the restaurant adored by Amitabh Bachchan and Virat Kohli

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Is it a train? Is it a restaurant? Well, it’s definitely Meals on Wheels.

The Orient Express is a resto-bar that pays homage to the famous train journey of a bygone era.

“Welcome aboard,” says Sauurabh, a cheerful member of staff at the restaurant, who has been a fixture at the Taj Palace, New Delhi, for nearly four decades.

Inside, the compartment’s mahogany walls are encrusted with Lalique glass statuettes from the Côte d’Azur, the dinner tables are adorned with fine china and crystal goblets on white linen tablecloths; vintage brass luggage racks loom above.

The compartment’s windows open onto a “platform”, complete with a bar, while classical piano tunes complete the cozy atmosphere.

It’s like being transported straight into the pages of Agatha Christie’s captivating book Murder on the Orient Express – fortunately without a killer on the loose.

Inspired by the long-distance rail adventure, which ran from Paris to Istanbul until 1977, the Orient Express at the Taj Palace recreates an entire carriage of its namesake.

Chefs Arvind Saraswat and Arun Chopra opened the restaurant on Christmas Eve 1983, bringing an air of history and the best cuisine to India’s capital.

True to its heritage and panache, the contemporary European cuisine restaurant also recreates the magic of yesteryear with its eye-catching dishes.

They are inspired by the haute cuisine of the countries the train passes through and, like the first class carriage, offer customers an elevated experience, which combines a luxurious ambience with fine dining.

“Camembert soufflé, lobster flambé and hot chocolate pudding have been menu constants for three decades,” explains chef DN Sharma, associated with the Orient Express since February 1987.

Over the years, and armed with four staff in the kitchen and four in the restaurant, the 10-table Orient Express has entertained and attracted many celebrity guests, from Bollywood bigwigs and cricket stars to prime ministers and dignitaries including the Bachchan family, Virat Kohli and former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary.

The attention to detail is such that staff are trained to remember the culinary likes and dislikes of regular customers and refine recipes accordingly.

Soufflé is a popular dish and served in a paprika sauce.  Photo: Meenakshi J

Camembert soufflé, for example, is a classic French dish.

However, the original paprika sauce recipe calls for an overload of cream and butter, a combination too heavy for Indian summers, says Sharma.

So his team tweaked the dish with fat-free cream and a moderate amount of butter. The result is a moist, melty dish, a favorite of many, including Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, Sharma says.

“Bachchan saab, being a vegetarian, love our cheese soufflé and our asparagus soup, says the chef, who fondly remembers how the legendary Bollywood actor frequented the restaurant for many years.

“Now Mrs. Bachchan often drops by for a quiet dinner,” says Sous Chef Kshitij Rana.

Although the Orient Express is well suited to carnivores, it does not shy away from offering a variety of delicious vegetarian specialties.

This may explain why Indian cricketers Kohli and Suresh Raina, both vegetarians, often visit the restaurant.

From the rich butternut squash soup and sumptuous artichoke stuffed pancake rolled in quinoa to the drool-worthy hot chocolate pudding, every dish I taste is perfectly put together and leaves a lasting impression.

Hot chocolate pudding.  Photo: The Orient Express

Sharma says her team in the kitchen was the first in India to come up with a chocolate pudding with a liquid center in 1993.

Since then, the staff who learned to make the dessert from Sharma and her predecessor, chef Neeta Nagaraj, took the recipe with them when they left and “that’s how the dessert became popular across the country. India,” said Sharma.

A proper inheritance, if that’s the case.

Updated: June 12, 2022, 05:57

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