The sights and sounds of the chaotic city of New Delhi were new and exciting for me during the first few days of my travel, but after the second week I started to slow down my pace and let everything settle into my overstimulated brain. The polluted air filled with toxic fumes from the auto-rickshaws aggressively winding through tight spaces on the crowded streets was getting to my lungs, and the constant honking of horns was piercing right through my eardrums into my throbbing brain. The more time I spent in New Delhi, the more I was confused about how to accept this profoundly different culture which bore no resemblance to my more structured American and Japanese upbringing.
Every day as I explored the city, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the immense traffic that was generated by people who drove by their own illogical rules. I didn’t see the point in traffic lights and road signs as nobody seemed to follow them anyway. As if the ignorance of road rules was bad enough, there were camels, mules, cows and monkeys causing mayhem in the middle of the streets during rush hour. Nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow let alone bat an eye, as honking cars maneuvered past urinating cows and famished street children at busy intersections. On several occasions I witnessed entire families on single tattered bicycles trudging down the highway going the opposite direction into speeding cars, oblivious to their near brush with death. And to all of the reckless moped drivers- do you really think that your turbans take the place of safety helmets? If people honored traffic rules and actually stopped at a red light, then the constant traffic jams would let up. The utter inefficiency of ignoring all form of order and common sense was flabbergasting. But….that’s India.
On another one of these typical days in New Delhi where my senses were being flooded with the absurdities of the culture, I went to seek refuge at my new found urban paradise, the Aman Resort. I was captivated by the peaceful atmosphere of this beautiful hotel on my first visit, and my soul yearned to make its pilgrimage back there. This time I went to the split level Tapas Lounge that boasted a wood-fired oven in the large open kitchen and was decorated lavishly yet tastefully with silver leaf ceilings and leather flooring. The ground floor is where this action is, and where diners can enjoy Spanish wines and sangrias in a sexy and seductive atmosphere. The second floor lounge, with an unobstructed view of the reflection pool, is where diners can stretch out on plush sofas and leaf through rare Taschen books. The third floor is more formal and traditional for those who want to get serious and enjoy the resident Spanish chef’s wonderful tasting menus.
Spanish chef Jonay Armas runs the kitchen at the Tapas Lounge. Young and handsome Armas has worked alongside famed Michelin starred Catalan chef Santi Santamaria, among other reputable chefs like Paco Roncero. He did a lovely tasting menu lunch for us in the relaxing second floor lounge. The vegetarian portion of the tapas menu featured classic dishes like patatas bravas, ensaladilla rusa and tortilla Española, and a Papas Canarias with Mojo to reflect his Canary Island heritage. Non vegetarian items included garlic prawns, lamb skewers and cured anchovies. All, except for a plate of jamon iberico, were under 350 Rupees ($7 US).
The toasted almonds and house cured olives were amazing. The olives were meaty and succulent, bursting with aromatic juice and savor. We started our fantastic meal with one of the best gazpachos that I have ever had. Slivers of fresh garlic, forest green basil oil and a twist of finely ground black pepper added the perfect amount of zest to this silky Andalucian tomato soup. The amalgam of vegetable essences was rich and dense, and the intense flavors in each spoonful coated my sensory receptors with a magical fruity veil.
I was in meat lover’s paradise with the grilled chorizo dish. Of course, the chorizo was imported from Spain, as the predominantly Hindu and Muslim populations of India do not eat pork. It’s very difficult for me to survive more than 2 days without pork products, so this grilled plate, saturated with the finest pork essence and drippings ever imaginable, was a heaven sent gift. Each slice had that perfect crunchy sear that is necessary to concentrate the meat flavors.
Tender cubes of crispy potatoes on a bed of spicy red tomato sauce were generously layered with creamy aioli in the patatas bravas dish. Each cube had a pleasantly crisp exterior with the perfect amount of oiliness to complement the rich aioli.
Crispy calamari was indeed extra crispy with a wonderful light texture. These deep fried rings of seafood delight, with a squeeze of sour lemon and a light dip into the aioli, were delightful. Once you start, you can’t stop…
We enjoyed our delicious meal with a refreshing glass of their Sangrina, a virgin sangria with diced apples.
Chef Armas brought up this plate of assorted croquettes with fresh green salad. Mushroom, chicken and jamon croquettes were warm and toasty. As I bit through the perfectly fried crunchy shell, the creamy rich filling melted in my mouth and gently massaged my tongue into a catatonic bliss.
We finished our fantastic meal with crema catalana, the Spanish version of crème brûlée. As I struck the top layer with my spoon, the solid burnt caramel shattered into large pieces and gave way to the sweet pool of cream underneath. I watched the silver spoon slowly sink into the thick ooze of vanilla sap before I pounced on it with my ravenous appetite.
The luxurious and serene Aman Resort, one of my favorite resorts in the whole world, allowed me to escape from the noisy and turbulent streets of New Delhi. With Chef Armas’ magical touch, my dining experience at the Tapas Lounge took me further along in my retreat away from reality to the lush green countrysides of Spain. These delectable dishes were some of the best tapas that I have ever had, and it rivaled some of my most memorable plates that I had in Barcelona. We concluded our Aman experience with a fascinating tour through the wine cellars and cigar humidors.
My body is back in the US, but my heart and spirit still remain attached to the tranquil grounds of the Aman Resort…
Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003
tel (91) 11 4363 3333
Random trivia: Did you know that gazpacho, the most famous Andalucian dish of chilled vegetable soup, was originally considered poor man’s food? It was made with bread, water and olive oil, all pounded in a wooden bowl called a dornillo. Later versions were made with bread, water, anchovy bones, salt and olive oil. It wasn’t until Christopher Columbus introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 1400′s that tomatoes were added to gazpacho.