Jaiwana Haveli, Udaipur 01-2015

Jaiwana Haveli is one of the highest rated places on booking.com, TA and general reviews for the entire combination of accommodation, food and views. I have to admit the corner rooms are outstanding and spacious and the location is excellent. There is a big premium for these things especially compared to typical India prices, but when the alternative option is the Lake Palace Hotel for $900 per night, this is a better alternative for the common person.

Food is served in the restaurant up on level 5 and rising up the stone stairwells assists the appetite. The wait staff are a great and hospitable couple of guys who smile, greet and bring you food.

Overall the breakfast was outstanding. For someone who can eat a lot, the Rs. 350 (which I paid as part of the room fee on booking.com) made it worth it. For a smaller eater, selecting a few things off the menu might be better but I can't imagine a better breakfast place in Udaipur.

- Matari Poha (traditional specialty of rice flakes cooked with green peas, onions & spiced with turmeric) - outstanding collection of flavours (sweet, sour, tangy, spicy) and textures (soft, crispy, chewy) combined into the perfect snack or meal component;
- Two Farm Fresh Eggs (boiled)
- Stuffed Paratha with Yogurt (unleavened whole wheat bread shallow fried on a griddle served with pickle chutney) - good quality thick paratha which served as a carrier for the excellent chilli pickles which I tried for the first time here;
- Seasonal Fresh Fruit Platter - pineapple, papaya, pomegranate, banana, canteloupe, mandarin all fresh;
- Chai Masala Tea - mildly spiced but good to complete the meal.

With these expectations, the last dinner in Udaipur was conveniently at the same place. Unfortunately the restaurant doesn't open in time for the winter sunset and so taking advantage of the rooftop view for this reason is limiting. You do pay a premium for the privelege which dampens the experience slightly. Every night there is a traditional dance and music show closeby at Bangore ki Haveli 7pm which I didn't get to see, but you can hear it from Jaiwana Haveli each evening and even see glimpses of it from the high vantage point.

- Chicken Tikka - reasonably tender meat mildly spiced but nothing special;
- Arbi Ki Shabzi (taro curry)
- Kashmiri Pulao
- Garlic Naan - given the quality of the breakfast paratha, I had high hopes for the bread. It had nice slices of garlic with some of the shoots embedded under a coating of butter. Not bad at all.

Unfortunately the dinner didn't live up to the expectations set by breakfast. It wasn't bad, just not as good and the high dining prices didn't seem value for money. Nonetheless considering the slight difficulty I had in finding dinner places closeby that appealed to me (other than Ambrai and the elusive Charcoal), a meal here is certainly convenient if staying nearby and adequate enough.

Varq, Delhi 01-2015

I'd read that Delhi was actually a wonderful city for food. I suppose it is partially because it is within a country known for street food quality (although hygiene may be in question) and has restaurants catering toward the standard class as well as Western prices for rich and tourists. I had already decided to go to Bukhara (or Dum Pukht) for the final meal of the trip and so I thought trying a modern Indian restaurant would be a good way to start the trip. It may have been better to start with the traditional first and modern last but the schedule of hotels and day itineraries meant the other way was most convenient. 

Varq is also reputed to potentially be the best restaurant in Delhi/India and is currently the only Delhi restaurant to remain in the San Pellegrino Top 50 Asia (#32 currently, #30 in 2014) whilst Bukhara and Dum Pukht have fallen out. It is located within the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi, one of the luxury Taj brand places where each car is security screened upon arrival and Barack Obama was going to stay the following weekend for Republic Day celebrations.

The restaurant setting is beautiful. Mood lighting, exceptional decoration and an outdoor area that would be perfect in warmer weather. Even with only 2 tables occupied inside, the outside was primed with tables and large charcoal pits to give atmosphere in the emptiness.

- Saffron lassi
- Pink ginger lassi
- (complimentary) amuse bouche - sweet tiny wrap of potato and pomegranate seeds.

