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Sheesh Mahal

Leela Palace Hotel, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, India

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Sheesh Mahal (meaning Mirror Palace) is the main restaurant of the Leela Palace in Udaipur. The hotel also has an all day eating spot called The Dining Room, but the Sheesh Mahal only opens at night. The dining area of Sheesh Mahal is entirely in the open air, on two levels, both looking out directly over Lake Pichola. This spot provides lovely views across the water to the city palace and the historic Lake Palace hotel, which are nicely illuminated at night.

This arrangement is certainly romantic but means that food photography is not an option unless you fancy trying infrared, since illumination is minimal. The menu arrives with a little lamp so that you can read it. Because of this I have actually shown in the photos some dishes from the daytime restaurant of the hotel, which is overseen by exactly the same head chef (Sujit Mukherjee) and sous chef, but with a slightly different menu. Udaipur can be a bit chilly on a winter evening, as it was on this unseasonably cool November night (14C), so if planning to dine here you may want to dress accordingly. The hotel has the technology to sort this out though, and at our next visit portable heat lamps were set up, which nicely balanced the cool of the night.

The tables themselves are large and well spaced. The menu is extensive, starting with a wide selection of Rajasthan dishes and then broadening out to a further choice of dishes from across India. We ate here four times during our stay here, so were able to try quite a variety of dishes. Most dishes were priced at around INR 1,200 (£14) or so, with some side dishes at INR 600 (£7). 

There was a fairly large wine list, with labels from across the world. Examples were Piccani Bianco 2015 at INR 4,500 (£52) for a bottle that you could find in a UK high street for £5, d’Arenberg Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 at INR 7,500 (£87) compared to its retail price of £14 and the lovely E. Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 at INR 20,000 (£233) for a wine that would set you back around £46 in a shop. Wine in restaurants in India, with its 152% minimum import duty and complex state regulations in addition, is rarely an affordable luxury, as can be seen here. The list did have some Indian wines, such as Grovers Nashik Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 at INR 3,500 (£41) compared to a UK shop price of £12.

The first meal began with a variation on a pani puri, a crisp hollow sphere with an open top in which you pour flavoured spiced water before eating in one go (13/20). We then moved on to a variety of tandoori dishes. The stars amongst these were the excellent paneer and the delicate murgh malai, where the chicken had been marinated in spices and cheese and was very tender (14/20). A main course lamb dish had quite a rich, slightly spicy sauce and tender meat, accompanied by a smoky black dhal (14/20). We also sampled shrikand, a rich saffron flavoured dessert rarely seen in restaurants, at least in the UK.

At the next meal we tried a very good dish of fried local fish that had been marinated with carom seeds and yoghurt (14/20). Chicken biryani was excellent, the rice nicely fragrant and the large pieces of chicken avoiding the dryness that can often afflict this dish (14/20). Slow braised cauliflower with cumin and fresh mint was particularly good, with a gently hint of sourness from vinegar, the cauliflower itself having lovely texture (15/20). Carrot halwa was also very nicely made, avoiding dryness and not been overly sweet (14/20).

At a further meal, a thali had eight different dishes plus a selection of different breads, including paratha. There was a chicken and corn dish, lamb, yellow dhal, lassi and three different wheat dishes. The best of these was the lamb, though the dhal was good too (13/20 average). At another meal a bhindi dish impressed me, the okra avoiding the sliminess that so often afflicts bhindi, here being lightly stir fried with spices and pickled red onion (14/20). At our final meal a raan dish of slow cooked leg of lamb with spices was very enjoyable, the meat tender and suffused with spices (14/20). Also good was methi chicken, made with fresh fenugreek (14/20). 

Roti bread was made fresh to order at a little station in the open air by a lone female chef, who rolled out the dough and cooked over a charcoal burner. The breads we tried were excellent, including the normal breads you see in Indian restaurants but also unusual varieties such as corn bread and a millet roti, which was firmer in texture than a regular roti. My personal favourite, romali roti, which is tossed in the air, folded and cooked on a steel hemisphere in the kitchen, was also available, as was naan. The breads here that we tried were top notch, having lovely supple texture and being superbly fresh (easily 15/20).

Service was very good throughout our four dinners here, the waiters helpful and attentive. If you had three courses, some bread and beer to drink then a typical meal might cost £45 a head or so. This is not unreasonable given the high standard of food, the good service and above all the spectacular natural setting that you can enjoy as you look out over the lake.

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