The Tapas Lounge, Aman Resort- New Delhi, India

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…

The Aman Resort, New Delhi

Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003
India

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.

The Aman, Aman Resort – New Delhi, India

Have you ever been inside of a hotel or a resort that was so beautiful that it took your breath away?  I’ve stayed at amazing oceanfront resorts in places like Hawaii, Okinawa, Phuket and the Maldives where it was primarily the ocean view and the majestic landscapes that made it worth the money.  It wasn’t until I stepped foot inside of the new Aman resort in New Delhi India that I truly, for the first time ever, fell in love with the actual hotel.  Once I passed the security gate and check points, which are present in all New Delhi hotels, I took one look down the entrance hall and gasped.  What was this serenity in the air, the almost fabricated silence that was so far removed from the chaotic streets outside?  A smiling attendant in crisp uniform welcomed me to the hotel as he tended to a few flickering candles floating in large marigold tubs.

The tapping sounds of my heels against the marble floors resonated and echoed throughout the wide hallways and high ceilings as I walked through the quiet resort.  The hallways were dimly lit except for the occasional spotlights that illuminated doors and passageways.  I felt like a special guest invited into a secret society, as numerous staff escorted me down the long corridor that faced the large outdoor reflection pool.  It was night time, and the smooth glass-like surface of the pool was gently lit up in hazy spots of soft yellow from the glow of the guest room lights above.  Time seemed to stop in this exclusive space that was a secret and mystical world far far away from reality.  I almost felt unworthy of being in this peaceful world, this modern monastery, this temple of luxury, that the Aman group had just opened a year ago.

Once inside of the large restaurant space called The Aman, the decor transformed from zen minimalist to modern Mughal architecture.  Soft outdoor lights seeped through the jaali screens into the hallway, casting fine geometric patterns onto the floor.  We walked by the Naoki counter, a counter- seating only restaurant that serves contemporary French kaiseki cuisine.  The Japanese chef said that it was his dream to work at an Aman resort, and he seemed genuinely happy to be fulfilling this dream.  I, on the other hand, felt like I was sleepwalking through a fantastical dream of my own, and feared that this elegant world would disappear when I woke up.

We had dinner at The Aman restaurant which mainly offers a selection of Thai and Indian cuisine.  We rested our backs against large plush cushions inside spacious white leather banquettes and took in the majestic sight of this luxurious dining space.  The food menu offered an amazing selection of international fare, from Italian pastas and French charcuterie to Moroccan stews and Thai soups.  Since the executive chef was Thai, we decided to order heavily on classic Thai dishes for our meal. Meanwhile, my jaw dropped in sheer awe and excitement as I perused the wine encyclopedia.  The 40 page menu listed some exclusive wines that I could only dream of ever tasting.  1978 Domaine Leroy premier cru Les Chevenottes, 1995 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and a Spanish 1986 Magnum Unico-Artisit Label by Bodegas Vega Sicilia.  Oh, if only…

Instead, we had 2 great glasses of white wine.  The Mercurey by Domaine Faiveley from Burgundy had a light and fruity flavor with a noticeable citrus undertone.  I was impressed with the glass of Placet white Rioja by Alvaro Palacios, which had a sweeter refined flavor that was more mellow than the Burgundy white.

We started our meal with tom kha gai, Thai coconut soup with chicken.  The soup had large meaty chunks of delicious oyster and eringi mushrooms, and the chicken had a tender milky texture.  The broth wasn’t too heavy or creamy as many tom kha gai tend to be, and it was easy to finish the whole bowl.  It was one of the best tom kha gai soups that I have ever had.  It was far more polished and sophisticated than any that I have ever tasted before.

Yam nua, beef tenderloin Thai salad with chiles, cucumbers, lime and Thai herbs, was mediocre.  The texture of the meat was quite tough, but since the majority of Indians do not consume beef, I imagine it’s quite difficult to import good quality beef. Otherwise, the sour citrus flavors and tangy spices in this salad dish were delicious.

Tandoori chicken, perhaps the most quintessential chicken dish in Indian cuisine, was excellent here at The Aman.  The yogurt and spice marinade was rich in flavor and aroma, and the meat was grilled to perfection.  It was a well-groomed and genteel version of Tandoori chicken, unlike some of its robust and full-bodied counterparts that I’ve had in the states, but I really loved the cleaner and more elegant flavors of the spices in this dish.  The lotus root and mango pickle, pickled red onions, and mint-coriander chutney that came with the chicken were all outstanding.  These 3 condiments could have made a great meal just on their own.

The pad thai came beautifully served in a thin egg sheet wrap, and was plated tableside.  I couldn’t believe that I was having one of the most delicious pad thai dishes in the middle of India.

There were an astounding 13 choices on the dessert menu, and we started with an Indian dessert for our first course.  Pistachio kulfi was served on glass noodles with a rose and saffron syrup.  The chopped pistachio nuts added a great crunchy texture to the thick dense Indian ice cream.  The glass noodles reminded me too much of Japanese shirataki noodles that are usually eaten in savory dishes like sukiyaki and nabe, and I couldn’t fully enjoy this plate.

We also ordered a yogurt and mango terrine with raspberry and mango coulis.  The light and airy mousse terrine was delicious, but I was more fascinated with the 3 dimensional chocolate ribbon and the plating of the fruit coulis that looked like a Joan Miró painting.

With the wonderful staff’s attention to detail and their impeccable service, my short time at the Aman Resort was like a heavenly dream come true.  I felt like I was floating peacefully and slowly through a Shangri-la paradise where everything was just perfect.  I wanted to stay there forever, but that was an impossible wish.  I had to leave the beautiful resort grounds to go back out into the harsh reality of the crowded and polluted streets of New Delhi.  As I drove by the Presidential palace, I observed its grandeur and majesty, but still longed for my Aman palace.

Aman Resort, New Delhi

Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003
India

tel (91) 11 4363 3333

Random trivia: Did you know that marigold flowers got their name from ‘Mary’s Gold’?  Early Christians offered these bright yellow and orange flowers in place of real gold when worshiping statues of the Virgin Mary.  In India marigolds are considered auspicious, and can be found everywhere- as garlands hung around statues of Hindu gods, and at weddings and festivals.