The starters (aka entrees in the Western world) were served with wonderful aromas emanating upon approach.

- Varqui Crab (layers of crab meat, tandoori shrimp on crisp filo sheet) – very highly crab meat flavour with soft texture, thin filo, top of shrimp, surrounded by a cumin balsamic sauce with small slices of red chilli;
- Chicken Three Way – ganderi kebab (soft mince kebab, sweet sugarcane, tangy raw mango sauce), bhatti ka murg (cheese sauce and fenugreek & fennel succulent chicken breast), murg methi malai tikka (7 spices including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon etc excellent grilled chicken thigh) served with coriander sauce.

I couldn't resist the sound of a lobster soup. In hindsight it wasn't all that I dreamt of but I couldn't know that at the time. In any case they served a complimentary soup so that my dining partner wasn't excluded from a course. Very considerate.

- Lobster Rassa (Cochin prawns, black pepper & fennel rusk, robust lobster broth) – small shrimp, sliced slightly firm scallop which was quite good, calamari encrusted with couscous/polenta which had odd texture. Perhaps lobster is prawn as the broth had mild prawn and fish flavour but minimal lobster. Weird crouton stick;
- (complimentary) Kale Channe Ki Cappuccino (cappuccino style flavoured black chickpea broth) – an odd soup but unexpectedly nice for kale.

The entrees (aka mains in the Western world) followed. There was great excitement given the quality of the starters. Any hint of fullness that was creeping in soon disappeared.

- (complimentary) Guava, fennel, black pepper sorbet palate cleanser which reminded me of a fresh tomato sorbet flavour;
- Duck 4 Ways – slightly disappointing. Duck egg (fried), tamarind roast (chewy roast with tangy tamarind), duck samosa (delicious green chilli dry heat), chef's special masala confit (thick chewy slices without enough tenderness or nice flavour). Overall not much duck flavour;
- Green Chilly Tulsi & Pinenut Fish (pan seared Chilean sea bass, flavoured with basil & pinenut, mango & coconut curry) – perfectly cooked and textured fish, good tasty crust, outstanding phenomenal raw mango and coconut & cashew curry (how I expect butter chicken should ultimately be);
- Camembert & Truffle Naan - I could smell the truffle but not really taste it (I suppose the cost would limit this). Plain or garlic naan is probably better value although standard.

At this point dessert was not necessary. In fact if it had not been a fancy restaurant or if it was somewhere I would ever likely return again in this lifetime, I wouldn't have ordered it. After reading the menu and looking at the display items I couldn't quite help but get one.

- The Dome (chikki kulfi with Bailey's rabdi) – chocolate shell with kulfi treated by a Cognac flambee then smothered with Bailey's and thickened milk. A thick milky dessert overall with nice chocolate tones;
- (complimentary) House Cheesecake – gulab lined and topped with rose. After dessert and asking for the bill they surprised with more food. After sampling a small slice they offered to pack it which was unnecessary. I hope the staff were allowed to eat it themselves as I suggested;
- (complimentary) Betel leaf – rose, peppermint which had a sharp taste designed to palate cleanse. They gave another 4 to take home for no reason at all.

The staff were all friendly, excellent and took time to explain the dishes. The hospitality was second to none as were the complimentary items surprising and appreciated. Some of the modern dishes weren't flavours I preferred over originals, but it is certainly creative and something I will never equate to Indian food nor likely to eat again.
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Bukhara, Delhi 01-2015

Bukhara is a restaurant institution such that it has included accolades of best Indian restaurant in the world, best restaurant in India and the Top 50 San Pellegrino Asia restaurants list (peaking at #26 in 2012). I had a tough time deciding between ITC Maurya's two outstanding restaurants (the other being Dum Pukht, which has also been in the SP Top 50 and rivals Bukhara in terms of foodiness) but after the Bollywood Masala challenge, Bukhara won out. The article I found online that included all the top end Delhi restaurants on my list (http://www.traveller.com.au/india-the-battle-for-delhis-bellies-36qux) influenced my decision of what I wanted to order - raan and dal.

