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My (unannounced) review of Smoke House Room

Smoke House Room in Delhi was quite the launch of 2011, I checked it out some time ago. Here’s how it went…

By Anoothi Vishal

First impression

The sleepy Crescent Mall, much of whose top floor Smoke House Room takes up, lies in darkness when I give my car to the valet. I need to walk inside, in semi darkness, and locate the lift— something that
would have made me feel a bit insecure were I an unaccompanied single woman in notorious Delhi. But I am soon to emerge from this area of darkness into a restaurant so a dazzling and all-white that I am tempted to shield my eyes. Smoke House Room lies bereft of too many guests on the Thursday evening I visit——- except for one other couple and another group that arrives a little later into our meal, there’s
no one apart from us. But that is not to say it isn’t populated: There is an overwhelming army of service staff that comes to life as we enter.

The food

Ashwin decides to go for “The Hunter” (non-vegetarian) menu. And since both people on the table need to opt for tasting menus or neither, I decide to try out the vegetarian, “The Gatherer”, menu. Both have about six courses each, so we are prepared for the long haul. We settle in with a cocktail each—I choose
Sangria that turns out to be pretty terrible and syrupy. (The waiter explains — later — that the Smoke House specialty is without fruit bits though I can’t imagine why. No one offers to replace my drink at any point as it lies only partially sipped.) Ashwin’s green apple martini, however, is top notch.

The chef starts off with surprises for both of us, not on the menus, of which the chicken pate enclosed in a Ferro Roche wrap, which, in turn, is placed inside a “light bulb” is definitely amusing and creative. I also like the first course: “A gathering of mushrooms” has different kinds, lightly sautéed, with a dash of
prune-porcini chutney and a sprinkling of coffee olive “soil”.

The platters are all pieces of art—each course is beautifully presented and there are many elements to each dish which show the dexterity of the chef. In fact, the presentation definitely evokes a wow. Smoked tenderloin carpaccio, for instance, comes atop smoking herbs in a plate covered with a cling
film…

But if the real test is taste, there were only one or two truly standout dishes that I would recommend without reserve: the Black cod with coconut miso was the highlight of our meal. While none of the dishes were “bad”, what they were is too busy. A little simplifying and cleaning up of flavours is needed.
There is way too much happening on every plate. Besides, there is a sweet element to almost every dish which gets repetitive in a tasting menu.

I did not like the cold “X-Ray Ravioli” despite the novel idea; the mascarpone was a spoiler. And the platter of maize cooked in different ways would have been a winner but for the sweetish carrot sauce poured on top. Both maize and carrots have their intrinsic sweetness; combined that’s deadly!

A word on the breads, olive oils and herbed butter: addictive.

Service: Food started rolling out very fast. In fact, we got though the entire tasting menu in a little more than an hour which is a big plus in my book. On the other hand to find yourself in a restaurant with more waiters than guests can be pretty distracting, even if they seem well informed and courteous. But
what on earth was the sommelier doing (I assume he was the sommelier; at any rate part of the service/ management staff) pacing the length of the restaurant almost continuously with an urgency more
reminiscent of expectant fathers?

The verdict: If you like showy food, this is the place to go to. The chef is skilled and has some good ideas.
But dishes need to come with cleaner flavours. Also, the flavour-palette tends to get repetitive. The restaurant is well above the average price range in Delhi with a glass of wine costing Rs 1,000 on an average (there may be a few that cost less) and the tasting menus costing Rs 3,500 (n-v) and Rs 2,500 (v)
per head each.

Would I go again: Unlikely. I prefer substance over show biz. For the price, there are few compelling dishes here that I would want to repeat.

Food: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Ambience: 5/10

Total: 19/30

(The review was published in the BBC Good Food Magazine India, Jan 2012 issue)

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