Nestled inside the luxury business hotel, the ITC Maurya, is the restaurant “Bukhara”. Its reputation precedes it; it has been listed on numerous top restaurant lists around the globe and is often heralded as the best restaurant not only in India, but also all of Asia. Certainly that’s an extremely tall order. I’m always astonished when one single restaurant is trumpeted as the best on an entire continent let alone a whole country (it would be impossible to choose one restaurant as the best restaurant in all of Japan, for example, and Bukhara was touted as Best in Asia on the San Pellegrino 50 Best list in 2007!). I was certainly eager to experience Bukhara to learn why it was honored with such accolades.
The atmosphere here at Bukhara, which has also hosted many a foreign dignitary including a number of American presidents, is “rustic folklore”. The space is cavernous with no natural light, the color palette focuses on orange and brown, and copper pots hang from the walls. Seating is low and a bit awkward keeping diners at a
distance from the tables (when I sat down I could not cross my legs or move in closer). The kitchen is exposed and lively lending a good bit of culinary theater to the space; the walls are stone, and the limited menus are printed on heavy oval wooden boards. Single red roses dot each table, and diners are strongly encouraged to eat with their hands.
The food at Bukhara is northern Indian, specializing in Tandoor cuisine, so meat is the focus. Marinated lamb, chicken, and fish are central to the menu, as are the good fresh roti and naan (served with Bukhara’s famous dal – black lentils simmered overnight with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic – and a dollop of ghee). The presentation is basic and the dishes are rather tasty, just not exceptional. The meat is moist and properly cooked with a pleasant and moderate amount of spice and flavor, but there is not enough to lend unique interest or an exceptional review to these dishes.
The chef, Mr. Singh, is friendly, accessible, and focused. He has been cooking for a long time and is knowledgeable about Indian cuisine. He is well known because of Bukhara and has proudly garnered a large following. His clientele is a mix of tourists, groups big and small and wealthy locals. The night I dined here there was a large table of about 15 tourist from China, each one armed with a flash camera to shoot each dish that arrived at the table! Servers are generally attentive and even, while the cost of the meal is quite high.