Walk into Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace and you immediately feel like an extra in a costume drama about the last days of the Raj. Turbanned bearers are everywhere, sentries on horseback stand to attention for a maharajah long departed and posh people take tea on the lawn, blissfully removed from the bustle of the Pink City and its bazaars.
But this palace turned heritage hotel, one of the flagships of the Taj chain, is actually as modern as they come. The rooms speak of a sumptuous bygone elegance and the serenity is very real, but they can hook you up with the internet in a flash and make you a perfect Caesar salad. Which is just what my companion felt like – along with some really good chips – after a week of authentic Indian food left her feeling she could not look another lentil in the face. And the Rambagh Palace lawn is a perfect place to enjoy western fare, as well as contemporary cocktails, in gracious surroundings in the company of international movers and shakers.
I, however, can never get enough of the real stuff in India, especially once in the hands of a master chef. Although you normally have to eat in the grand formal dining room to enjoy their royal palace cuisine, the Rambagh’s charming staff agreed to serve me a selection of signature dishes in the tranquil dahlia-lined garden. Although dishes from several different areas of princely India are offered, it is Awadhi cuisine most commonly associated with Rajasthan – think juicy kebabs and hot, buttery breads.
Though it’s the Punjab that gave us tandoori cuisine, and that region is also well represented on the menu. It’s where you’ll find the dal suvarna mahal, otherwise known as dal makhani – black lentils simmered overnight, flavoured subtly with tomato and garlic and enriched with cream and home-churned butter. This might be my favourite dish in the whole Indian cookbook lexicon. Not to mention the roti, naan, parathas and kulchas that are so delicious when served direct from the sides of the tandoor oven.
Although there are any number of delicious chicken and prawn dishes to taste in various authentic preparations, the Sikandari raan is not to be missed. This particular leg of lamb, served as appetiser morsels, is spiked with cumin, cardamom and bay leaf and grilled in the tandoor before being served with a splash of rum. A sumptuous accompaniment is the Nizami subz handi, a vegetable dish in almond and cashew gravy that emanates from Hyderabad, also known for its fine cuisine.
The Rambagh Palace is the home of the original Polo Bar, so their house cocktail, a Polo-Politan, makes a particularly appropriate aperitif. It’s a refreshing, heady mix of vodka, honeydew puree and melon liqueur with a dash of triple sec and lemon. But there are also many classic and newfangled martinis, including the espresso variety, and vintage as well as modern cocktails. It’s a rare bar which can still serve up a Manhattan, Rob Roy, Negroni and Black Russian along with capirinhas, mojitos and all the other must-have 21st-century drinks.
Rooms from £220 per night.