The interiors of Orza (Photo Courtesy: Orza)
When Babur defeated the forces of Ibrahim Lodhi in 1526 AD and laid his claim to the kingdom of Delhi, he also laid the foundation of what was to become an enduring syncretic culture. The food habits they bequeathed us, are evidence of the melding of two cultures. Evoking this synthesis is Orza, a month-and-a-half old restaurant at Ansal Plaza, that has only recently found a new lease of life. Its menu borrows from the epicurean offerings of Iran, ‘Oudh’ or Avadh and Kashmir. Plain-sailing in both decor and presentation, the restaurant seems to be aiming at widening the perception of a cuisine Delhi already has an appetite for.
Well-known dishes such as Tabak Maaz, which they spell as mass, Chapli Kebab, Kandhari Mutton, Berry Pulao and Biryani rub shoulders with delights that are oft-ignored on Delhi’s menus. A quick look at the Tabak Maaz — lamb ribs stacked atop each other — placed on the table dressed in a white tablecloth with a black lace runner, hints at the misfire. One of the more popular offerings of Wazwan, the ribs achieve their yielding inside by their stewing in milk fused with ground spices and their crisp exterior with a quick fry. Orza’s tabak maaz, though succulent on the inside, had a crispness to it that is uncharacteristic of the dish. It was coated in panko, perhaps to intensify the firmness of the exterior, but tabak maaz is a dish that if done well, leaves no room for the want of experimentation.
Another starter, Zeytoon Parvardeh, was a revelation. This ingenious dish from Iran, traditionally olives dressed in a walnut and pomegranate sauce, at Orza is a mix of the three and mint leaves. The musty saltiness of olives, with the bitterness of walnuts and the sweetness of pomegranate kernels, served with lavash, iterate the complexity of simplicity.
While Orza does not have alcohol on offer, its mocktails section features concoctions that at first seem to make up for the paucity of booze. Its food is enough to leave one soused — as one realised at one’s own peril. The rousing of the senses, though, did not start with the drinks. Cucu Chilly, a play on the mix of cucumber, mint and green chilli, though refreshing, did not have the pronounced kick one imagined the chilli would suffuse it with. The Basil Melon, a soda-based drink of watermelon and basil, despite the obvious declaration of the use of fresh ingredients, wreaked of a synthetic watermelon taste.
The mains, though limited, are both enticing and out-of-the-common. It serves its Kashmiri Machali, pan-grilled sole stacked atop Orza’s pulao that is rice with a bed of salad, in a tomato-based gravy fused with fennel. The use of Kashmir’s blue-eyed spice adds to the balanced dish, its charm magnified by the fish sans a flaw.
It was when the British outlined the United Province of Agra and Oudh, what is now most of Uttar Pradesh, with its capital in Faizabad, that the Mughals reinforced their courtly culture in Oudh — that was under the rule of Mughal subsidiaries. Thus, birthing Awadhi cuisine. Its offering, Dum Murgh Ka Stew, has a whole leg of chicken, stewed in its own juices, floating in a rich, creamy gravy with a distinct nuttiness. The delicately flavoured dish is served with Sheermal — another offering from Lucknow.
Ranginak, a layered date and walnut pie infused with rose and served with vanilla flavoured cream and ice-cream, leaves one with a headiness that its predecessors too worked hard towards. You might want to take a friend to lean on.