Saanuk Oriental Bistro & Lounge

Luxe Buddhas and a killer deal ♦

In the early days of Time Out food reviewing, there were no quaint little tea rooms or reservoir-facing bistros popping up every other week. You were lucky if you got to go to a hotel once in a while; otherwise, a high percentage of the free dining experience consisted of resto-bar visits or dhaba dives, interspersed with liberal doses of immodium.

Of course new resto-bars are still as common as hipster boîtes, and we were wary at first of Saanuk’s “Bistro & Lounge” tag and its location in Kailash Colony Market, which – though it has a history of diamond-in-the-rough eating joints – is still a little on the rough side. Then, it’s owned by Sanjha Chulha, a Punjabi chain that’s been around since 1975, but has only ever had a small Chinjabi section among its tikkas and curries. Saanuk’s two floors of dark granite tables, red velvet benches, occasional flatscreens and Buddha accents follow the dictats of the resto-lounge aesthetic, but it is spic-and-span and the ambience grew on us.

Currently, Saanuk’s main draw is not the upstairs lounge (liquor license pending), but the insane meal deal: a soup or mocktail, a starter, a main course, noodles or rice, and dessert, all for the princely sum of Rs249 (vegetarian) or Rs349 (non-vegetarian) per person. If two people order, the price is Rs449 (veg), Rs 649 (non-veg). And we’re not talking piddly little plates of last year’s momos, but full-fledged entrées, garnished with nested strands of beetroot or carrot, fresh ingredients and above-average taste.

There’s a good selection and everything we ordered was available and customisable (we asked them to hold the cabbage). True, the strips of tofu in the hot and sour soup were just a little paneer-like, and the fried aubergine a bit on the salty side, but these are minor quibbles when you’re digging in to minty popiah, pak choi and broccoli sautéed with garlic, and the most yummy discovery – chilly-honey glazed, battered and crispy fried water chestnuts – all for less than you’d pay for one prawn entrée at Speedy Chow or Asian Box down the street.

Special mention must be made of our waiter’s masterful command of the menu (down to informing us which three mushroom varieties were in a soup) and grace under pressure when the first crème brûlée he brought us turned out to be randomly spiked with salt. When we asked for a little soy sauce, he got the chef to whip up a fresh black bean sauce, with whole black beans.

You could do a lot worse than Saanuk if you’re in the area, looking for affordable grub, and don’t mind a little Enrique while you eat. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a market-busting drink deal, and applaud this resto-lounge for doing its bit to improve the reputation of its kind.

Saanuk HS-36 Kailash Colony Market (97171-81583).

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, July 2013.