For a while last year, Ansal Plaza was the only exciting thing about the restaurant scene in South Delhi, a sentence no one would have written for about 15 years before that. Kofuku and Jom Jom Malay helped draw in crowds that the place hadn’t otherwise seen in ages; justifiably so, since both have a good handle on Japanese and Malaysian respectively. So news of Kashmiri, Awadhi and Iranian cuisine—tweaked to participate in Delhi’s competitive race for most modern modern-Indian—didn’t make us as skeptical as we might’ve otherwise been.
Upon inquiry, it is revealed that Orza belongs to restaurateur Pavan Kochar, formerly associated with August Moon in Greater Kailash-II. “We wanted to serve food that was entirely different, and so the focus here is on influenced Indian cuisine,” says Neha Rai from the management team, expertly narrating a brief history of incursions into India from Iran and Afghanistan leading in to the Mughal era. (Ask for this off-menu item.) So, while the food is modernised, spices and ingredients are characteristic of Kandahar, Persia, Awadh and Kashmir.
Buying In Balkh
Orza is bathed in faint light from the balcony, narrow with bar-like seating (although a liquor license isn’t in place yet). Dusty Persian blue, woodish browns and floral tiles feel more Andalusian than Iranian, Awadhi or Kashmiri. We are also told that “Orza” is Spanish for “earthen pot”. We wonder why the restaurant doesn’t use a Persian translation instead.
Once you’re able to put aside the slight disjointedness, the menu reflects confidence in its kitchen. We start with an excellent almond shorpa fragrant with cinnamon and saffron. Its creaminess is balanced with a pleasant seasoning of fresh black pepper: an ideal starter that’d work well in both the warm afternoons and breezy evenings of Delhi’s spring. Chapli kebabs—mutton pounded to an impossible flatness and crisped—are a close second. Spiced with sumac, they are an elegant accompaniment to much sweeter zeytoon parvardeh: meaty olives, chunky walnuts and juicy pomegranate muddled and stacked together, drizzled with a minty-saccharine dressing.
Pars Your Lips
We linger over our appetisers, whose ingredients—mainly the saffron and walnuts—ignite fond memories of lush fields in Kashmir. But the transition to big plates is smooth, too. An apple curry completes the romantic picture of fresh Kashmiri produce. Its red gravy is spicy; the apple cooked al-dente. The tamiri roti that comes with it is soft, and good to balance the spice with. We realise it’s not a classic dish, but an interesting, simple main nonetheless.
Qorma-e-khawar, an Afghan-style chicken and yogurt stew, is especially comforting. It’s also served with tamiri roti, so we order sheermal as an extra—only to realise later that the menu said it would be accompanied by sheermal in the first place. An excusable mistake: we enjoy both breads tremendously. The sheermal is cottony, with a wonderful saffron aftertaste.
Portions are concise, so whilst being close to full, we find space to share a huge piece of baklava for dessert. We’ve definitely eaten better, but this one wins points for its unusual filling of candied strawberry (and pistachio). It’s nowhere close to what you might find in the Middle East, but then, neither is Ansal Plaza.
The meal has us feeling weightier, so we laze and banter about fragrant ingredients and how they’re the common thread among the three regions Orza is most excited about. Despite reeling under the weight of being a very new restaurant, this is a worthy addition to Delhi’s food map. We wholly appreciate the attempt at “influenced” Indian in lieu of Mughlai, and admit that it’s the fantastic sheermal whose influence we’re still under, and likely to return for.
Getting there: B-105, First Floor, Ansal Plaza Mall, Khel Gaon Marg. A meal for two costs around Rs 1,800.
Accessibility: Easy elevator access.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
This review was contributed by Vritti Bansal, founder-editor of Binge.
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