Delhi: The Best of Bukhara

Mark Luscombe-Whyte

Celebrating the fine-dining experience in a very subcontinental sense, Bukhara was the first high-end restaurant to rediscover the magic of authentic Indian food. And today it remains a must-visit both for travelers and locals. Over the course of its 25 years, Bukhara has attained cult status—this despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it never changes its menu. But it doesn’t have to. When you’ve consistently been the highest-grossing restaurant in India for more than a decade, why alter a thing?

With food from India’s northwest frontier, a route by which invaders entered the country for centuries, this premier restaurant of the ITC Maurya hotel has a rustic stone-walled decor meant to evoke the vernacular fort architecture of that area. The menu focuses mainly on robust kebabs, and recommended dishes are many. The pinnacle, however, is the dal Bukhara, stewed black lentils laden with butter and cream. The dish is on menus across the country now, but all these imitators fail to live up to this one.

Other favorites are the roasted leg of lamb called sikandari raan; the lamb chops known as burrah kebabs; the oven-baked prawns called tandoori jhinga; and the chicken marinated in cream and known as murgh malai kebabs. Time hasn’t withered the touch of the chefs, who can be seen wielding skewers in the glass-front kitchen. Waiters encourage diners to eat with their fingers in the traditional way, and aprons serve as napkins.

Mick Jagger and Bill Gates have become devotees, but most notable is the restaurant’s chief cheerleader and brand ambassador: Bill Clinton. He reportedly dined here four times during his administration and told The New York Times that those were the best meals he had as president. Today Bukhara celebrates this love affair with the Clinton Platter, a sampling of the former president’s picks.

It’s not just the rich and famous who have been charmed by Bukhara, however. In 2002 the restaurant was featured in Time, and Bukhara is the only spot in India that made it onto British Restaurant magazine’s 2007 list of the 50 best in the world. So what if it placed 37th? It was the top choice in Asia, and for Bill—and plenty of others—it’ll always be no. 1. Dinner, $110. At Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg; 91-11/2611-2233; itcwelcomegroup.in.