The Spice Route – a historical journey in South East Asian spices
July 30, 2018
The Imperial Hotel
Walking into the understated luxury of Lutyen’s masterpiece – The Imperial New Delhi, we could not help but marvel at the simplicity yet elegant interiors that bestowed us. A luxury hotel with an awe-inspiring heritage interwoven in colonial elegance, it dwells in its modern delivery of old-style class and magnificence. The royal palms that lead up to the porch are an integral part of and witness to the very creation of Delhi. Listed amongst 15 Legendary Hotels around the world by Fodor’s Travel in 2014, The Imperial was conceptualized in 1934 by Blomfield and inaugurated by Lord Willingdon in 1936. Located on Janpath, the erstwhile Queensway, it is steps away from the renowned shopping district and major attractions of the city and just a 30-minutes’ drive from the international airport and 1 km from the central business district of New Delhi. Strolling through its art laden corridors, we felt that history had come alive.
The Spice Route
We were greeted at the lobby by Ms. Ruchi Jain, the ever smiling and friendly Public Relations manager of The Imperial. Walking towards our planned destination, The Spice Route, we could not help but discuss the colonial feeling as soon as one enters this hotel. A completely different world seemed to have opened, filled with Victorian Charm and luxury! Stepping into The Spice Route, we felt like we were entering an ancient archeological design which had been adorned with beautiful stone sculptures and murals depicting mythological gods and goddesses on the walls (More on the décor later). Upon being seated, we were greeted by the Restaurant Manager, Rohit who informed us that a detailed tour of the restaurant would take place soon after lunch. We proceeded to begin our experience at The Spice Route with fresh coconut water which was absolutely delicious. I had not drunk coconut water straight from a coconut itself since childhood and this brought back memories of hot summer afternoons in Kolkata.
Chef Veena Arora
We were soon joined by Chef De Cuisine of The Spice Route, Veena Arora, who as we were told is behind the brand’s fearless foray into South East Asian cuisine at a time in the 90’s when North Indian cuisine was the flavor of the market! Born and brought up in Thailand in a small town named Phathalung situated in the south of Thailand, close to the sea and the Malaysian Border, Chef Veena grew up virtually living and cherishing Thai food. But post her marriage to an Indian in the year 1980 and subsequently moving to India, she found a way to share her joy of South-East Asian by joining The Imperial as their Consultant Chef for the yet to be opened The Spice Route in the year `1996. Ever since then, she has been attached to the Spice Route kitchen as their Chef De Cuisine creating globally renowned menus for every season and occasion, throughout the year. In her two decade long association with The Spice Route, she continues to create different versions of the cuisine for the Neo-Thai food lovers owing to the ever increasing popularity of the cuisine.
Chef Veena had curated a special tasting menu for us which began with crispy spring rolls ‘Por Pia Chae’ with an assortment of sauces along with a portion of ‘Som Tum Chae’, a cold noodle salad with raw papaya and peanuts. The papaya salad was extremely refreshing and tasted heavenly prompting us to get another serving of the same. We were then served the ‘Meen Arvat Anjj’, which is some beautifully fried fillet of sole served with curry leaves and Kerala. The sole was so fresh, we couldn’t help marveling at how it just melted in our mouth while we ate. While waiting for our next course to begin (and taking some time to build our appetites!), we discussed with Chef Veena the different kinds of ingredients she uses to make this delicious food.
Speaking passionately, she talked about her summer and winter menu’s in length, mango being the flavor for summer here while winters were all about seafood. On to the main course, we tried the ‘Kaeng Kheow Waan Kai’, chicken in signature Thai green curry which was the right amount of spice and full of flavor.
One of my personal favorites apart from the Thai curry was in fact a vegetarian dish, ‘Phad Phrik Tauhu’, which consisted of sir-fried bean curd and bamboo shoots in Thai basil sauce. My vegetarian friend devoured the dish and later confessed that from being skeptical of the dish initially, he was completely blown away at how tastefully it had been created.
Chef Veena was the perfect host and insisted we tried the Mango curry from her Summer menu, and were we amazed! Hands down, my favorite dish of the afternoon and I would definitely recommend my friends to try out the restaurant’s summer menu. We ended our meal with their homemade coconut ice cream which was delicious as well leaving us absolutely satisfied and honestly, too full to move an inch! I would personally like to add that something that really stood out during our meal (apart from the food of course) was the hospitality of the restaurant staff and the stories that Chef Veena shared with us, her personal experiences and journey from Thailand to India and her sound technical knowledge made this experience delightful!
Lastly, we were joined by Rohit who was to take us on a tour of this beautiful restaurant. We honestly did not expect to be enthralled the way we were during this time where he proceeded to explain what the restaurant stood for and what went behind curating, designing and creating it. Designed by noted art curator, Rajeev Sethi, The Spice Route was planned in a way to recreate the ancient journey of Spices along the Indian Ocean from Kerala to South East Asia. Traditional Spice Boats would begin a long journey laden with rare and exotic spice gems navigating through Kerala, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The cuisine is hence inspired by all these prominent ports. Spice Route is not only a creation of cultures of the Far East but also a reflection of the Indian philosophy and thoughts. In this restaurant all the wood that meets the eye is antique. The art work is done by the Kerala mural artists. The restaurant is divided into nine sections portraying the nine stages of the journey of life from Birth to re-incarnation – the story of life defined with Hindu principles and Buddhist Philosophy.
We started our tour with the Knowledge section. As Rohit explained, knowledge is the strongest asset in our life above everything else. We come with knowledge and we leave with knowledge. Next, the Journey of Life section explains the Materialistic nature of mankind, Intimacy and lust of Kamasutra & Ultimate Salvation. These form the chain of desires that surround our lives – eventually leaving us in the aspiration for the most challenging but purest form of desire – Moksha. The Help and Support
section is basically for family. The values help and support can be well observed in the design with strong pillars on all four sides. Family home is the one place where there is pure love, respect and no judgement.
The Creativity section shows the part where we begin a solo journey of self discovery here when we leave home to enter a world of creativity, imagination and finding our purpose. Food is the most creative part of any restaurant and the kitchen is behind this section. The Relationship section is where two lost souls find each other and forge the union of holy matrimony. Fate & Fortune is the sixth section which has murals of the nine planets that govern our fortunes in a massive wooden framework on the wall. A gilded golden Ramayana is placed at the Wealth Section written in Pali script.
A Thai dancer golden crown is also here for luxury and prosperity. The Ancestral section is your next stop. In a depiction of the end of journey of life, the walls here are made up of holistic replicas of stone sculptures from various Thai temples.
At the heart of the restaurant is the last section, Food & Health, which is a tribute to your taste buds and gives you the feel of having a meal in the open courtyard of the restaurant. The mural on the ceiling is a darkening sky while on either side the architectural illustrations of roofs face inward giving you a sense of being in an open space. Little wonder, only the interiors took seven years in the making!
After such a hearty meal and a beautiful tour, when you walk out through the Knowledge section, you carry with you not just the good food and hospitality but a feeling of joyful living with yourself!
Open for Lunch and Dinner
Timings: Lunch- 12:30pm to 2:45pm and Dinner- 7:00pm to 11:45pm
W: The Imperial Hotel New Delhi