Wok Tok at The Grand in New Delhi is located in the sunken dining area of the hotel. Tucked away in the corner, this large dining space is reminiscent of a food court in a mall. If you’re looking for ambience, you won’t get it here. Although there have been attempts at dining intimacy, the PDRs, with banquet-style seating and dim lighting, are failed by the ineffective air conditioning. On a hot Delhi summer night, it’s all very dense. But that’s alright if the food lives up to the experience. A request for two candles is met by two tealights on a simple block that is brought to the table. They do little to brighten up the room or help read the menus. Wok Tok encourages you to talk, not read, and the all-too-brief menu aids that beautifully. The restaurant is more or less empty on this weeknight. The server, however, informs us that restaurant and room service orders are delaying our order, but that comes later.
I am a little old-fashioned and believe that room service should have its own kitchen, functional and basic that lives up to the menu. If you’re too lazy to make it down to the restaurant, you must be denied all the culinary delights the hotel has to offer. But on second thoughts, the “unappetising” ambience might make eating in front of a TV more appealing for the inhouse guest. The Grand has seen its heyday. Back in the day, it was all the rage when it opened and was considered “grand” for having the largest lobby in the city. For a while, it was the place to be seen at and the hotel hosted its fair share of fashion weeks. But nothing quite resuscitated its early reputation. Whilst Delhi restaurants fall with alarming regularity to the fickle tastes of Delhi’s party set, The Grand’s fall has been epic, mostly because it is just so big—a cautionary tale amongst hoteliers. It limps along, but makes little attempt to reclaim lost ground in the quickly shifting sands of the dining landscape.
Wok Tok is emblematic of that disinterest in providing a dining experience. The staff, slow and apologetic, is pleasant and can’t be faulted. They are trying to make the best of what they have to offer—it’s evident in their almost apologetic service style. Now for the food. You know the kitchen is in trouble when the main course, even if it’s crispy-fried lotus stems, arrives before the appetisers. And the server who rushes it to your table is entirely unaware. The cocktails take longer than the prawn dimsum and… you get the drift. The whole sequence of service is up in the air, but that is maybe because of the room service orders—because the chef in the open kitchen is cooking on high flame and tossing things around in a pan with regularity. Is the restaurant under-staffed? But then, there is the young man at the entrance who doesn’t look our way—maybe singed by the fact that he had to rush the main course before the appetiser.
The lotus stem is delicious—with a gently sprinkled honey sweet sauce, crisp to the bite. The reng dang chicken curry is indifferent, but good enough to eat. The noodles and rice are good to mop it up with. The deep-fried prawns are reminiscent of the bhaji one gets streetside—the same that adopts a crusty brown colour after being deep-fried for too long, maybe in oil that’s been around a little longer than it should have. The presentation is matter of fact, more suited to room service than a fine-dining restaurant. A champagne glass—the one shaped around the bosom of a French queen, as legend suggests—holds the prawns, their ends nearly dipping into the thick cocktail source that rests below them.
Here is a restaurant that’s playing the part of a fine-dining restaurant tonight and on most nights. Its staff is polite and charming, the ambience non-existent. It’s more suited to a supper theatre venue, where everyone is cast to play a part, from the staff to the guests, stuck in a moment together. And once you leave, you almost feel like the whole set will disband for the night and turn into whatever it was originally meant to be, maybe the breakfast dining hall for large groups that probably stay there and eat from the buffet at 7 am every morning.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad