Tarsilo Nataloni

Delhi doesn't enjoy the same reputation for its dining scene as Mumbai, but it's becoming increasingly lively as Delhi's smart, design-conscious elite steps out to see and be seen. That said, an irritating trend (at least for voyeurs) among the moneyed crowd is to eat at "members only" restaurants. The most popular of these very hip joints is Oriental Octopus (Habitat World, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Rd.; & 011/2468-2222 or 5122-0000, ext. 2512), where you dine at curved, meandering tables shared by gorgeous designer-clad Delhiites—a million miles from the streets of Shahjahanabad. See if your concierge can arrange a reservation, or find a member and tag along. The food isn't bad either—start with Singaporean steamed spring rolls, and move on to Malaysian black-pepper prawns tossed in garlic and crushed pepper. It also has an interesting buffet spread for Rs 225 ($5.10). The smart set tend to hang out in the top hotel restaurants as well. Make every effort to dine at The Imperial's Spice Route (reviewed below); or book a table at TK's Oriental Grill (in the Hyatt) for great teppanyaki grills and the best salmon sashimi in town. If you're too nervous to dive headlong into the region's heavily spiced cuisine, the Hyatt is also where you'll find the best pizzas in town, at La Piazza ★ ★ (Bhikaji Cama Place, Ring Rd.; & 011/2679-1234). Chef Mitele Sbardellini from Milan dishes out authentic Italian cuisine; plus an extensive wine list includes superb vintages from around the world, though the prices may have you gagging into your glass. Alternatively, for a more home-style Italian experience, there's Flavors, reviewed below.

VERY EXPENSIVE

Bukhara NORTHWEST FRONTIER Staff at this international culinary flagship are immensely proud of the fact that Bill Clinton apparently chose to stay at the Maurya Sheraton "because of our restaurant," and report that when Putin was in town, he wanted to dine here three times a day. Hardly surprising then, that Restaurant Magazine rated Bukhara as one of the 50 best restaurants (and best Asian restaurant) in the world in 2004. It's a cozy venue, with stone walls and cushion-covered stools at mock log-top tables. In a busy display kitchen where meat and vegetables hang from swordlike kebab spears, chefs slave to produce delicacies from a menu that hasn't changed in over 25 years. The best way to experience Bukhara's internationally celebrated cuisine is to order an assorted kebab platter (there's even one named in Clinton's honor). Follow that up with any of Bukhara's classic lamb (raan) dishes, best savored with thin butter naans. Finish off with a traditional rice-basedphirni pudding or one of their amazing kulfis (ice cream).

ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave. & 011/2611-2233. Reservations 12:30-1:30pm and 7-8pm only. Main courses Rs 300-Rs 1,195 ($6.85-$27).AE, DC, MC,V Daily 12:30-2:45pm and 7-11:45pm.

Haveli NORTH INDIAN Besides the fact that Haveli's food is exceptional, it's almost worth a visit just to admire the sumptuous decor. One wall showcases fine floral frescoes and decorative reliefs, while the ceiling is adorned with carved wooden haveli eaves, gilt tiles, and Belgian chandeliers. In the evenings, musical and cultural performances are staged on a raised marble platform under a beautiful canopy. A great way to get a taste for North Indian cuisine is to order a Maharaja thali, a silver platter filled with tandoori prawns, masala chicken, spicy lamb, mixed vegetable curry, and heavenly black dal, a lentil specialty that's cooked for up to 20 hours over hot charcoal. Try the signature murgh dhanya, a mild chicken curry flavored with cilantro. (Note that the Taj Mahal Hotel also has a very good Chinese restaurant, House of Ming; it's not in the same class as Taipan in The Oberoi, but it's definitely easier on your wallet.) Taj Mahal Hotel, Number One Mansingh Rd. & 011/2302-6162. Main courses Rs 305-Rs 795 ($7-$18); thalis Rs 895-Rs 995 ($20-$22).AE, DC, MC,V. Daily 12:30-2:45pm and 7:30-11:45pm.

