First the good news. Emperor’s Kitchen has an enviable location. It’s in the middle of Style Mile; being behind a major bus stop, it has much more parking than any restaurant in the vicinity. It has well-appointed interiors, a terrace with a dream view of the Qutab Minar, a part-Chinese part-Thai menu – two of the most popular cuisines in our neck of the woods. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. You could, if you are as unlucky as I was, go there for a quiet meal on a day that the restaurant is having a private party. It is a curious approach to the restaurant business to open your doors to private parties as well as paying customers simultaneously, that too, on a Sunday afternoon, traditionally the busiest time of the week for a restaurant. The upshot was that on a cold, foggy afternoon, not only did hip-hop sounds blare from the speakers non-stop, the entrance courtyard and the restaurant itself were closed to the public. All of us – and I’m guessing that there were around thirty customers on the terrace – were shivering around the outdoor heaters. It was as close and crowded as the private party downstairs, except that none of us knew each other, and had to keep apologizing as we bumped into each other in the limited space.
I’m not sure, therefore, that I got to sample the food in the optimal manner. After all, chaos must have broken out in the kitchen that afternoon. The impression I have – and it’s entirely possible that I’m totally off the mark, mind – is that the starters are the most Indianized items on the menu and the main courses, especially the Thai ones, are closest to the original.
Fresh corn soup (Rs 175) is a steal at the price. It is also wonderfully fresh, is bursting with flavour and doesn’t suffer from too much cornstarch. Hoisin Chicken (Rs 275) was Indian Chinese by another name. Oodles of cornflour and chillies made it indistinguishable from chilli chicken. Laab Kai (Rs 250) was the classic Thai minced chicken salad with lime and fish sauce. The mince had been sitting in the refrigerator for a while, but whether that would have been the case if I had timed my visit better, I don’t know. However, it is a welcome addition to the menu, not being either deep-fried or over-spiced. Ditto for the Prawns Salt and Pepper (Rs 475) that had less freshly ground black pepper as the menu claimed and more rather soft batter. Whether the batter would have been crisper if the kitchen had been less pre-occupied is a moot point.
However, the Chicken Coconut Chilli (Rs 425) saved the day. It was served in a coconut shell, but there, all resemblance to the classic Hormok ended. Featuring coconut milk, red curry paste and egg, it was a delight. The other tasty dish, also coincidentally Thai, was Mixed Seafood Phad Cha (Rs 850) had a clinging sauce and was composed of sliced fish, prawns and squid with pea aubergines.
The desserts are decadent, especially the Chocolate Cappuccino Mousse (Rs 250). Service is attentive and swift and there is a genuine desire to please. Prices are surprisingly low. I’d call in advance just to make sure there’s no party on.
New Delhi 110030
Tel: 9711205715, 26642600-1
Open from 12 noon to 12 midnight