The atmospheric lakeside city of Udaipur is full of surprises, especially for the first-time traveler in India. I’d long heard about the reputed fame of Rajasthani cuisine, known for its extensive use of a myriad of spices and condiments, so naturally I was curious to embark on a culinary tour here. From our lakeside hotel, we hopped onto a tuktuk (auto rickshaw) towards downtown Udaipur, 15 minutes away from Lake Picchola (where the old town is located).
Fine Dining with a Modern Twist
Stepping through its giant brass door, we were transported to an Eden of some sort – a garden setting dimly lit up with candle lights and decked out in European flair. Families and couples dine under beautiful silk canopies, illuminated by the moonlight. Victorian-style fountains and wooden outdoor furnishing create an intimate setting.
The main restaurant is housed in an impressive white building that resembles an old-style haveli (palace-like mansion). A live band sits on its patio, playing mellow Hindi music in the background. The overall design of the restaurant is sophisticated, rustic yet stylish.
Over at its wine bar, Winos, the decor is even more elegant, with grey bricked walls, chic furnishing and polished flooring. On a Saturday night, the lounge was filled to the brim with young urbanites and professionals.
The restaurant’s marketing manager, Archana Shaktawat tells me, “Lal Bagh emphasizes on a complete dining experience, so we make sure not only the food but the ambiance and service are immaculate.”
Organic Food with a Modern Twist
As the first restaurant in Udaipur to use organic products in its cuisine, Lal Bagh promised naturally balanced food, without compromising on flavor and taste. After dipping my fingers in its delectable platters, I’d say the restaurant definitely delivered its promise.
Besides using farm-fresh ingredients and homegrown vegetables, head chef Mangi Lal Kumhar adopts unusual cooking styles for his innovative creations. He takes traditional recipes and gives them a fresh spin, making his menu one of a kind.
Our experience started with a traditional welcome drink, Aam Panna: a refreshing salty beverage made from green mangoes and mint leaves. Next came a series of delectable snacks, each looking colorful and spicy. My favorite pick is the paneer kundwada, cottage cheese deep-fried in vegetable masala.
Unlike western way of eating, Indian cuisine is usually enjoyed all at once – no separation of appetizers and main course. So you could easily imagine the spread on our table as the dishes were served up one by one, not for the faint-hearted.
Of all the meat stews, curries and rice dishes, the mutton soyta (mutton chunks simmered in fresh corn and curd gravy) stood out for its rich, lathery gravy and tender cooked-to-perfection meat. Its rajwadi safed murgh (chicken in a white cashew nut gravy) is also another crowd-puller, complimented immaculately with the garlic naan.
Like they say, let’s save the best for last. Lal Bagh’s signature dessert, phirni, is a traditional North Indian creamy rice pudding prepared like in the olden days, in old earthern pots to soak up its flavor.
A contemporary restaurant in the historical town of Udaipur is hard to find, but Lal Bagh manages to pull it off pretty well. The only downside to the restaurant would be its location. It might be centrally located in the new part of Udaipur (which is great for locals who work downtown), it’s quite a distance from the old town, where most hotels are located.
But check out the restaurants in the tourist area and you’ll realize there isn’t much of a selection in both quality and variety, so you are still better off catching a 15-minute tuktuk ride to Lal Bagh for great food and atmosphere.
Disclaimer: My experience at Lal Bagh was sponsored by the restaurant, but all the opinions above are my own.
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