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Bukhara food at The Frontier

bukhara.jpg” alt=”" width=”200″ height=”200″ />Why does Bukhara always top any list of best restaurants from India? Western travelers seem to consistently love it. And I can understand the fact that the food will naturally be appealing to palates that can’t take the spicy flavours of Indian cooking from many regions (and can thus not appreciate the exquisiteness of the Dumpukht brand, for instance, at the same hotel chain ITC). Grilled food, the tikkas and whole leg of lamb, marinated and tandoored exquisitely may be great temptations for travelers new to India. But seriously, haven’t people got tired of the same kind of routine? The seating is uncomfortable and the highly overrated dal just that.

If you are visiting India and want to sample similar cuisine but at much lower prices, more comfortable seating and top notch quality, try Frontier, the restaurant at The Ashok, New Delhi. The hotel , the first five-star, to come up in New Delhi, is central, and spread of a huge acreage of prime real estate. But because it is government owned, it is not exactly flawless. You may find it a little musty or sleazy depending on the day and a general sense of lethargy hangs over the place.

But if I would not recommend the  hotel to you, the restaurant is a revelation. Once again, it remains more or less empty, primarily because local diners have forgotten of its existence. But the positive side is that you don’t battle the weekend rush for table reservations. They have quite a nice tasting menu at Rs 2,000 per person, that allows you to sample the entire repertoire of cuisine from North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan, but earlier a part of undivided India.

The  chef changes the menu every day, depending on his fancy, so it is in fact impossible to experience the same meal twice—which is how degustation menus should ideally function. The day I dined, we were served up some delicious, chargrille prawnd on a bed of fried, sweet and sour brinjals, cut into rounds. There was a Greek-style yoghurt dip (with garlic) accompanying this. Next we had grilled fish, lightly done and served on a bed of crunchy okra, the kind you often make in Indian homes. Then, we had the banno kebabs, or two pieces of chicken tikka, wrapped in a batter of egg and skewerd, and this was served on a bed of home-style cut beans.

I really like the chefs interplay between what is largely restaurant-style cooking (the kebabs) with home-style vegetable preparations that you will not quite find in many restaurant menus. But what clearly was the winner is the Dal Dera Ismail Khan. It is similar to the famous Dal Bukhara; made from black lentils, simmered in a huge vat on slow fire for 36 hours, so that all the fat is released from the lentils. Then, yoghurt and cream is liberally added and the dal tempered with cumin seeds and such. Finally, just before serving, some more butter is added to it. In effect, it is 60 per cent fat. But it is delicious and you can totally forget the calories and indulge yourself. (The Dal Bukhara is similar except that it has a more tomatoey taste; I much prefer the Ismail Khan dal.)

The chef serves up as many as 16 courses, broken up by sorbets to cleanse your palate. It is impossible to eat all of them. After about four kebabs, I asked for the main course, which was a simple affair with dal, bread, salad, yoghurt and chicken curry. The wine list is not to great at the moment but the restaurant is changing that soon.

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