for me and there was enough interest in the other 3 parts to make it worthwhile but I was left wondering what, if anything, pulled this course together. A very accomplished dhal accompanied the entree.
Rum Chocolate Dessert
Visually entertaining right up to the point where they poured a jug of Baileys over the top, resulting in a squelchy unappealing mess that tasted exactly like it looked! Very disappointing and seemed to be indicative of the whole meal, trying too hard but not quite getting it.
Service throughout was disappointing and compounded by not a single member of staff thanking us after paying the bill, or wishing us a good evening on the way out.
Vark needs to take a good look at what it is trying to achieve with its food. If they are looking for how to bring Indian food and service up to Michelin standard then they could do worse than pay a visit to Indian Accent to see how both of those are done properly. Until then, I’d give Varq a wide berth.
This delightful pub in Newton in Bowland, Lancashire has been on my radar for some time. First alerted to it by @the_A_Stephenson over 2 years ago, I have been trying to find an excuse to eat here. Visiting relatives in nearby Preston at the start of the school half term holiday provided the perfect opportunity to repay some of their wonderful hospitality over the years, and to finally head through the impossibly scenic Trough of Bowland to this busy country pub. The weather was one of those rare blue sunny days that highlighted the natural beauty of the area, enhanced by a blaze of autumnal colour that bounced off an ever changing landscape. The drive to the pub was nothing short of stunning.
Driving through all that natural beauty had left me thirsty, and this being a pub, I needed a pint. A deliciously hoppy golden ale, Lancaster Amber. Crisp, fresh, nutty malt and a thread of citrus with only 3.7% alc, this was an excellent choice for lunchtime drinking.
With my thirst satiated and the kids settled down it was time to get on to the food. With 6 of us there for lunch we were able to order a good variety of food and of course the kids were happy to share their dishes with me in return for a bribe of ice-cream!
First up was the Bowland grouse, rabbit and cobnut terrine which came on a wooden platter with a piccalilli that was packed with well balanced and spicy flavour. Juicy, tender chunks of meat in the terrine contrasted with the light crunch of the cobnuts. We were off to a great start!
Other starters included a potato and Lancashire cheese cake that featured a soft potato base topped with a crunchy and comforting cheese layer laced with a smokey aspect. The accompanying tomato based sauce worked well but this dish lacked the complexity of the terrine and would perhaps become more of an obvious choice as the winter draws closer.
I didn’t taste the Muncaster crab tatin but it was certainly well presented and the speed with which it disappeared along with the soft murmurs of approval suggested that it was equally well received.
Before moving on to the mains, we got our first hint that not all was well in the kitchen – somebody was on the receiving end of a Gordon Ramsay style attitude re-adjustment! We had a bit of a wait for the mains to arrive, but the restaurant was busy and we were enjoying the wine, a particularly good value René Rostaing Cuvée Terroirs Cote Rotie 1997, that was hitting the spot with its cherry, leather and herbal profile, so there was no rush.
The kids were served first, with my youngest being ambitious enough to go for the pie of the day, rabbit and ham. Chunks of savoury rabbit had a pleasingly deep flavour and the salty ham was a tasty foil. The filling was juicy, tender and satisfying, wrapped in a crispy crust pastry that found enough favour with my son that he didn’t save me any for sampling! Being a typical 8 year old he kindly saved the Kale for me…
I went for the same as my daughter, Cockerham salt marsh lamb and Morecambe bay cockle pudding. This was a triumph of a suet pudding, remarkably light and seasoned with spicy black pepper. Chunks of lamb had been cooked to perfection leaving them meltingly tender but still full of rich meaty flavour and working in harmony with the soft, tangy cockles – a delicious combination that surely takes its inspiration from beef and oyster pie. The silky, creamed mash potato had a lighter touch with the butter than I’ve had at other establishments and was certainly the better for it with this particular dish.
Also on the table was the main course from the very reasonably priced Sunday Roast special, slow roast belly of Bowland Pork. As it should be, this was meltingly soft with an exceptional flavour not just from the obvious quality of the meat but also the spices such as star anise that had permeated into the meat. The skin was crispy and provided enough crunch to match the tender pork. Kale and roasted root vegetables contributed plenty of interest alongside crispy roast potatoes, roasted apple sauce and a well balanced cider gravy.
The wonderfully sunny day had obviously brought out hordes of people wanting to enjoy what could be the last sustained sunshine before the winter draws in and it seems that they all wanted to eat at the Parkers Arms. With over 70 walk-ins on top of the reservations, the staff were stretched to the limit, not helped by being 5 short apparently. This manifested itself in longish waits between courses and stress in the kitchen spilling out with an occasional Ramsay rant. Understandable, but I didn’t really want my kids to hear that.
When the desserts did arrive, they were indeed worth the wait with the Clitheroe apple and custard tart coming first. Gorgeous presentation, first bite with the eyes stuff. The pastry base was crisp and thin, topped with caramelised apples and soft runny custard. The salted caramel wasn’t just for show, it added another dimension to the dish that kept me going back for more. I didn’t want to share this dish with my wife but something told me it was in my best interests to do so!
In exchange for what I had grudgingly left of the apple tart I got to try the Wet Nelly which seemed to be an interesting combination of fruit cake, Christmas pudding and mince pie. Sweet, filling and in need of the excellent crème anglais served with it, small portions recommended!
Last up was the chocolate melting pudding, which performed exactly as advertised. Again I didn’t try this but the sparklingly clean plate left behind was testament to my guest’s enjoyment of this particular dish.
This was a delicious meal with well executed cooking and priced extremely well, make no mistake there is some very good value here. We were left a little deflated by the service and the stress coming out of the kitchen but I suspect that had more to do with the weather and the number of people taking advantage of it than anything else. That certainly wouldn’t put me off returning in future and I would be very happy to recommend the Parkers Arms to foodie friends, just try and choose a quieter time!
I’d like to pass on my thanks to Andrew Stephenson for his recommendation and you can read his fascinating blog at the link below for more thoughts on North West England dining.