Le Cirque Delhi

Leela Palace Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, Delhi, India

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Le Cirque in New York was opened in 1974 by Sirrio Maccioni, and became a destination popular with the great and good of the city. If you were not a celebrity then your experience could be less than dazzling: I went there once (back in the early 1990s) and was kept waiting at the bar long past my reservation time. Eventually I was seated at the grimmest table in the house and as a lone diner was treated with ill-disguised contempt by the waiters, who instead fawned over the assorted royalty, diplomats and businessmen that seemed to make up the rest of the customer base. Ruth Reichl, then New York times food critic, went twice, once anonymously and in disguise, once openly, and had such radically different experiences that she wrote two separate reviews to reflect the double standards. She was famously told by the owner that: “The King of Spain is waiting in the bar, but your table is ready.” Clearly it pays to be well-known, or at least well heeled, at Le Cirque.

These days the original Le Cirque still flourishes, but has now expanded to a restaurant empire stretching from Las Vegas to The Dominican Republic and now to India, opening a branch on the tenth floor of the Leela Delhi in mid 2011. The head chef here is Mickey Bhoite, who was born to Indian parents though has spent most of his life in Tuscany, and the menu reflects this Italian background rather than the French cooking of the New York restaurant. Mr Bhoite was away on vacation on the night of my visit.

There was an open kitchen around which tables were arrayed, in addition to three private dining rooms. There was also a balcony with heater lamps (this was March) for those diners who fancied a view out over the city - the restaurant was on the 10th floor, the highest level of the hotel.

The wine list had nearly 200 separate choices from France and Italy. Louis Roederer NV was INR 8,000 compared to a UK shop price of around INR 3,850, Chateau Talbot 2007 was INR 24,700 for a wine that retails at around INR 5,000, and Jermann Vintage Tunina 2008 was INR 12,500 for a wine that will set you back INR 3,850 in a shop. Breads were made from scratch in the kitchen, the best being walnut rolls, though a focaccia was a touch dry (13/20 average).

The meal began with a nibble of potato croquette with lemon aioli, which was pleasant enough, the batter crisp and the hint lemon providing a touch of acidity; if the aioli had been sharper the overall effect would have been improved (13/20). Sweet corn chowder was served with fregola and prawn fritters, the corn soup a touch sweet but the fritters had nice texture (13/20). Guinea fowl ragu was served with pici pasta, which is essentially fat spaghetti, garnished with pickled grapes. The pasta had good texture, the guinea fowl minced and flavoured with black pepper (14/20). There was also an intermediate course of duck tortellini, which had pasta with good texture and duck having pleasant flavour (14/20).

Chicken paillard was well seasoned and had a pleasant smoky hint from the charcoal grill, served with morels and rosemary dust, garnished with grilled bell peppers and sage (13/20). Pasta primavera had spaghetti in a cream sauce with peas, asparagus, mushroom, courgette, aubergine, baby cherry tomatoes and supposedly garlic; the pasta had pleasant texture, but the vegetables had limited flavour (13/20).

Orange panna cotta was not set in the traditional way, so was more like an orange cream, with orange and grapefruit segments and a slightly stale biscuit (12/20). Creme brûlée was nicely made, with vanilla cream and a good crust (13/20).

Service was excellent other than one rather odd occurrence when we arrived. In an empty dining room we were steered away from the table we wanted with the claim that it was "reserved", though by the end of the evening it remained resolutely empty. I really have no idea why restaurants do this sort of thing, though it at least was in character with the New York original; I was later told that it was in case a particular regular diner turned up. Otherwise the service was fine. The bill came to INR 19,626 for two i.e. £94 a head, but that was with a bottle of Louis Roederer champagne. If you ordered a modest wine then a typical bill would be around £60 a head.  

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