The food at Syrah, Hyatt Regency Delhi
Imagine a sleek swimming pool surrounded by foliage on three sides. You’re sitting on the fourth side, drinking a Nymph (a refreshing cocktail made of vodka, sweet vermouth, elderflower, lime, fresh basil, oleo saccharum and ginger ale) while your friend opts for a beautifully versatile Merlot and Shiraz blend. Your only task for the evening is to devour beautifully patterned blue-and-white platter upon mezze platter. You might be forgiven for forgetting that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, save for the fact that the waitstaff are all wearing masks and the next set of diners is seated at a safe distance. You might even think you’re on holiday in Beirut or Amman or Damascus. But if you can’t travel to these cities right now, the Hyatt Regency Delhi’s new Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, Syrah, makes for a pleasant, comforting, if predictable backup option.
It’s not easy to open a new restaurant these days, for obvious reasons. Syrah was scheduled to open months ago but had to wait because of the lockdown. At the moment, the restaurant, which has both a cool, modern-looking indoor section and romantic al fresco seating, is only serving dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, with plans to include a party space post-Covid. The situation also meant that the team had to get new chefs, who literally joined the team two months ago. Chef de cuisine Mohamed Hussein Ibrahim Kasem doesn’t complain, though. The Grand Hyatt Dubai alumnus tells us that he jumped at the chance to get on a plane and serve up traditional Levantine food to Delhi.
Traditional is a word you think of a lot as you go through the menu. Levant is not one homogenous region, as it includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and parts of Turkey – but the menu at Syrah focuses firmly on the classics of Middle Eastern food that many will be familiar with.
We begin with the aforementioned drinks and a cold mezze platter. The pita bread is soft and hot, hummus is creamy and olive-tinged, the beetroot moutabel is nutty and comforting, while the raheb (charcoal-grilled eggplant salad) and muhammara (red capsicum with chilli, breadcrumbs, nuts, lemon juice, olive oil and pomegranate molasses) are serviceable, though the latter could do with a bit more chilli. But the real winner here is the warak enab – grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onion and parsley cooked in olive oil. An umami flavour bomb, it is the most exciting dish of the evening.
The sambousek (pastry stuffed with minced lamb) with the casing is comforting, crisp and very welcome on a November night in Delhi. But the kibbeh (deep-fried minced lamb meat) is a one-note dish that could really use the delicate nuance of mint and other herbs. We try the lentil soup that comes after, but wisely choose to save space instead for the grills that are on their way. The meal now picks up pace with the chilli and garlic marinated chicken, char-grilled prawns and lamb chops, all of which are well done and accompanied by some more of that golden, heartwarming pita. And we end with a selection of desserts (skip the date brownie and vanilla ice cream and stick the baklava and Umm Ali (bread pudding) that round off the evening rather nicely.
Given that Delhi has no dearth of restaurants serving food from the Middle East, one does wonder why the Hyatt would choose to launch a menu with little experimentation. The chef himself is keen to experiment but wants to get the basics right first, and that makes sense, even if it means more adventurous diners will need to wait a bit.
How the restaurant will innovate in the post-Covid world remains to be seen, but for now, it is a place where, for a while, you forget that Covid exists and that in itself is something. If you’re looking for a safe, no-surprises, beautiful date place, Syrah has you covered.
Syrah opens to the public on 27 November. Wednesday to Saturday, 7-11.30 pm. Approx price for two: Rs3,500 plus taxes for food only. Syrah, Hyatt Regency Delhi, Ground Floor, Bhikaji Cama Place, RK Puram, New Delhi