Loya at The Taj Palace, New Delhi — a procession through the north of India

This story was originally published in TravelDine India by Vernika Awal.

Loya is the latest North Indian dining concept by IHCL, which seeks to define the region beyond what we’ve come to expect.

Wise people across generations have vouched that the best way to experience a journey is to hop on to a train, and sit by the window. Not cocooned in the luxury and protected comfort of first class, you have to do it in what we call the ‘sleeper’ coaches of the mighty Indian Railways. On the evening preceding the opening of Loya, the latest restaurant serving ‘North Indian’ cuisine at The Taj Palace, New Delhi, I couldn’t help thinking of this.

India, with all its glorious expanse, is diverse. Look a few hundred kilometres either way, and you may well lead yourself from lines and tunnels that traverse the foothills to the mighty plains of the north that are rich, enigmatic, and full of stories. Indian Hotels Company, the holding group behind The Taj, has painted a somewhat similar portrait of India through its offering at Loya.

You see, for most, ‘North Indian’ can be easily swapped for a very limited portion of the food of Punjab. The general stereotype is that even in the case of many very good restaurants, the North Indian fare often represents a very static menu — one that may undoubtedly be very good on the palate, but restrictive in its own recreation of what ‘north India’ can be.

Puneet Chhatwal, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, IHCL, said, “IHCL, with its rich culinary history for over a century, has always been renowned for pioneering global and regional cuisines and concepts. With the addition of Loya, IHCL strengthens its food and beverage portfolio of over 400 restaurants and bars.”

This is what Loya gets right. Its ambience reminds you somewhat of bazaars — and in some ways, makes for a luxury-imbibed take on a community dining experience. Personally, for me, a big part of what makes luxury dining great is how comfortable you feel seated at the table — and in this regard, Loya offers you a layout that exudes warmth and togetherness. It stays true to the meaning of its name — a gathering for feast aka Loya.

The restaurant’s vibe of bringing everyone together for a feast cannot be missed. Together with this, the fare celebrates time-honoured cooking techniques and ingredients from the north — across the Himalayan foothills, the Gangetic plains, Kashmir, and erstwhile Punjab.

This reflects in a page off the Loya menu that explains what dhungar, baghar, sigdi, dum, and earthen and metal pots are. From smoking to hot oil tempering and slow-cooking over cow dung and wood fire, the cooking techniques traverse the entire expanse of the northern hills and plains. This can be seen in the menu, too.

For instance, you’ll find dishes like the Loya kachori chaat — a take on the Moradabadi dal. In Timbri jhinga, the prawns are coated in a shrub seed marinade with pahadi bhang jeera from Uttarakhand. You can also savour the sepu wadi, a favourite of Himachali homes, with a garnish of crisp lotus stems. Then, there are kathal aur baingan ka bharta, a rustic and incredibly pungent ole ki chutney, the heavy-bodied Malerkotla keema cholle, to the equally resplendent Atari murgh.

The biggest takeaway here is that most of these dishes are ones that are made in the homes of people native to the northern belt. They aren’t celebrated as ‘restaurant food’ because of their rustic and more-ish approach. Yet, at Loya, it is the real fare of the belt that is the celebration — a welcome change!

What truly defines Loya is that it doesn’t go all-out to reinvent the wheel, or surprise you with a theatrical flourish. What they serve is food from the heart — perhaps the best way to define the hinterlands. The theme of five elements and five rivers flows through in the cocktail menu like a river. Called HEART, it is divided into five sections where each letter stands for — Harmony, Experience, Authentic, Revered, and The Spirit. Add to that their experimental menu with an Indian twist to the classics, and you find yourself at a restaurant that does nearly everything right. We suggest that you try the Indus G&T, Masala Whisky and Mulethi.

Having opened its doors in Delhi, Loya is set to come to The Taj properties across Bengaluru, Mumbai, and other cities, in the coming months

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