Chandni is the flagship restaurant of the very smart luxury hotel Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur, on the banks of lake Pichola. The restaurant is one floor down from the lobby area, and is split into several sections, with a musician playing a sitar in one corner. We dined in the main dining room on this unseasonably chilly evening, though there are also some outside tables. Tables were large and widely spaced, and the chairs were very comfortable. The menu features dishes from Rajasthan.
The wine list had labels such as Cosecha Tarapaca Chardonnay 2016 from Chile at INR 4,000 (£46) for a bottle that can be found in the UK high street for £5, Craggy Grange Gimblett Gravels Merlot of mysterious vintage at INR 7,750 (£90) compared to its retail price of perhaps £23, and Louis Roederer NV Brut at INR 15,500 (£180) for a wine that will set you back £43 in a shop. The labelling of the wines was erratic, some having vintages and others not, and others with ambiguous names. The label “Chateauneuf du Pape Rhone 2010” with no indication of grower does not inspire confidence, especially when this bottle was priced at £174. It is supposed to be a wine list, not a lucky dip. Popadoms were made from a variety of different flours, so there were wheat, lentil and chickpea popadoms, accompanied by mango chutney and also a mixed vegetable chutney.
A starter of pan fried kidney bean kebab with spiced apricots sounded interesting, but what arrived was four very dry blobs that fell apart into something worryingly close to dust as soon as you cut into them. You would be hard pressed to tell what they were made of, and certainly the apricots, which in theory may have brought moisture and acidity, were undetectable. They resembled four piles of sawdust (7/20). The waiter noticed that I wasn't eating much of this and, to his credit, offered an alternative. A spicy chicken tikka arrived, and this was vastly better. The chicken did not have great texture but it was cooked well enough, and the spicy marinade brought a lively kick of chilli (13/20). Mushrooms stuffed with cheese and nuts and cooked in the tandoor were very pleasant, the mushrooms accurately cooked and enhanced by a gentle blend of spices (13/20).
The best dish of the meal was stir-fried vegetables with spinach, the peas, carrots and sweet corn lightly cooked, the spinach excellent (easily 13/20). A chicken curry with Rajasthan spices was rather disappointing, the sauce quite rich and interesting but the chicken itself, served on the bone, quite badly dried out (10/20). All main courses included a couple of small side dishes, a dhal and a potato curry. The potato curry was overly sour (9/20), the yellow dhal better though rather bland (11/20). Naan bread on the side had good texture (13/20). To finish we tried an almond halwa. This was curiously large in size but sadly was very dry in texture, so although there was some almond flavour the overall effect was disappointing (10/20).
Service was well meaning but not well organised. I ordered a beer at the very beginning of the meal, but this did not arrive with the popadoms, and despite further inquiry it remained elusive. Perhaps a team of specialists were working on it. More than fifteen minutes after ordering it the beer remained rooted in the bar, shyly reluctant to make its journey to my table. The starters arrived and still no beer, and only after another plea did a bottle of Kingfisher finally turn up. Having witnessed this, I ordered my next beer when the first was less than half consumed, and yet even this tactic was unable to overcome the bashfulness of the beer, which remained firmly in the bar, demure to the last. Eventually further entreaties resulted in the reticent bottle being removed from its home and delivered to the table. The coyness was not confined to beer. A lassi was ordered and this, which at least requires making rather than just having its cap removed, also seemed to be beyond the capabilities of the staff to deliver. After a lengthy gap we were confidently informed that the lassi would arrive within three more minutes, but of course it did not. Finally, lassi came home, and very pleasant it was, but by that time the anticipation was considerable. I have no idea why the drinks service was such a mess: there were plenty of staff, sometimes with as many as three waiters in our section chatting to one another, and the restaurant was far from full this evening. Our waiter was personable enough, but no one really seemed to be in charge and actually organising things. The bill came to INR 9784 for two before service, or £57 per head, This is an awful lot of money by pretty much any standards, especially in a country where it is possible to eat very cheaply indeed. For the same money I could have eaten fourteen meals at the superior Thaker Bhojanalay in Mumbai and still had change, for example. Of course here you are dining in a very smart setting, but such prices raise expectations, and all those staff that the high prices were paying for were unable to deliver a coherent service.