Masala Art && CONTEMPORARY INDIAN Artistic rendering of classic Indian cuisine is all the rage in the country's upscale city restaurants, and Masala Art makes a very conscious attempt to dazzle. The chefs turn cooking into performance art, putting on engaging food demonstrations at mealtimes; spectators eat whatever delicacies are produced. Of the daily a la carte specials, look for achari jhinga (prawns flavored with raw mango), and galouti kebabs prepared with finely minced lamb and 126 different herbs. If you're up for sharing a small feast, order khushk raan, a whole leg of lamb pot-roasted in a secret, heavenly marinade. Order homemade puffy phulka bread, made from ground wheat, on the side, and be sure to have a glass of fresh sugarcane juice or bhune jeere ki chaas, buttermilk seasoned with roasted cumin. End with cheena payesh, soft cottage cheese dumplings in reduced milk, topped with pistachios.

Taj Palace Hotel, 2 Sadar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave. & 011/2611-0202. Main courses Rs 325-Rs 950 ($7.35-$22). Food shows Rs 1,375 ($32) seafood, Rs 1,175 ($27) vegetarian or meat. AE, DC, MC, V. Daily 12:30-2:45pm and 7:30-11:45pm.

Orient Express dftjf FRENCH You're best off dressing up for a meal in this posh replica of a Pullman Orient Express train carriage; look anything less than debonair and you're likely to be ignored. Enjoy pre-boarding drinks on the "platform," as the bar area is called, and scan the humidor for an expensive cigar. Your four-course journey is inspired by the countries through which the Orient Express passes on its Paris-to-Istanbul run, and is likely to include items such as Camembert soufflé with paprika sauce, pan-seared reef cod with raw papaya salad, and the extremely popular oven-roasted New Zealand rack of lamb, encrusted with herbs and almonds and served with lamb jus. Fish is flown in fresh daily—from France. Although the menu changes three or four times a year, one item will never be replaced: the sinful but wonderful warm chocolate pudding with a liquid chocolate center.

Taj Palace Hotel, 2 Sadar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave. & 011/2611-0202. Reservations essential. Children under 17 not allowed for dinner. 4-course meal Rs 2,395 ($55); 3-course meal Rs 2,095 ($48). AE, DC, MC, V. Daily 12:30-2:30pm and 6:30-11:30pm.

The Spice Route (Stffti? ASIAN It was voted one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, and it certainly lives up to its promise with a vast menu that makes the mouth water at the variety of flavors and ingredients. The decor alone is worth a visit—every nook and cranny is hand-painted by temple artists flown in from Kerala, and antique beams, pillars, and ceilings are all imbued with meaning. The restaurant took 9 years to complete, and is divided into nine sections, each representing an aspect of the "journey of life"—for instance, the Wealth section is embellished with 24-karat gold leaf, whereas the Ancestral section has replicas of panels from Thai temples. If the evening is balmy, sit in the tranquil courtyard and be prepared to be blown away by the food—the best tom kha kai ever (the classic Thai soup, made with spicy chicken and coconut milk, flavored with lemon grass and kafir leaves) and mouthwatering chemeen thoren (Kerala-style prawns, stir-fried with coconut, curry leaves, and black tamarind, and flavored with mustard seeds). Kung nangphad khing is stir-fried lobster with ginger and Thai black mushrooms, and malu miris is composed of vegetables, coral mushrooms, and water chestnuts cooked in a Sri Lankan curry. As indicated by the name, the menu takes you on a complex culinary journey, from the Malabar Coast to Sri Lanka, Malaysia to Indonesia, Thailand to Vietnam. And although the lobster and the like are pretty pricey, you won't regret ordering them. There are plenty of other dishes in the Rs 400-to-Rs 600 ($9.10-$14) range. Service is superb—smart, discreet, and helpful.

The Imperial, 1 Janpath. & 011/2334-1234. Main courses Rs 400-Rs 950 ($9.10-$22). AE, DC, MC, V. Daily 12.30-2:45pm and 7-11:45pm.