Despite having a booking, it seems it's more a matter of waiting for a table after you arrive. During this time, the bar is open to serve and a quick glance at the cocktail menu lead to two delicious combinations - Dilli High 5 and Spice Route. Soon after a table was ready. The menu imprinted on two wooden boards is presented.

Whilst waiting for the food to arrive, I couldn't help but wander around and watch the chefs at work through the transparent screen especially the large kebabs hanging high and the enormous dexterity required to manipulate a large naan.

- Naan Bukhara (Rs. 1525) – the waiter insisted this was only for 6-8 people but I just wanted to have one on the table. It was huge with some crisp edges and some soft breadier parts. Definitely not the best naan I've had but it was fine to eat with the other dishes and create little sandwiches. I ate about half of it myself;
- Sikandari Raan (Rs. 2925)(whole leg of spring lamb, braised in a marinade of malt vinegar, cinnamon, black cumin, red chilli paste & finished in the Tandoor) – a nicely spiced, seasoned salty flavour with soft juicy meat. It could have been more tender but was certainly acceptable;
- Dal Bukhara (Rs. 795)(harmonious blend of black lentil, tomatoes, ginger & garlic, simmered overnight on slow charcoal fire, finished with cream & served with a dollop of unsalted butter) – what an incredible dish! The lentils had been smoothed into a creamy smokey buttery product that was so rich and luxurious. Sensational. A whole different universe to the dal makhani from other places.

Coriander sauce was nice and spicy and tangy and acted like the Indian version of tzatziki in a souvlaki binding the ingredients together.

The meal was extremely memorable considering how long I had been anticipating it, the reputation of the restaurant, the luxury of the hotel and the heavenliness of the Dal Bukhara. 

Next time I would order small breads and thus a variety of them and pick something else instead of the raan (unless I had a group of people to share this and kababs with).

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Pavilion, Delhi 01-2015

ITC Maurya was the last booked hotel for the 2 week India trip. This was intentionally done as the Malaysia Airlines flight home at 12pm didn't allow for a transfer from Varanasi by plane or train (and considering the trains were all delayed >10 hours there was no reliability on estimated arrival times) and also because I wanted my last meal to be at Bukhara or Dum Pukht.

I had a really great deal at ITC Maurya known as the 'Winter Special' which included a free massage, free breakfast and 20% off a meal. Unfortunately I contracted Varanasi-belly at approximately 5am and spent the next few hours in the luxurious bathroom. It also meant that I wasn't able to enjoy the full extent of the 5-star buffet breakfast on the ground floor at Pavilion.

There are 3 breakfast options to choose from - the full buffet at Pavilion and two smaller selection buffets that compensate you with high-level views.

The Pavilion buffet has a team of chefs in a circle station who cook fresh noodle and egg dishes to order. Surrounding them are a collection of curries and fried items as would be found in typical Indian hotel breakfasts. Western options also made an appearance with baked beans, bacon, breads and pastries, smoked salmon and antipasto. In my debilitated state I stuck to fresh yoghurt, soy milk, muesli, seeds and nuts and fresh & dried fruit.

If I ever return to Delhi, I'll be staying at ITC Maurya and will certainly relish a second attempt at that breakfast.

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Handi, Jaipur 01-2015

One of most highly mentioned places in Jaipur is Handi. The clinching factor ended up being Vivek Singh's recommendation (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/india/10664858/Jaipurs-best-restaurants-by-Vivek-Singh.html) of it having the most authentic laal maas around and to eat it with roomali roti. I never ate at Cinnamon whilst in the UK, but it was certainly on my radar so I'd trust his opinion over random reviews.

It was a short Rs. 70 auto-tuktuk from Rawla Rawatsar there. Although it was only about 1km on Google maps, the sheer traffic (animal, human and auto), wet roads and general excrement meant the buzzing exciting scoot through town was necessary. The guesthouse owner and driver knew the place immediately - it's well known and rightly so. Parking out the front the first thing you notice is the wafting aroma of chargrilled meats luring you in.

Inside you'll find the bread man making continuous amounts of naan piled up in a basket. It's a beautiful human-type of machinery at work.

- Banana Lassi – fruit chunks embedded in blended diary and necessary for the impending tongue burning;
- Onion-Garlic Naan – outstanding version with visible garlic and onion pieces embedded and painted with butter. Delicious and the best I've ever had;
- Tandoori Platter – tandoori chicken (tender succulent leg, slight burnt crisp outside), seek kabab (glowing red soft mince), shammi kabab (fried chicken), chicken tikka (slightly chewy), mutton tikka (succulent tear apart with strong meat flavour), galouti kebab (minced mutton in a smooth mix);
- Jaisalmeri Laal Maas – an extremely hot curry with red chilli, green chilli and tabasco. It was flavoursome and reminded me of vindaloo. The waiter warned me it would be hot and my tongue, mouth, face, eyes and ears felt it;
- Roomali Roti - a thin wispy bread for the curry;
- Gulab Jamun - sweet but I honestly can't remember. The chilli burnt the memory out of me.

There are so many good looking dishes here from the grilled to the curries. I don't think I'd order the laal maas again as it was too painful to be truly enjoyable (unless I could get them to spice it down for me). Perhaps the Handi Meat or Handi Mutton Biryani next time.

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Rosang, Delhi 01-2015

In the area of Hauz Khas, one dinner option seemed more unusual than the rest. Rosang was the first place I had read about that specialised in North Indian cooking. Specifically the food is from the 8 North East states and the owner from specifically Manipur where India borders China and Burma. As a result the owner looks what I'd call Asian rather than Indian. Similarly she thought I might be from North India. How quaint.

Two types of homemade sauces with experimental recipes were served for dipping. The vibrant colours and flavours contrasted each other well. My favourite was the red sauce made from ghost chilli and tomato. It had a smokey characteristic that I wrongly guessed was from paprika. It imparted a sweetness overall. The dark sauce was an unusual combination of black mustard leaf, gooseberry juice and chilli. It had a sourness overall.

- Sougri-Mahi - a sour red type of tea made from a flower ground into powder with jaggery and green chilli. Unusual;
- Pork Spare Ribs (marinated in house special blended herbs & spices accompanied with raja mircha chutney) - looked red and vibrant. The outer shell was crispy but unfortunately it and the meat lacked seasoning. It was also a very very fatty rib meaning most of it was wasted as bone and fat;
- Iromba Insang (assorted seasonal vegetables curry with fish paste) - Fish paste, potato and seasonal vegetables combined to be similar to a basic fish-based soup. A thumb-sized ghost chilli segment made this the spiciest dish on the menu and wow it had intense painful tongue-burning capacity;
- Ngatok (no oil fish curry with indigenous spices & aromatic herbs from the region) - ghost chilli, fish with a lot of bones, tomato and North-Eastern flowers and spices that don't have English names. I was assured the yellow colour was not from turmeric;
- Chaak Hao (Manipuri red rice)

The food was much closer to Asian as well with hints of basic homestyle Chinese and South East flavours. It was a complete change to the 2 weeks of butter, ghee, cream and curries. Overall the food wasn't as incredible as I hoped for but it was a different experience at least and made me curious to try this cuisine again.

The host was exceptionally nice. She sat for 20-30mins for a chat and explaining how she has been highly recommended and reviewed, selected to cook for festivals and in hotels, is finally going on a holiday now that her children are older, and will hopefully expand one day to USA. I wish her the best of luck.

