I HAD DINNER : at The Delhi Blue Ginger [Taj Palace Hotel]
text : Vir Sanghvi
Posted: Saturday, Oct 10th, 2009
at 22:34 hrs IST
Vietnamese food is a tough sell at the best of times. Vietnamese restaurants tend to flourish only in countries where there is a large expatriate Vietnamese population: France, for instance. Otherwise, I have to say that it is not one of the world's great cuisines. It lacks the complexity of Thai food, to which it is most closely related. And has none of the delicious spicing of Malaysian - Indonesian cuisine.
Which is not to say that I dislike the cuisine. You can still have a very good Vietnamese meal. But, I doubt if it is the kind of cuisine that will yield new secrets each time you return to it. And with the exception of a noodle soup, few Vietnamese dishes will pass into global immortality.
Some years ago, when I was going to Vietnam, I asked Hermant Oberoi for a list of restaurants in Siagon. At the time, Hermant was researching the cuisine for the first in a series of Vietnamese restaurants that he was planning to open for the Taj Group. I went off to Hermant's recommended restaurants and while they were all fine, not one was memorable. [Frankly, I can't even remember the names].
So, I was surprised to eat at Blue Ginger in Bangalore when Hermant finally opened it. The food was actually a lot better than most of the meals I had eaten in Saigon. I liked the restaurant, I loved the ambience, and of course, I am a great fan of the West End, where it is located.
Next to Blue Ginger is the Blue Bar and it became something of a ritual for my friend Rajeev Chadrashekhar and myself to turn up there after a rock concert. We went there after seeing the Stones and we returned after the Sting concert. It's a nice buzzy bar and benefits from its alfresco surroundings.
Blue Ginger went on to become a huge hit - the most happening restaurant in Bangalore - and I knew that was only a matter of time before Hermant replicated it in another city.
Still, I was a little surprised to hear that he had chosen Delhi for the second Blue Ginger. Everybody at Taj Group accepted that the old Tea House of the August Moon at the Taj Palace was past its sell-by date but there was no clarity on what was to be done with the space. During Camelia Panjabi's last days with Taj Group, she had wanted to split the restaurant into two parts. One half would do modern Chinese, while the other would be a bar that did Chinese tapas. I thought it was a good idea but nothing came of it. The Tea House muddled along till Hermant decided to locate Blue Ginger there.
Hermant is currently on a roll. His two new restaurants at the Taj Man Singh - Wasabi and Varg - are not only among Delhi's finest but are also huge commercial successes. Moreover, they have turned the Taj into an exciting hub for eating out.
I guess the Delhi Blue Ginger is expected to do the same for the Taj Palace and judging by the initial response, it is well on its way to becoming the city's current it place.
Here's what I liked about it. I like the idea of outdoor seating for the Blue Bar. It reminded me less of Bangalore's Blue Bar and more of the Bar at Bombay's Leela, but Delhi has the advantage of wonderful weather for four months of the year [unlike Bombay, which is always hot] so it will quickly become the best bar in town.
I liked the food as well. I wasn't wild about the starters of mussel and scallop but after that the quality improved and the food was nearly as good as the meals I have enjoyed in Bangalore, though the lamb shanks could have benefitted from a little more slow cooking. Hermant took a long time getting the menu right and the wait has paid off. I went with a friend who had been there before and he said that he enjoyed the food on his last visit too. So, I guess that consistency will not be a problem.
I also liked the buzz. The restaurant was packed. It had an unusual mix of South Delhi high rollers and West Delhi gentry but it seemed to work.
The wines were great. Subba, who is the Taj Group's most under-recognized wine resource, chose wines to go with the food and as always, his recommendations were perfect.
Here's what I didn't like. I hated the room. I told my party that I was sure that they had got a design firm from Bangkok or Singapore to do the interiors because nobody in the West will design such an old-fashioned and disastrous dining room. The banquettes are on one level, the tables are on another, one row of seating is spread out, the other is packed, the low-lying lamps are ugly and the old spacious Tea House room has been cut into a hideous rectangle. If I was Krishna Kumar, I would ask for my money back.
I didn't like the bar either. There is a new style of restaurant design emerging which is best described as Club Class Lounge Deluxe and the bar epitomizes that style. During a lull in the conversations, you almost expect to hear a boarding announcement. Fortunately, you can go and sit in the garden.
There were service issues too. The waitress who swerved my table seemed very nice but she had neither the knowledge of food nor the sophistication required for this restaurant. They manage far better service in Bangalore.
None of this really matters. I think the restaurant will be a success and Hermant will replicate his earlier triumphs. I just wish they had given him a better room.
16th October, 2009
If you don't understand where the design of a restaurant is coming from, then perhaps you should refrain from making comments like "If I was Krisha Kumar, I would ask for my money back". Statements like this are un-called for, and are just plain rude. If you would like to educate yourself about the design of Blue Ginger + Blue Bar Taj Palace Delhi, then visit >