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.
Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003
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.