“food is a passion, that stays in fashion, unfolding the passion”, as read out from the cover of the Menu at The Chakraas
Over a hot oven fresh pizza, and some great wine a few days back, both @maninderpals and I decided that since we eat out so many times together and we are both game to trying out new places, we should start writing our own take on food, neither am I a critic, nor Maninder, but we both enjoy good food, great wine, and love each others company. So on Saturday we finally decided that we are going to go out and do our first food review together.
Taking recommendations from a few friends, we finally managed to decide on a place called The Chakraas at the Ashoka Samrat in New Delhi, hunting for reviews and ratings online could not find anything, but every one we spoke to spoke well of their food, but the restaurant being inside of the Samrat Hotel at New Delhi was some what unpleasant for us, after all the babu’s who run these palatial hotels still don’t have their facts about hospitality business in place, so with a bit of a mixed mind, we made our reservations by calling Mr. Rakesh Bhandari the General Manager at the Restaurant, and since we both wanted to eat the chef’s recommendation and spend some time with the chef, we decided to go in a bit early for the dinner. Sharp at 7 both of us met up at the lobby of the Samrat hotel and were surprised to find that there was no board to point us towards the Chakraas, on checking with the Bell boy, we found that it was down the alley at the end of the left western corridor.
While speaking of how the Government of India is ruining such large lovely properties because of their babudom, we landed at the entrance of The Chakras, the board was a bit of a let down, and the Red and Green LED Lighting behind plants at the entrance made us think twice, if we wanted to enter it, but with our brave hearts in place, and tummies rumbling for some good food, that people spoke about, we ended up entering the restaurant. With a mixed seating arrangement, that confuses you if this is a lounge or a restaurant, we were seated on our tables by the Window, an open Interactive kitchen in the middle of the restaurant seemed to float up, thanks to the blue LED lighting surrounding it, but the Red lights gave the whole place a very un-appealing look, and made it very difficult for some of our photos too. Though large glass windows re-assured us that this place would look lovely in the day time, after all looking over the lush green gardens, and the race course road, it will be a charm to sit here and dine, but will the food live up-to the expectation we had built up.
A few minutes later we were joined by the Executive Chef Ashish Singh, and it turned out we had a lot in common. He has also been mentored by Chef Manjit Gill (Corporate Executive Chef, ITC WelcomGroup) and I got a chance to work as a Commi under him back in 1990 for a few weeks, while I dreamed of becoming a full time chef, and ended up becoming an Electronics Engineer. It was also nice to know that we were actually sitting on the table that Chef Manjit used to when he was a regular at the Chakraas.
Chef Ashish Singh suggested that we try his Shish Taouk, A traditional Arabic and Turkish Shish Kabab, and Gili Lal Mirch ki Champien to start with, a great discussion about how the Shish Taouk eventually led to the Chicken Tikka, and the so called Malai Chicken Tikka started between Maninder and Ashish, though both of them agree that the the Shish Taouk may have had been responsible for what we call the Chicken Tikka today, it was nice to know the history on how food travelled. To this Chef Ashish Singh added that the Shish Taouk is not really pleasant to the every day Indian Palate, and how he had modified the recipe by adding a layer of Aoili to make it more moist and suited to what us desi’s would love to eat. So finally it was decided that we will try out both the starters, but we would love to photograph as well, since both of us were sporting our cameras, me my favorite Micro 4/3rds Olympus E-PL1 and Maninder his favorite the Nikon D60 we were eagerly waiting for our food. Since A great wine makes the food taste better, we called for the Wine list, and this turned out to be a very nasty surprise.
We were told that the Restaurant had only one Wine available, a Grovers Cabernet Sauvignon, in the mood for a Merlot, we decided to call of the wine, and settled for a pint each of carlsberg’s. While the chef’s mustered up our dishes, we enjoyed a great conversation about our belief’s in sufi’sm and how my recent trip to Anandpur Sahib went.
Finally our Dishes were ready to arrive, and here we were both photographing at the pick up counter, to start off with we had our Gili Lal Mirch ki Champien, a dish that looked brilliant, and came with a Lukhnavi Hari Chutney (Mint and Coriander Sauce) and a Spicy Red Chili Sauce, the Lamb was cooked to perfection, grilled evenly and soft, tender and moist inside. Though we could not taste the Gili Lal mirch, only to be advised by the Chef, that he had tone down the spiciness of the Dish to suit every palate. The Chef shared that the place was frequented largely by families, including grandparents to grand children, and the food was kept at a normal spicy level to give them all a chance to taste it, since it was still around 7:30 pm, the restaurant was still pretty empty, and we got a chance to have the Chef sit down and walk us through our meals.
The lamb was followed by the Shish Taouk on a Mezze Platter, Fresh Pita Buns baked in the Oven, Hummus, Tahini and a Baba Ganoush with a bit of a twist, the bell peppers added to the BAba Ganoush made it stand out and taste wonderful. The shish taouk lived up to it’s reputation and the aioli had really made it smooth and juicy, wonderful is the word we had in mind when we ate this. Though the Pita bread seemed to thicker for our taste but the Pita buns, as I called them went very well with the Baba Ganoush variant we had.
