Avartana – ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
Chennai is a city obsessed with its own history, but in recent years, it’s also been aggressively forward-thinking and cosmopolitan. ITC Grand Chola’s most recent offering, Avartana, which dishes out luxe reimagined South Indian fare, is the perfect case in point. This modernist fine diner with a banana leaf design leitmotif hasn’t been open for long, but already people are saying it’s the most happening spot in town. If you’re looking for thrills on the plate, this one gives you bang for your buck. Chef Ajit Bangera, who took two years to devise the avant-garde menu, uses ingredients and seasonal produce to fashion inventive recipes that blend tastes from across the Southern Indian Peninsula with techniques from across the globe. A flavour-packed rasam is infused in front of the guest in a French press with coriander and cherry tomatoes to soak in the freshness of the herbs. And fish fry becomes a dish of sea bass cubes marinated with ginger, garlic and Salem chilli, then encased with thin linguine of local flat bread and fried. Desserts are just as ambitious and successful. The trail of payasams is a delightful take on jasmine and fig payasam. In short, if daring and boundary-pushing food brings you pleasure, you won’t be disappointed.
Pillars – Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
Unapologetically old school, Pillars feels as though it’s from another time and place. Launched in 1976—it started as a tearoom in Umaid Bhawan—this charming open-air restaurant offers spectacular views of Jodhpur, the Baradari lawns, and the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. From the cane furniture to servers in white uniforms with red turbans and kamarbandhs, the dial here is set to familiar, colonial (and yes, expensive) luxury. Menu stalwarts include golden classics of the vintage era such as chicken a la Kiev, braised lamb ossobuco, chermoula tofu steak, and homemade tortellini with saffron beurre blanc. You can also choose from Taj signatures like cobb salad from New York’s Taj Pierre Hotel and, fish and chips from Taj St. James Court, London, among others. The menu isn’t radical but everything is freshly made and sourced from the best suppliers across the world. The ham is Iberico, the avocados come from Peru, and the gulkand is painstakingly made in-house from the best Pushkar roses. Pair the food with a selection of spirits from across the globe. Definitely try the killer Jodhpur chilli martini made with local red chillies. As you savour your tipple, know that the likes of Prince Charles, the Dalai Lama, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Mick Jagger have all dined here.
Le Cirque – The Leela Palace, New Delhi
Like its famed crème brûlée (the recipe shows up as you scrape the bottom of the bowl in which it’s served), Le Cirque is a favourite of the capital for a good reason: its staff is friendly, the candle-lit ambience chic, and the food innovatively upper crust. The restaurant, housed on the 10th floor of the beautiful Leela Palace, offers a breathtaking view of the majestic diplomatic enclave. The menu has a strong European bent with an honest yet unpredictable approach. Snack on a decadent plate of truffle fries, or a silky smoked potato mousse with slow-cooked free-range egg. For the antipasti, try owner Sirio Maccioni’s signature spaghetti primavera, its light cream garlic sauce humming with flavour. The grilled NZ lamb chops, encrusted with black pepper and pecorino cheese, and grilled over charcoal, are a comforting treat. Chef Adrian Mellor’s reverence for his ingredients and their provenance, coupled with his playfulness and skill, makes every mouthful a rare treat. Take for example, his preference for secondary cuts of meat like the belly, cheek and shoulder. Treated with slow-cooking techniques, they yield layers of flavour not usual of filleted cuts that are used for these dishes. The outstanding wine list is a draw in itself.