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June 19, 2024

Loya at the Taj reimagines dishes from the kitchens of the North

Payel Majumdar Upreti
The first thing that strikes you, as you enter Taj Mahal Palace New Delhi’s new restaurant, Loya, is a certain sense of harmony of warmth. Loya was conceptualised as a confluence of the five senses, and the figure of five has been represented everywhere, from the design philosophy to the food menu. A conscious attempt at creating a sense of balance and a connection to North India’s shared cultural heritage in all corners of the restaurant, whether it is the architecture, the music, the water feature right in the middle of the restaurant, the imposing doors reminiscent of a heritage structure, or the bright live kitchen with its unique pots and pans in full display
Food memories
The food served is derived from the entire northern region of India, from the Himalayan states, to the food from the Kashmir valley and even the desert states of Rajasthan and Haryana. The dishes are carefully selected to represent the food of the people, not the royals and dynasties who ruled the places. Food memories from the chefs who designed the menu also finds mention in the annals of its menu. For instance, Chef Rajesh Wadhwa’s grandmother’s recipe is used to make one of the desserts at the restaurant, a gud-laden shortbread which while being a common dish in many north Indian homes, has never found a place in a five-star restaurant’s menu, I can confidently say.
Photo Courtesy: Loya
True to their vision of offering the warmth and comfort of the past with the energy of today, the show plates on the table are actually channis or the traditional sieve, a common tool in every kitchen up north, used to wean out pebbles and sort grain. This is yet another vessel that doesn’t find representation apart from the back of the kitchen. The whole place is decorated to be in the midst of an erstwhile bazaar, with hanging cloth, engraved pillars and even a water feature by the bar, a representation of the ample rivers flowing through the land up north.
The philosophy of ‘five’ drawn from the five rivers of North India, especially in Punjab, to the five senses, also follows through in the five cooking techniques employed in the live kitchen that are cornerstones of Indian cooking  – dhungar (smoking for flavour), dum (slow cooking), baghar (tempering of dishes, especially daal), sigdi (cooking with coal) and sil batta (smashing ingredients into a paste using a mortar and pestle like tool). The concept of five is carried forward to the beverage menu as well – drinks are designed according to the five senses, whatever you might be in the mood for at the moment.
We began our meal with a take on galawati kebab and paratha, a localite’s favourite dish. It is a dish Delhi’s citizens are very particular about, but Loya did not disappoint. We moved on to Loya Kachori Chaat, where crisp kachoris stuffed with green pea was served as a chaat with anaardana and saunth (dried pomegranate and ginger) chutney.
We moved on to prawns served with a bhaang (hemp seeds) chutney, the nutty taste of the hemp seeds complementing the spicy prawns. For mains, we had dishes representing different north Indian states. There was khatta gosht from Himachal Pradesh, a tadka dal from Punjab, and spinach saag made with dates and walnuts. To our surprise, while the khatta gosht, a traditional forte of the hilly state, was stellar in its taste, the spinach surpassed it in taste. Slow-cooked for hours till the dates had melted, walnuts adding a crunch, this dish had the beautiful balance between sweet and creamy, and tangy and fresh.
To complement the dishes, we had kulchas stuffed with masala Amritsari wadi (a lentil dumpling, sundried and used in dishes). The wadi added so much texture and flavour to the soft kulchas that we couldn’t stop eating!
Photo Courtesy: Loya
For dessert, we opted for the kulfi bar, a row of four kulfis in different flavours. Our favourites included the delicately flavoured rose kulfi, even shaped like a rose.
Loya is the ideal place to celebrate special occasions with your family, as the dishes are easily shared, and the atmosphere is made for a long indulgent meal over delicacies and conversations.
Address: Loya, Taj Palace, 2, Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi
Cost: 6,500 for two people without alcohol (approx)
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