The Taipan CHINESE Singaporean chef Thian serves up amazing dim sum at this popular Chinese restaurant, arguably the best in town. Steamed and served in special bamboo baskets, Chinese dim sum are tiny dumplings filled with an assortment of tasty morsels; they draw a dedicated following, and it's quite possible to fill up on these starters without even moving on to the main courses. And, at lunchtime, when you can enjoy the fantastic view over Delhi Golf Course, an assorted platter of dim sum is ideal for a tasty midday meal that won't leave you feeling stuffed for the rest of the day. If you're up for a complete meal, don't miss the fantastic Peking duck or the chef's special, chicken tapering chili (sliced chicken and whole long tapering chilies, flavored with a light soya sauce). The chicken is not half as pungent as it sounds, unless you eat the whole chilies.

The Oberoi, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg. & 011/2436-3030. Reservations recommended, essential on the weekend. Main courses Rs 350-Rs 1,600 ($8-$37); average veg dish Rs 400 ($9.10); non-veg dish Rs 550 ($13). AE, DC, MC, V. Daily 12:30-2:45pm and 7:30-11:45pm.

EXPENSIVE

Thai Wok t-OtSfS THAI This is one of the best ways to enjoy Delhi, which is probably why Delhi's smart crowd loves this designer-chic rooftop restaurant, with views of the Qutb Minar. Reached via an ancient elevator and a short set of stairs, the artful alfresco setting includes a bright-orange walled area with cushioned seating, wall torches, wind-blown pagodas, and white curtains that enhance an airy feel; reserve well ahead to sit here. The affable host will make plenty of recommendations; find out if the wonderful pork spareribs, marinated in Thai herbs and topped with a honey and garlic sauce, are on offer. Seafood dishes are exceptional; try red snapper in chili-sour sauce, prawns stir-fried with fresh green chilies and sweet basil, or deep-fried filet of sole tossed in chopped garlic and freshly crushed black pepper. Vegetarians will love the super-light batter-fried vegetables and outstanding green curry. Try one of the delightfully decadent cocktails or peruse the extensive wine list with vintages from France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and California—all at hefty prices, of course.

1091/1 Ambavata Complex, Mehrauli. & 011/2664-4289. Reservations highly recommended; essential on weekends. Main courses Rs 195-Rs 400 ($4.50-$9.10).AE, MC,V. Noon-11:30pm. Snacks only, 3:30-7pm.

Turquoise Cottage (if THAI/CHINESE Another option (like Thai Wok) if you're in the Qutb Minar area, this smart Asian restaurant has turquoise walls, dark stone floors with turquoise tiles, wrought-iron furniture, contemporary chandeliers, and a fish tank or two. Start with an assortment of dim sum dumplings (mouthful-size portions of minced seafood, chicken, meat, or vegetables wrapped in handmade wontons and steamed). Then move on to a barbecue platter; it comes with spareribs, satay chicken, filet of sole, and prawns. Other interesting dishes include black-pepper crab, spicy basil prawns, crispy shredded lamb, stuffed squid, and pork chops prepared with fragrant lemon grass. After you've eaten, join the young, hip crowd in the bar downstairs for some super-size vodka shots.

81/3 Adhchini, Sri Aurobindo Marg. & 011/2685-3896 or 011/5168-1288. Reservations essential Wed, Fri, and Sat. Main courses Rs 85-Rs 500 ($2-$11). AE, DC, MC,V. Daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11:30pm.