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Dosa Cafe, Varanasi 01-2015

Varanasi TA #2 is Dosa Cafe. It was a quiet evening and slightly chilly. From the inside seats you can see locals, tourists and cows wander past. It's an unsual restaurant in that it specialises in lots of different types of street foods. Each type of street food has a lot of different options from basic to what I can only describe as attempted fusion.

In any case each serve is small, meaning you can try one of each.

- Masala Vada (savoury fritter prepared with chickpea dal & spices, deep fried) - nice salty and satisfying snack;
- Vegetarian Idli (savoury cake from steamed batter of fermented black lentils & rice) served with coconut sauce & sambar - I think the fried version would have been more my taste as the steamed version was similar to a very bland type of Asian bao;
- Masala Dosa (fermented crepe from rice batter & black lentils) stuffed with mashed potato, ginger, garlic, carrot, green peas, onion, tomato, peanuts & spices - the restaurant namesake is a large, thin crispy triangle of pastry. It was fine but looks more impressive than it was satisfying to me;
- Cheese Spinach Sweet Corn Uttapam (thick pancake cooked in batter) topped with fresh spinach paste, sweet corn, cumin seeds, ginger & mozzarella cheese - this Indian pizza was actually quite nice. A thick, soft, doughy base with nice toppings of your choice.

Next time I would order probably one of each of those again, except the idli would be a fried type and a different dosa just for the textural variety. I wanted to try upma also (thick porridge cooked in ghee) but I think I'd been over-ghee'd and this would tip me over.

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Niyati Cafe, Varanasi 01-2015

The last thali in India needed to be a good one. Since I was in Varanasi of which the restaurant recommendations are relatively limited, I had to resort to Tripadvisor. All the websites that listed Varanasi restaurants recommendations essentially exclusively list high-end luxury hotels all of which are near the train station. The only thali place is Niyati at #5 which is also conveniently near Dashaswamedh Ghat. Actually considering that is the most popular and largest ghat, I'm not surprised all the high TA recommendations are near there. Anyway, I digress...

What was odd was the two shoeless boys that served us. Clearly this was new to them as evidenced by the timid approach and general muteness (they could speak). The owner came out occasionally and told us they were his children aged 14yo and 16yo. Honestly I think they looked more like 10yo and 12yo max. I don't want to promote childhood labour but hopefully my tips got to them.

- Banana Lassi - quite nice with thick chunks of banana which I liked. There were sugar crystals which in hindsight I should've asked them to withhold;
- Masala Chai - simple spiced chai;
- Garlic Naan - I think I had developed a taste for intensely garlic naan. This flavour was much more subtle and coated with butter, and texture was firm and chewy. Not the best but a filler;
- Special Thali (mix veg curry, aloo jira, dal fry, rice, papd, curd, pickle, butter chapati, paneer curry & sweet) - each thali ingredient tasted was good but the standout was the potatoes. I don't know how they cooked them but they were seasoned, buttery and spiced in flavour, and slightly firm and fluffy in texture. One of the best I've ever had.

I'd gladly go back for the thali, especially those great potatoes. There's a very minute possibility I got sick from this food (although to be honest I'm sure it was the Varanasi street food).

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Coast Cafe, Delhi 01-2015

Jet Airways decided to screw my flight. After changing the Udaipur to Delhi flight time, the connecting Delhi to Varanasi was going to be missed. Given there were no options available, I started looking for last minute Delhi accommodation and things to do. The first couple of days there were quite uninspiring and even though I really wanted to see Humayun's Tomb, it wasn't such a strong force to drag me back into the heart of New Delhi.

Reading around I had to decide to either to stay at one of the most luxurious hotels Dusit Devarana near the airport or explore a lesser trodden region Hauz Khas. The reviews of the area are mixed - apparently it used to be a lovely local neighbourhood but in the last few years the more affluent have tried to be bohemian and taken over the area to be seen. As a result a lot of the local restaurants have closed down due to council enforcement.

