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.