Hai-hai, Oberoi—your aim is so much lower than your grasp. ‘Chinese junk’, my companion’s translation of the name, turns out to be curiously apt. The window dressing is exquisite, as befits the outrageous expenditure of the hotel’s refurbishment—literally (white-embroidered chinoiserie-inflected blinds) and figuratively. Michelin starred London chef Andrew Wong is advertised on the menu as ‘mentor’, though said menu feels awfully slapdash in hand. The upholstery is red and dragon-splashed. Urns and lacquer red accents add layers of cliché. Dishes seemingly aim to surprise, while obscuring their true shape, flavour, ingredients and origins on the page. Once you strip away the dramatic presentation and garnishes, you are left with mostly Chinjabi comfort food, masala maar ke, in odd juxtaposition to a few supposed British Chinese classics from Wong’s own stable (this one he merely lends a name and not secrets to, we suspect). Seriously, the spice levels are mouth puckering—even in the ‘mild’ dishes like the sesame-dressed chicken, with the Thousand Chilli Chicken living up to its sole promise: red heat. Portion sizes are ‘small sharing plates’, mostly threesomes, because lucky. It’s the stuff family-friendly ribbings are made of, and you can tease one another for every posh-sounding choice that turns up a neighbourhood familiar in masquerade. The meal begins, alarmingly, with papad. The vaunted cumin lamb skewers are entirely serviceable kebabs. The all-show snow mushrooms and the Dai tomato soup are very hot, the latter painfully rasam-ish. The banana dessert turned out to be a chocolate egg devoid of fruit for all its on-table drama. Service is all over the place, rather than five-star attentive. The wait staff try to steer us away from the dish we ultimately liked best, because most guests do not fancy it, which says something of the clientele. Clearly, Delhi is lapping this circus up, either because they are steadfast Oberoi aficionados or because it’s that new place to be seen at. However, we advise moderation—to you and the wielders of the chilli oil.
Note, there is no fish on the lunch menu (come for dinner if you wish kingfish), though other seafood is present, and dim sum hold court, minimising mains to a mere trio; there are no dim sum in the evening. For drama, choose clear shrimp dumpling with citrus foam, XL seared scallop cheung fun, 63 degree tea egg and Xian city ‘lamb bun’ DIY deconstructed burger. In better taste are the cute carrot puffs (though there are far better across town), the pork and prawn dumpling with crackling, the gailan and poached egg yolk roll, Xinjiang barbecued lamb, sesame buttered chicken, wasabi prawn, and Wong’s tableside rendition of tired Peking duck, à la London of the 1960s. Bow out of the dessert. Contact: The Oberoi, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, +91-11-24363030, oberoihotels.com
Occasion: For the out-of-town cousins who want the latest, and prize style more than substance, with money to flourish
Ambience: Streaming cheerful light by day, Orientalist fantasy by night; smokers and sun worshippers will like the terrace overlooking the golf course; single small private dining room.