After arriving and wandering through the deer park, Hauz Khas Village was actually a relaxing area to walk through. There isn't much traffic, smells of cooking fill the air and there's some nice shopping too. Food options in the area included Bombay bhelpuriwala, Navedyam (cheap South Indian), Desiya (moderate pan Indian), Golconda Bowl (higher end Hyderabad). In the end Coast Cafe took the honours with the reputation for excellent Malabar food in a nice setting overlooking the park.

- Fresh Orange & Basil Burst - very fresh orange juice with some basil;
- Summer Fix Masala Butter Milk (with ginger, mint leaf, green chilli) - my first experience drinking buttermilk and not one I'll do again. Intensely strong like drinking sour thin liquid fat. I can't do it;
- Appam & Egg White Appam - really interesting bread alternative with a soft yeasty shell and slight sour tang. The warm egg white froth version didn't add anything special so I wouldn't go for that again;
- Coast Cafe Prawn Moilee (Kerala prawn moilee in coconut milk) - 5 prawns cooked to retain some crunch in a delicious coconut and prawn flavoured creamy sauce. This was excellent;
- Mum's Aubergine Cokum Curry (home-style spicy Kerala curry) - 5 pieces eggplant in a relatively mild tomato curry. Although advertised as the spiciest curry, it wasn't hot;
- Sukha Mutton Fry - dry spicy mutton (but very tolerable) with a good savoury flavour and did not have a strong mutton taste;
- Malabar Paratha - very flaky and great;
- Coast Cafe Masala Cappuccino (masala chai lover's cappuccino) - a mild blend of chai and coffee.

The prices here are higher than average which reflects the upmarket setting, the upmarket clientele (for lunch it was almost all young or middle-aged Indian women dressed well) and perhaps the gourmet trend. Having said that, the food was great and I would happily come back.

Next time I would order the Prawn Moilee to eat with lots of paratha. The appam is different to try but on a second visit I'd stick to what I like. There's some other fish and meat curries on the menu I'd have also to complete the meal. I don't think the meat fries or grilled fish is necessary.

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Anna Restaurant, Udaipur 01-2015

It was a little depressing that on the 2nd night (of 4) I didn't have anywhere specific in mind for dinner. Night 3 ended up staying in the hotel room eating room and night 4 in the hotel restaurant of Jaiwana Haveli. For night 2 I thought it would be easy enough to walk around and find something good. I didn't particularly want to eat at any of the rooftop restaurants as night 4 would be enough for that, the premium associated with a rooftop didn't appeal to me and given it is nighttime the view has mostly passed.

In the end I was trying to find Charcoal by Pratap Bhawan which had some early TA reviews and was nearby. Incredibly after about 30mins of walking in circles I couldn't find it. I should've pre-empted this by marking it on a map or my phone but I didn't and I paid the price of indignance.

In the end a very local looking place filled with all Indians was the walk-in choice.

- Mixed fruit lassi – mainly pineapple with lots of sugar crystals evident;
- Orange juice – apparently freshly squeezed but very thin. I wonder if they added water and sugar;
- Vegetable Pulao – very nice rice dish peppered with intermittent sweetness from pineapple and minimal oil;
- Anna 92 Special – vegetable kofta in a green spinach and red tomato curry;
- Bhindi Fried - delicious dish of fried okra, onions and spices. Very flavoursome;
- pickles - first place I'd found the complimentary chilli pickles on the table and I was happy. A new addition to my Indian eating repertoire from Udaipur;
- Vegetable Biryani – wet rice mix with vegetables. The pulao was much better.

I wondered after this meal if I prefer pulao or biryani. My favourite biryanis have not been heavy or wet so maybe that is the issue. In any case the food here is cheap, satisfying and tailored to locals. I like how they use some ingredients that I hadn't come across in previous places (or maybe I had but just hadn't ordered them).

Anna Restaurant Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato