Bandage dresses, duck sausage, and Naga fireballs. Oh Mehrauli. ♦
To be seated at the bar at Bo-Tai, restaurateur Zorawar Kalra’s newest establishment, is to survey a food empire from one of its loftiest watchtowers. Above us, the liquor shelves bristle with bottles of Cîroc vodka and Monkey 47 gin; around us waiters and hosts jostle about with fussy plates and precarious little cocktails on trays.
The crowd looks strictly South Delhi: there’s barely a woman to be seen who hasn’t had her hair blown out before coming. They’re wearing clutches and draped gowns or body-con dresses; the men are tucked into expensive casual jeans. Waiters serve noodles to one large family, seated according to age over several tables; the rest of the two protruding, leafy balconies and the inside dining room is occupied by small groups of lithe ladies and their paunchier partners. We spot Kalra himself sitting amongst some of them.
Kung Fu Pandan
The bar, an excellent vantage point, offers insights into the somewhat less polished aspects of Bo Tai in this opening week. The staff, some with metal bow-ties pinned to their vests, seem to outnumber the patrons. Some teething problems become apparent.
Our cocktails take a little while to arrive. Túi-tiù incorporates Bacardi rum, vermouth, lychee, pineapple, lime, honey, pandan tincture, and a description pretty much lifted from a Wikipedia entry. It’s refreshing, but we’d prefer fresh juice to boxed for a drink inspired by a harvest festival. Naga Fireball is a basically a Johnny Gold Label old-fashioned, gussied up with smoke and mirrors: the cocktail is infused with smoke in a bell jar.
It’s quite a show at the bar, and we don’t mean the drinks. At one point, we see a bartender consulting his cocktail manual. Another gets what looks like a scolding from Dino Koletsas, the UK-based bar consultant. Later, our Manhattan, which arrives in an apothecary’s bottle on ice, is whisked away while still half-full when we step out for a bit. Luckily, we spot it near a sink, and it’s sheepishly returned.
Our food order, too, gets off to a rocky start, when we’re brought a raw mango and avocado salad instead of the raw mango and crab salad we’d ordered. They eventually let us have both, and they’re delicious, particularly the lightly fried, whole soft shell crabs that crumble into the shreds of mango and leafy greens.
Pork belly bao are the tasty, gooey version we’ve come to expect at Delhi’s nicer Asian restaurants, complete with Veeba-like sauce and micro-greens. But the visual highlight of our meal is a tiradito of scallops, served on a clear, thick plate filled with chilled water. Thin slivers of scallop—imagine micro-shavings of tender coconut—warm up in the mouth, mingling with the flavours of fish sauce, lime, coriander and the accompanying dollop of rambutan sorbet.
We recommend adventurous eaters stick to the appetisers or plated mains. Our prawn Thai green curry is good and well-presented, but not particularly different from what’s available elsewhere in town. We wish we were hungrier when a generous plate of meaty duck sausages comes around, but we manage to stuff them in anyway, dipping the meat in a mellow kabocha mash (which looks closer in colour to our desi kaddu, but has a rich taste nonetheless), and potato Dauphinoise.
Cool as the Thaiga
We want to tell Bo-Tai to relax and maybe loosen the knot a little, but we suspect letting one’s hair down means something different to its target clientele than it does to us (hint: we don’t own a hair-dryer). Though the whole place feels a little try-hard, we can’t fault the energy and eagerness to please—especially when they bring us a complimentary dessert platter with a mild kabocha tart, a lemongrass-studded jelly that looks like something you might find on a beach, and a quenelle of some dense creamy stuff splotched with greeny-blue.
Asian and Asian-inspired restaurants (and delivery outfits) have been popping up faster than Metro stations in Delhi. We’re happy about the trend, as long as it means there’s something for everyone—from homestyle Vietnamese at Little Saigon to high-gloss Thai at Bo-Tai.
Getting there: 6/4,Kalka Das Marg, Mehrauli Road, Near Qutub Minar, 98705-87770. Meal for two from Rs 4,000 (not including drinks or tax).
This story was originally published on Brown Paper Bag.