MODERATE

Sagar is one of Delhi's favorite restaurant chains, serving reliable vegetarian South Indian food at reasonable prices till 11pm. Have one of the South Indian thali platters (Rs 72/$1.60), and eat with your hands. End your meal with Madrasi filter coffee, or you can start your day the same way—the restaurant opens at 8am, which is the best time for traditional idli (South India's favorite breakfast dumplings) and chutney. You'll find a good outlet at 18 Defence Colony Market (& 011/2433-3110 or 5565-0961); Defence Colony is about 10 minutes from India Gate. A popular lunchtime venue is Basil and Thyme ★ (Santushti Shopping Complex, New Wellington Camp; & 011/ 2467-3322), where you can taste playful experiments with healthy Continental fare from the kitchen of 82-year-old Bhickoo Maneckshaw. The day's special and other healthy selections rarely fail to please, and the fabulous homemade cheesecakes and ice creams should be declared illegal. Reserve ahead.

Chor Bizarre NORTH INDIAN/KASHMIRI A fantasy of kitsch twisted into a unique and wonderful space that is more irreverent museum than diner, this is one restaurant that truly lives up to its name. Its name a pun on chor bazaar, which literally means "thieves' market," Chor Bizarre is packed with fascinating odds and ends, mismatched settings, out-of-place furnishings, and reassembled bits and pieces (matchboxes, coins, chessboards, antique combs, ivory sandals, jewelry, chandeliers, a jukebox . . . ), innovatively displayed to create one of India's most visually dynamic restaurants (a branch of which is now also open in London). One table was previously a Maharaja's bed, while a 1927 vintage Fiat has become the buffet-carrying "Chaat mobile." Start with deep-fried lotus roots, prepared Kashmiri-style, and move on to kakori kebab, lamb marinated in 36 different spices and grilled in a tandoor. Cardamom-flavored lamb meatballs (goshtaba) are another delicious Kashmiri specialty, slow-cooked over an open flame. Alternatively, if you're up for a feast, try the Kashmiri taramis (thali), filled with treats and served from a traditional royal platter. Ask about walking tours that combine lunch with sights in Old Delhi.

Hotel Broadway, 4/15 A Asaf Ali Rd. (central New Delhi). & 011/2327-3821. Main courses Rs 290-Rs 395 ($6.75-$9); thalis Rs 245-Rs 345 ($5.65-$7.90); Rs 595 ($14) walking tour and set menu lunch.AE, DC, MC,V. Daily noon-3:30pm and 7:30-11:30pm.

Fa Yian G (finds CHINESE Judging by the exterior and the neighborhood, this might at first seem the type of place you don't want to be at night. But grit your teeth and venture inside—the brainchild of Gregory Kuok, this is the most authentic Chinese restaurant in Delhi, and the well-established menu has been tried and tested by some of the city's fussiest diners for well over a decade. Steamed wheat dumplings, filled with prawns, chicken, or vegetables and served with a garlic soya dip, are what gave Fa Yian its excellent reputation. The dumplings are prepared, along with the homemade noodles, fresh each day. Try these as a starter, followed by honey chicken, pepper-salt jumbo prawns, or the Fa Yian hot pot, which is prepared at the table according to your taste. Fish, brought in from Mumbai and steamed with a delicate hint of ginger, is lovely. Covering two levels, the ambience is relaxed and simple; ask for a table upstairs. Service is friendly and casual.

A Block, 25/5 Middle Circle, Connaught Place. & 011/2332-3237 or 011/5151-6788. Main courses Rs 135-Rs 165 ($3.05-$3.75); prawns Rs 465 ($11). AE, DC, MC,V. Daily noon-3pm and 7-11pm.

Flavors HOME-STYLE ITALIAN Genuine home-style Italian cooking is the hallmark of Delhi's favorite Italian restaurant. Italian owner-chef Tarsilo Nataloni began this as an ice-cream shop and soon expanded to an extensive menu. Unless it's a blistering summer day and you prefer the air-conditioned section, grab a seat at a pretty wrought-iron table on the veranda. Order a wonderfully refreshing pink ginger fizz to sip on while you decide on what to eat. You could snack on panini made with ciabatta and imported cheese and meats, or get a delicious Greek salad followed by one of the perfect wood-fired oven pizzas (try the unusual pizza peri-peri). Flavors serves consistently good food, so go ahead and order any of the risottos or the fresh homemade pastas—you won't be disappointed. Pleasant young college students wait tables here (a rarity in India), and are eager to chat if you care for interaction; if not, this is a perfect spot for a relaxed evening after an exhausting day navigating Delhi's streets (about 10 min. drive south from India Gate; 10 min. drive east of Lodi Gardens). Advance booking is recommended on weekend evenings.

Moolchand Flyover Complex, Defence Colony, New Delhi. & 011/2464-5644. Reservations recommended; necessary on weekends. Most main courses Rs 300-Rs 350 ($6.85-$8).AE, MC,V. Daily 11am-midnight.

Park Balluchi MUGHLAI/AFHGHANI A regular winner of India's

Tourism Award for the country's best restaurant, Park Balluchi enjoys a magical setting on the grounds of Delhi's leafy Deer Park, in Hauz Khas. Turbaned waiters in waistcoats and long shirts serve an extensive range of kebabs and spicy tandoor items. For some light drama, order Afghani-style murgh-potli (tandoori chicken): chicken breast stuffed with minced mutton and served over a flaming sword. The specialty at Balluchi is the dohra kebab, a unique combination of two meats. Vegetarians should order mewapaneer tukra, Indian cottage cheese stuffed with raisins, sultanas, walnuts, and other nuts; preparation of this dish takes at least 12 hours. Be sure to get a side order of peshawri naan, bread cooked in the tandoor oven with poppy seeds and coriander leaves. As you eat, you will likely catch a glimpse of scampering rabbits or strutting peacocks, making this an ideal lunch venue.

Deer Park, Hauz Khas Village. & 011/2685-9369. Reservations for dinner and weekends essential. Main courses Rs 180-Rs 530 ($4.10—$12). AE, MC, V. Daily noon-11:45pm.

Punjabi By Nature ($ PUNJABI You'll know from the many Sikh families that eat here that this is one of Delhi's best-regarded Punjabi restaurants, with two floors for diners and a pub upstairs, all a mere 10 minutes' drive west of Haus Khas Village (or 15 min. from Safdarjung's tomb, the Hyatt Regency, or the Santushi Shopping Complex). On the first floor is a display kitchen where you can watch tandoori items and desserts being made; ask for a table here, where it's more atmospheric. Try tandoori trout, flown in from the icy streams of Himachal Pradesh, or masala quail (bataear masaledar). Lobster is brought fresh from Mumbai and cooked to perfection in the tandoor oven. Vegetarians can look forward to tandoori broccoli, prepared in a mustard marinade; or sarson ka saag, fresh mustard greens served with homemade corn-meal bread. Try the house specialty, a "gol gappa" shot: a tinypuri (fried puffed bread) filled with vodka, which you pop into your mouth whole.

11 Basant Lok,Vasant Vihar. & 011/5151-6665 through -6669. Main courses Rs 225-Rs 495 ($5.10-$11); prawns Rs 495 ($11); lobster Rs 750 ($17). AE, DC, MC,V. Daily 12:30-3:30pm and 7:30-11:30pm.

The Rampur Kitchen NORTH INDIAN Named for a former princely capital in Uttar Pradesh, this bright, yellow-walled restaurant is a fantastic place for meat-eaters, and ideal if you've been browsing the Khan Market. It's intimate and extremely clean, with modern artworks depicting scenes from Delhi life. The Muslim food here is rich—the chefs don't exactly hold back on the ghee. Try seekh kebab Rampuri, tasty mutton kebabs that are generously spiced, mixed with boiled egg whites, and grilled over charcoal. Gosht nahari is a delicious mutton dish prepared in thick, spicy onion gravy and cooked overnight on a slow fire. Another delicacy is haleem, made from a thick mutton paste mixed with spices and pulses and garnished with chilies and ginger; order tasty kulcha bread as an accompaniment. Alcohol is not available.

8A Khan Market. & 011/2460-3366 or 98682-60361. Reservations recommended. Main courses Rs 130-Rs 250 ($3-$5.70). DC, MC, V. Daily noon-3:30pm and 7-11pm.

