5 days of business eats in Gurgaon - April 2014
I had a whirlwind trip to New Delhi where the business meetings dominated most of the days and we were escorted to 'safe' choices by the hosting company. Even though we expressed interest in trying local specialties, it was clear the restaurants and host thought otherwise. So even though we ate fairly well, I felt we missed what could be offered and I wanted to just give a review to other business travelers so they don't make the same mistake as us.
We stayed at the Westin hotel and though it's remarked as a 5 star hotel, it's more like a 3.5 in the international stage. Sure, everything looks glossy in the restaurants in the photo but the wear and tear plus really poor service standard just brought everything down. Westin has 3 restaurants and we went to 2 of them.
The first was EEST which is their east Asian offering. The menu was large and it included everything from Chinese (hodge podge of Sichuan and Cantonese), Japanese, and Thai. It did have a generous portion of the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes and I appreciated that. The service had no clue about the dishes... we would ask specifics and they would point to the menu and read exactly word for word what was printed. It was like they didn't comprehend the question and instead of asking what we were trying to find out, they just read out loud what we previously questioning. The other problem was that they were ridiculously pushy on their drink offering. I guess they were trying to sell the sake and we told them 3 times none of us liked sake. After the 4th attempt by the same waiter, someone in our group said if they remembered the 3 previous questions of sake and our repeated answer. I think the server finally understood that 'no thank you... we don't like safe' really means 'no'. We ordered a variety across the menu... sashimi and sushi for one, another ordered cantonese dishes, the other colleague ordered Japanese izakaya based dishes, and I ordered thai and a bit of cooked Japanese. There were some dishes that were lacking like the sushi. They were tiny... as in 0.5 inch across! The sushi was not great as they really put little fish to balance a larger piece of shari. The tuna was a bit too chewy. The fried rice, stir fried chicken, grilled chicken skewer (Japanese), and thai green vegetables stir fry was all decent. Though I have no proof, all the vegetables seem to be frozen vegetables as they were all mushy and torn edges that I commonly see in frozen broccoli and beans. The only item that was pretty good was the chawanmushi for it's texture. It claimed to include shrimp and other items but they were either very tiny or absent in the dish. The texture though was a perfect jiggly smooth savoury custard. I was happy to have ordered it.
The other restaurant we tried is Seasonal Taste which is their 24 hours lobby open air restaurant. The kitchen sits directly behind the food. I ate here for breakfast and one dinner. There are plenty of options as it caters to the Japanese, Chinese, American, and traditional Indian palates. For food quality, it was decent with some highlights. Their Asian area (Japanese and Chinese) tried to offer dimsum but it was chewy and overcooked. They had miso soup, various cooked fish (which sat under a heat lamp), jook (or congee) with various available mix ins, stir fried vegetables (which went a yucky yellow because it sat boiling in the pot), and a large variety of traditional sauces. For dinner, they did have thai curries available and a few more stir fries that seemed Asian. The American section for breakfast was truly all American... breakfast fries, bacon, sausage, quiche, eggs prepared as requested, sliced ham (I think), and more perhaps a meat patty? The Indian section is where I think they had the greatest variety. Lots of various meat and vegetarian curries, masalas, and chutneys plus lots of freshly made breakfast 'bread' options like dosa, idli, samosa, uttapam, parantha, and bhaji. I had a freshly made dosa and wow, definitely good stuff. Loved the crispiness without the heavy oil and the sambhar/chunteys were a great flavourful punch. I ended up getting sunny side eggs, dosas, and mixing all the chutneys with everything for bold tastes. They also had a decent section of fresh fruits, juices, and cold cut meats/fish. Lastly, they had a bread area where muffins, donuts, croissants, quick breads, and other baked sweets were available. On a good day, most things were pretty good but it's clear that they do keep old stuff for the next day as the Tuesday morning breakfast was really horrible. The croissant was as limp as a wet sponge and the donuts were stale.