The next recommendations were Soup, to follow our starters, and Maninder Settled on a Spinach and Asparagus Soup, while I chose a Mushroom and Mint Soup, the twists seemed interesting and we were all game for the soup, while we watched the chef’s prepare our soup, we continued speaking with Ashish on his experiences. We learnt that Ashish went to Institute of Hotel Management, at Pusa, in New Delhi and has been with the restaurant for 5 years, though he did take a sabbatical to go setup a few restaurants in Europe. He then came back. Ashish also shared that The Chakraas was the first outsourced restaurant in the Samrat Hotel, starting way back in February of 2006, and opened up the Gates for the Famous Lap, and Shiro at the Samrat.
It was also interesting to hear that he had a regular set of customers who always came back for food, and we could guess why. By then our Soups were there, and we started sipping on them, a Bread basket that looked lovely arrived, and had an Olive Loaf with Bread sticks in it, the Olive Loafs were a bit dry, which I figure is because they might have turned off the Moisture spray in the Baking oven to do the Pita Buns, but the Bread tasted well with the soup. The breadsticks though, were a little too sweet for both of us, not desert type sweet but sweet.
The soups though were a different story all-together. The cream on the soup used for dressing, made the soups too creamy, and Ashish took down our suggestion to offer cream only if the guests asked for it. The Spinach and Asparagus soup had bits of Asparagus on it, that added a brilliant twist, but the Spinach over powered the Asparagus, in my case, the amount of Mint in the Mushroom soup was too low for my taste, but any more Mint would make it a mint soup and not mushroom, a problem when you are using 2 ingredients each with it’s own brilliant flavor.
Next up Chef Ashish suggested, that we try out his Moorish Lamb, and his Spaghetti Carbonara, for which he makes fresh pasta in the kitchen only, though we were getting to be full, we decided to be a great game, and had both the things up on the pick up for us to photograph and jump upto.
The Moorish lamb came on a bed of stir fried vegetables in a gravy, and the side of light and creamy mashed potatoes. The Spaghetti was made with a lot of freshly ground black pepper on special request. The moorish lamb was one of the most tender and moist pieces of lamb that I have had, and on trying to investigate the origins of the Lamb, we were told the Lamb is the regular lamb that you and I procure from the market, but what made a difference was how the Cuts were done, and how it was marinated for this preparation, an absolutely yummy dish, that we would want to go back for, by now we were sold, that what we want to eat here is lamb.
The Spaghetti was next, and the sauce coated it well, enough for you to be able to taste the sauce and the pasta, and yet not over powering each other. The pieces of Chicken were large enough, and the fresh bay leaf on top made the Dish stand out, by the end of the Spaghetti and our Lamb Maroosh we were full, but we were both licking off the Lamb Gravy, and the Carbonara sauce with the bread, and as someone said, the food ain’t good if you don’t lick your fingers, and trust us, the food is good here.
After 2 Pints of Carlsberg each, and so much to eat, we were just about ready to leave, when Ashish requested that we have a Desert, though we both wanted to avoid a desert and let the gravy last in our mouths, he spoke of how he specialy procures full grain basmati, and cooks his kheer just the way our grand mothers used to, no over powering tastes, but simple Kheer, with a bit of pistachio, a very little bit of cardamom, al-dante rice, just enough sugar to make it sweet, all topped with wonderful saffron, and we fell for it. The moment we had our first bite, I could remember the Kheer made by my Nani (Grandmother) and Maninder enjoyed the al-dante rice, and the flavoring and agreed that this indeed was Grandma’s recipe, thanks to Ashish’s insistence we had this wonderful kheer.
A few things we did not like, were the Ambient Music, which some how went from a Piano recital to Rap, and then Enrique Iglesias trying to be my Hero again and again, and we shared this with the Chef that the music maybe could be mellowed down, but at the time we left the restaurant was just about started to get full so maybe the music would tone down in the loud voices that we talk in. We also did not like that there were no wines on the menu, we were told that this is due to some paperwork required each time they want to procure any kind of Wine or Whisky, though they have had their Liquor License since 2006. The Red lighting was a big turn off for us.
The staff at the Chakraas is very friendly and was eager to serve us, and make sure we had a great dinner, having the Executive Chef sit next to you through the dinner ensures this. The Food was brilliant and the ending with the Kheer made a perfect ending to the dinner.
While we were on our way out, we saw a lot of large family groups entering for dinner, which is unsual to see in this day and age on a Saturday, on checking with the staff, we were told that in case you arive in large groups of 15 and above, the restaurant gives you a great deal on the meal, so if you are planning a family and friends get together over some lovely food, you must visit The Chakraas, and while you are there, do thank the Chef.
Will we go there again: Yes, we would love to. Chef Ashish Singh knows his Lamb well and since both of us are fond of Lamb, he rates very high in our books, but next time we would love to go there for a lunch.
Average Cost of Meal for 2 With Drinks and Desert: Rs. 2500
Timing: 12:30 PM to 12AM, Busy Days are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Type of Food: Multi-Cusine, the Chef recommended we try his Daal Makhni and his Chilly Chicken, but that is for another trip.
Insider News: They have a new chef who has joined them for speciality Lucknow cuisine, and will soon be adding Galauti Kebabs, Ulte Tawe ki Roti, and Nihari to their Huge menu.
If the photos above have not made you hungry as yet, let me tease you with my photos, from our visit.