Wouldn’t you agree all of us have a special place in our hearts for firsts? 

For me and many of my colleagues at ITC Hotels, there is a pioneering experience that we have had the honour of being a part of since its inception. It is a name and experience we are unabashedly attached to. In New Delhi, from where the North-West Frontier was once ruled, Bukhara has become a must-visit on the itinerary of both the city’s residents and its many honoured guests and travellers. But what I refer to is no museum or monument in the ordinary sense, it is India’s most acclaimed restaurant whose clay tandoors have returned the country’s heritage taste to its rightful place of prominence. 

In fact since its inception in 1978, the tandoors of ITC Maurya’s iconic restaurant, Bukhara, have been turning out authentic, evocative frontier cuisine. A cuisine that has proved so popular that it has remained unchanged since the beginning. It gives our chefs and me great pride to see guests who had once visited as children, return regularly through the years and in time, with their own children. They have remarked with pleasure at Bukhara’s signature flavour that has not changed a bit since they first tasted it. 

The simple, nomadic flavours of Bukhara evoke the enduring romance of a place and a time that saw many a community come together over a crackling fire, grilling shanks of meats and evolving a robust and characterful style of cooking – tandoori cooking – that has left its mark on the culinary map of many cities across the world. And how. 

I’ve had chefs tell me that this versatile oven must be singularly credited with announcing the arrival of Indian cuisine on the world stage. It is said that by the 1980s the delights of tandoor cooking had become so popular in the United Kingdom that it was de riguer for new Indian restaurants gunning for success to include ‘tandoori’ in their name. 

Often we lose sight of the origins of certain traditions that have taken so many turns since their inception. With the cuisine celebrated at Bukhara there is little chance of being perplexed – for this is a food that is frank, robust, and timeless. So it’s no surprise then that this brand of cooking makes an emphatic impact on palates of every persuasion and generation. 

One of my objectives on first taking over as General Manager of ITC Maurya was to ensure that Bukhara held on to its supremacy. This required caution. It was important not to alter the very reasons for its success. Beginning with the much-loved cuisine, this would mean the menu would remain simple and unchanged. The restaurant would keep a warm, rustic ambience and sociable seating arrangement. As ever, great attention would be paid to the sourcing of raw materials and meats. Finally, guests would be encouraged to eat with their fingers – so vital to a complete engagement with the Bukhara experience. 

Simple as the frontier flavours may be, Bukhara pulls out all stops day after day to ensure an experience that is consistently excellent. This means that even the precision of quantities are closely monitored by our rigorously trained chefs. So when jumbo prawns and legs of lamb are procured for cooking, it is ensured they are within a strict weight range. Only a specific cut of lamb will be used for a specific dish. Cooking times are strictly observed for each preparation, so are spices and cooking temperatures. These are calibrations that we have arrived at after years of research into the production of an optimum dish that yields the maximum flavour and succulence that guests can expect at every visit. 

It is this approach to culinary creation combined with the distinct qualities of the charcoal-fired tandoor that are behind the success of signature tandoor classics like Chicken Tikka, Tandoori Chicken Murgh and the abiding Bukhara favourites, Murgh Malai Kebab, a creamy chicken preparation, the slow-cooked Dal Bukhara and the tenderised leg of spring lamb, Sikandari Raan. 

It’s been said before that ITC Hotels pioneered branded cuisine in India. We did so with Bukhara – the country’s very first foray into branded cuisine which has been recognised over the years with many awards and unprecedented popularity in India and across the world. And because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we’ve taken it in our stride when ‘Dal Bukhara’ turns up regularly on the menu listing of frontier restaurants keen to recreate a similar experience. 

The US Presidential visits that Bukhara has been honoured with are a special tribute. It is a matter of great pride that on his first official visit to India, the former US President Bill Clinton became a fan of the food and service at Bukhara, to which he returned to dine on successive visits. He went on to describe his meals at Bukhara as the best he had had as President. 

Well before Clinton’s ‘Presidential Platter’ became a fixture on the Bukhara menu, Bukhara regularly had guests asking for “what the President had”. In fact, over 10,000 Presidential platters have been served since June 2006. We were only too delighted to oblige US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who looked forward to having a platter named after her, with the ‘Hilary Platter’ comprising a selection of her favourite Bukhara dishes. 

In fact, US President Barack Obama, ahead of his 2010 India visit, expressed his desire to have a platter named after him as well. Bukhara’s team of master chefs had the pleasure of serving President Obama a platter suited specially to the President’s tastes. It has now gone down in our menu as the Signature Obama Platter at Bukhara. 

Bukhara, with its sophisticated yet rustic fashioning – trestle tables, stone walls, copper pots, earthenware crockery and stone flooring, is ultimately an ode to the beauty of the basic. I would like to end with a word on the fundamental spirit of Bukhara’s approach to food. It is about the larger glow created by the communion with friends and family over a meal that you eat with your fingers and feel with your heart. It is about communing with the earth, and bringing others along to share in an experience that is flush with the flavours, succulence and the taste of life. 

It has been a pleasure sharing with you the warmth of ITC Hotels and our endeavour to advance the heritage cuisines of our country. I look forward to reading your comments.

Bukhara’s Awards
Golden Fork 1991
Restaurant of the Year for Indian Cuisine 1998
Best Indian Restaurant in the World 2002, 2003, 2004 &2006
One of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2002, 2003, 2004 &2006
Best Restaurant in Asia 2008
Best Whisky Restaurant –Icons of Whisky 2008
Best Restaurant in Asia –Miele Guide, Singapore 2008
Times Food Guide –Best North Indian Restaurant 2003, 2004, 2006 –2009
Top 10 Hotel Restaurants in the World –Hotels Magazine 2010
Top Twenty Restaurants In Asia –Meile Guide 2010
Hindustan Times Crystal Awards –Editor’s Choice
(For Best Indian Restaurant)
NDTV Good Times –Best North Indian Restaurant 2010