Our hosts attempted to keep our dinners 'accessible' to us even though we tried to let them know we have good to decent Indian cuisine back at home. We went to Park Plaza's The Great Kabob Factory and this was probably the only fairly authentic meal the entire week. Our colleagues from the southern part of India enjoyed this meal a lot. The flavours and spices used were bright and bold on the skewers of meat and vegetables. They were nicely charred outside while still retaining moisture instead. We had over probably 8 tastings of small bites of various skewers to enjoy before the curries were plated. The standout was the fish as they somehow were able to retain moisture within but a nice crispy tasty exterior from being in the tandoori. The daal was ok as it seemed to be more tame and bland than what I've had in Toronto. The weak point of the whole experience was the bread and some of the vegetarian patties. The bread weren't as fresh, crackly, or flavourful as we experienced in the Westin and the vegetarian patties were really soggy texture. We were told they were supposed to be a bit firmer and crispy on the outside. The service was always prompt and polite... if anything, it was probably the best of the entire week. I would say that if I was returning to Gurgaon, I wouldn't oppose coming back.
The other dinner experience was really unusual and I think a poor representation of India. We were given a dinner at Kingdom of Dreams and I think they unfortunately told them they had North American guests. The buffet had everything but Indian food... thai green curry, chicken stir fry, eggplant parmigiana, apple strudel, chocolate mousse, some sort of Italian pasta. Safe to say that this is not the normal sort of Indian buffet :)
I used to go to Gurgaon a lot and there are quite a few good Indian restaurants around (see some of the posts on the subject). These tend to be in shopping centres and hotels which can put uninitiated visitors off as they expect a more "real" experience but that is how things done in middle class Indian suburbs.
My advice for any visitor is to eat Indian three times a day, every day. the only exception would be a western breakfast where eggs etc are cooked freshly.
I stayed at the Westin many times and the "Seasonal Taste" is the best there. Not certain why a non-indian would eat western or Asian - these are getting common as the Indian middle classes flex their economic muscle. I suspect you learned the lesson. If you eat there again select the buffet and eat Indian, but order a plate of kebabs freshly cooked and a basket of fresh breads and it will be a better meal (its not obvious you can do this).
Servie in India and many other countries in APAC is patchy. Lots and lots of new hotels and too few trained and experienced staff to cover all the jobs. Its early days and it will get better - contrast China and HK service as an example of what will happen.
The Westin is probably the better mainstream hotel, the new Taj has a better Indian restaurant but I have not stayed, the Trident is nice but quieter, and if you can afford it the Oberoi is great with very buzzy casual restaurant and over the top Indian fusion grand diner. The Leela is OK and near the big shopping centre so more food options, their buffet restaurant is similar to the Westin, they have an Indian fine diner but I didn't like it that much (ate there twice).
Thank you for the insight about Gurgaon. I was told the middle class Indian family has a lot of buying power and driving much of the restaurant experiences into the mall. Our hosts were constantly saying they werent as good as the hotels but it's nice to know that it's normal to go into the mall.
ALso, i had no idea we could order freshly cooked kabobs and breads! Now I know and if I'll return, I'll do that. Is there another place you would recommend for next time?
I would recommend Punjab by Nature which is in Cyber City (but not a mall). The Ambiance mall restaurants are OK - but maybe best to stick to Indian not Chinese or fast food - but not really a destination. We tried one in a deserted mall which was part of a brew pub (locals will know it). It was actually really great food and separated from the pub in a separate restaurant.
The best hotel restaurants are the better restaurants, but the Westin isn't one of them. You need to head to The Taj, the Oberoi, to the ITC Sheraton.
That's sums up our experience nicely... We wanted to try new things but between the host steering us in a certain direction and being extremely tired in a new environment, we weren't in a position to say 'we want this specific restaurant.'.
We got the Indian version of American Chinese food... egg rolls and chicken balls.
I think next time I go, I can be a bit more expressive on what we'd like to try... especially after going to the great kabob factory. That was more authentic and enjoyable.
I'll never, ever attempt to eat Japanese again in India after my experience at Wasabi by Morimoto, Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. It was regarded as the best Japanese on the South Asian continent by top Indian food-writer/TV host, Vir Sangvhi, but I found the standards there mediocre at best.