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Bukhara – Perfection on a Plate

The much feted Bukhara in ITC Maurya, New Delhi, marks its 35th anniversary in August in a delicious way

The much feted Bukhara in ITC Maurya, New Delhi, marks its 35th anniversary in August in a delicious way
Which is the most popular and awarded Indian restaurant? That’s one bit of knowledge there is no disputing about. Bukhara at ITC’s Maurya has been voted India’s best restaurant seemingly forever.
As it completes 35 years in August 2014, the restaurant has grand celebrations planned for those who made it a success – its regular flow of patrons. Clintons, Bushes, Obamas, Blairs….royals of all hues, Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, corporate leaders – Bukhara has delighted them all over the years.
Its legends have built up over time. Most regulars do not even have to order. The low key Executive Chef of Bukhara, JP Singh and his team, are familiar with most of them and their preferences. Sikandari Raan, Murgh Malai Kebab, Tandoori Jhinga, Barrah Kebab, Reshmi Kebab, Tandoori Phool, Paneer Tikka and, of course, Dal Bukhara – that’s effectively half the menu, and the restaurant can’t dish out enough of it. 
With a limited menu (and it hasn’t changed much either) of rather heavy stuff from a rather indeterminate region, served in what is probably the least comfortable seating in a top end restaurant anywhere, Bukhara has turned almost all conventional wisdom for achieving success in the restaurant business on its head.
The hearty cuisine, beloved of north Indians is comfort food. Of course the source region has no fine dining antecedents either, and Chef Singh mentions there was an acquired process to everything, from converting the cuisine to a top flight hotel culture, from the time to tenderize meat to concocting vegetarian dishes.

Anyone familiar with Bukhara will know of its long standing open kitchen, where Chef JP Singh, who took over in 1991, helms a group of 16 chefs. Bukhara sees little staff turnover. The colourful Mandanlal Jaiswal began the menu, and after his untimely death, Singh has held the banner aloft admirably. “When I joined, it was a challenge,” he admits. Very much hands on, he and the team are constantly in the kitchen in two shifts.
The menu may look simple, but Bukhara’s consistency has meant it is put together daily, with the exacting standards of a military drill. Right from sourcing standards to standardisation in menu, norms for each item are prescribed. The leg of lamb for the raan has to be between 1.2 kg to 1.5 kg, the jumbo prawns have to weigh 80 to 120 grams to find approval here. “We don’t take our customers for granted. You can visit us today and come back 10 years later — our attitude, food and service would still be unchanged,” stresses Chef Singh. There is no fuss over seasonal menus or organic or fusion or any new fangled food fads here.
Chef Singh insists the food is healthy, and any extra fat, say from the meat, is trimmed down. The meat is cooked in two stages, with the first stage sealing the meat. Even the dal, of which about 140 portions are prepared daily, has only two kg butter in about 45 to 50 kg dal, he says! Carefully sourced unpolished dal has a preparation time of about 24 hours when it continuously simmers on a master pot over low flame. Such is the precision that the dal has to be lustrous but not break out, its texture perfectly creamy and taste perfect. The top tribute – this dal has created a new eponymous category!
The design translates a roadside dhaba to a five star hotel. Largely unchanged, right down to the same textile pattern, even the same colours are used in upholstery for benches and stools that aid eating on log top tables. Stone clad walls, wooden pillars and uprights, strung bead screens, and copper utensils suspended from the ceiling complete Bukhara’s look! Add copper glasses for water and gingham check aprons, and you are set for your kebabs and dal! Most tables are large and the food is best shared from common platters in large groups! The restaurant has 130 covers, up with an extension a few years ago, but the waiting area still sees a crowd in peak season, when revenues could top Rs 15 lakh a day (approx 25,000 USD)!
To mark its anniversary, Bukhara has special offers from August 2 to 11, 2014. This includes a ‘Celebration Hour’ at 20:30 and 22:30 daily, when a complimentary glass of Champagne will be given to each table. Additionally, Dal Bukhara will be served complimentary at every table. Bukhara surely will deserve its Michelins when they come. For now, it looks set to continue to delighting guests for years to come.

Coordinates: Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, New Delhi, 10021, India

Suman Tarafdar is a journalist and writer based in Delhi. He has worked with a number of leading Indian media organisations, and writes on various aspects of luxury, lifestyle and culture. When not writing to earn a living, he likes to travel, read, cook, chat, shop and watch all kinds of soppy stuff on tv. Yes, current politics bothers him.