INEXPENSIVE

With the explosion of Starbucks-style cafes all over the capital, few stand out for their distinctiveness. Café Turtle ★ ★, perched above Full Circle Books and Music Store in Khan Market, is one lovely exception (& 011/2465-5641). Sit on the roof terrace surrounded by the tops of beautiful trees and sip fresh coffee or fragrant teas. Little disturbs your calm, as soft jazz plays in the background—unless, that is, you want a culinary adventure; if so, come here on a Saturday afternoon to sample something new, different, and off-the-menu. United Coffee House * began 5 decades ago as a coffeehouse; now it's also a multi-cuisine restaurant. Fresh brews are brought to your table in a French press. Interesting Art Deco interiors, good Indian food, and happy hours that extend from late afternoon to 8pm make this a favorite with locals and travelers alike. You'll need to make a reservation for dinner (E-15, Inner Circle, Connaught Place; & 011/2341 or -6075). If on a meander through Hauz Khas you crave an inexpensive North Indian meal, stop at Baujee ka dhaba (18 Hauz Khas Village; & 011/2652-5511). Brightly painted Madhubani murals cover the walls of this restaurant, which has been outfitted to resemble a dhaba (a highway food stop). Even though the place has a thatched ceiling, hand-painted pots, and bamboo lampshades, it's far from a real dhaba, however. It might have captured the essence as far as the setting goes, but the food is distinctively Mughlai and Punjabi fare, rich and heavy, but unquestionably well-made and delicious. Get the ever-popular shammi kebab or dum pukht chicken. Or just nibble on assorted kebabs while you enjoy a reasonably priced chilled beer.

Karim Restaurant riP MUGHLAI In the heart of Old Delhi, not far from the Jama Masjid, this legendary eatery dates back to 1913, when it was opened by a chef who hailed from a family of royal cooks who served, among other guests, the great Mughal emperor, Akbar. Come here for the food, and don't be put off by the informal setting; this is the genuine thing. It's primarily a meat-eaters' hangout, and the real princely treats are mutton burra kebabs. The butter-cooked chicken (makhani murgh) is also wonderful, as is the badshahi badam pasanda, mutton cooked with blended almonds and yogurt and fragrant spices. If you're really adventurous, you can also sample exotic fare such as spiced goat trotters, or the advance-order bakra feast—lamb stuffed with chicken, rice, eggs, and dried fruit, a meal made for a dozen people.

16 Jama Masjid, Matiya Mahal, opposite Hotel Bombay Orient. & 011/2326-4981 or -9880. www.karimhoteldelhi. com. Main courses Rs 51-Rs 180 ($1.15-$4.10); bakra Rs 3,800 ($86). No credit cards. Daily 7am-midnight.

Naivedyam ££ SOUTH INDIAN VEGETARIAN Delhi has three branches of this fantastic little South Indian restaurant; the one in Hauz Khas is the original, atmospherically decorated with mirror-framed Tanjore paintings and pillars that have been beautifully carved and embossed. Soothing temple music fills the subtly lit interior. You start your meal with a spicy peppery lentil soup, called rasam, which is drunk as a curative and is something of an acquired taste. Thalis, or multicourse platters, are served at meal times, and are a good way to sample a variety of tastes from the South. Alternatively, you can choose from a whole range of dosas (akin to a pancake). Try tangam paper masala dosa; it's a paper-thin pancake made from rice and lentil flour. The ingredients may sound ridiculously simple, but dosas easily become addictive. On the side you'll be served chutney made from ground coconut and green chilies, and sambar, a souplike concoction of lentils, tamarind, and vegetables. Tea and coffee are served in the style typical of the South, but there's no alcohol. You'll recognize the restaurant by the stone Nandi bull statue that faces the front entrance.

1 Hauz Khas Village. & 011/2696-0426. Main courses Rs 45-Rs 75 ($1-$1.70); thali Rs 90 ($2.05).AE, DC, MC,V. Daily 11am-11pm.

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