It is very clear that Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia, MBE, food ambassador for the UK, really loves Delhi’s food. And especially the food you get from its many streets, representative of its rich cultural history. So when he was behind executing the menu for Oberoi’s new restaurant Dhilli, it was but obvious that one could expect a treat.
The interiors of the newly minted Dhilli are warm and inviting. Right next to the fabled 360 degrees it is distinguished by the lovely colours of green and warm yellow, reminiscent of the streets of Delhi laden with golden amaltas flowers.
Bhatia’s menu travels all over the city/state, traversing cultures as well as areas, from Rajouri Garden’s Punjabi influence to CR Park’s fast food shops.
Delhi is a city of migrants, and on Bhatia’s plate, they all shine equally, course after course. The Mughal influence shines through in a shiny boti and almond flour bakarkhani reminiscent of the sheermal.
The first course for us was a savoury ice cream, followed by a savoury gujiya, bright pink in colour, filled with soft paneer bhurji, a popular dish locally. Since Holi has just passed, the gujiya was a nice reference to this beloved sweet in a surprisingly savoury but equally delicious avatar.
The vegetarian appetisers that we sampled included a petite gobhi samosa chaat, drawn from the Chef’s memory of a chaat had in the bylanes of Rajouri. Another inventive dish included the Wild Mushroom Khichdi Seekh, where the texture of the khichdi and mushroom really represented the soft texture of meat cooked on the seekh. A Punjabi mustard chicken tikka, served with onion tomato kachumbar salad and baingan bharta, included another unusual pairing.
“My nani’s house was in Model Town in Delhi, and many summers have been spent exploring the delectable food in Delhi,” said Chef Bhatia.
The third appetiser was cauliflower cooked in a mustard sauce. The steamed and braised cauliflower had soaked in all the flavours of the sharp sauce and tasted heavenly. It was soft and firm to bite into at the same time. The homemade ginger ale made a worthy accompaniment to the appetisers. The non-vegetarian appetisers were found in the lanes of Chandni chowk, whose Mughlai food is one of the high points of Delhi’s traditional fare. The keema parcel was a throwback to the team’s special memory of having keema with roomali roti in Old Delhi. The flavours of the keema were kept intact, baked in a thin roomali roti-like bread that had soaked up its goodness. The bhetki fish paturi was a hat-tip to another migrant colony in Delhi, CR Park, where a lot of Bengalis have gathered since independence. The area has two popular markets which are famous for plating up Calcutta-style street food and Bengali fare.
My personal favourite was the butter chicken tikka, however. Legend has it that butter chicken was invented when a certain eatery called Mughal Mahal in India put tikkas in a rich, creamy onion and tomato gravy for the sole purpose that his chicken survives longer. Bhatia’s version had chicken tikkas slathered in the same slightly-sweet savoury gravy, reduced till it nicely coated the chicken tikka, and cooked away on a sigdi (barbecue for kebabs).
The Nalli Gucci korma was another dish that brought mushrooms with a twist in an otherwise traditional dish. For vegetarians, the Punjabi kadhi was served with a khasta kachori, stuffed with peas. The unusual combination was a result of both a Punjabi and Rajasthani influence, neighbouring states of Delhi which has a lot of migrants from these two states.
The dessert course was unusual first of all, for not including any chocolate. The first course was a clever trick, with chai-flavoured kulfi served topped with doda burfi and a biscuit on top in glass tumblers, representative of chai shops on the streets. The slight sweetness of the kulfi was accompanied with the crunch of the local bakery-style biscuit and the praline-like doda burfi, which made it a stellar dessert. The star of the show, however, was this dish coined by the Sultan of Delhi. A paan kulfi surrounded by rabdi and kulfi really hit the spot when it came to our tastebuds as well as when it came to representing Delhi.