Like Alice, she went rolling down in Wonderland. Only there was no Red Queen waiting to chop her head off. But, a Mad Hatter, yes. Like each time, he was at the head of the table. Only this time, he was orchestrating an elaborate six course meal. You see he had been told to keep it short. If he had his way he would have laid out an eight or even 10 course spread. Accompanied by the finest of wines, each of courses was served in tableware especially put together from the best of the places in the world, plated the finest — so beautiful that the guests at the table wondered if he had an artist to paint for him behind the scenes. And then, he ushered in the courses. Like a performance, words rolled out of his mouth, his deep voice transported everyone at the table to the world he was talking about. The world of literary classics – of Sylvia Plath, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, John Fante, Nicole Mones and James Joyce…
Snap to the real world. This is no fictional experience but the description of a beautifully curated experience at the dinner table at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner led by Karan Singh Vaid, President of the group that owns the property. Narendra Bhawan was once a modest haveli and residence to Maharaja, Narendra Singhji, the last king of Bikaner in Rajasthan. Known for his quirky tastes, he lived the life of a recluse but in no way spartan. His legacy has been kept alive by the heritage group that has converted the residence into an 82 room luxury property by extending the structure. Elaborate ceilings, Portuguese tiles details, Bikaner terrazzo flooring, a vivid colour palette, care has been taken to ensure that property looked just as the late master would liked it to be had he been alive. His own wonderland.
I am no Alice, but there is a certain likeness to Mad Hatter in Karan, what with the passion that drives him to be involved in every little process related to managing the property and ensuring that his guests go back with an experience of a lifetime.
Back to the table, this was one evening where we enjoyed one of the finest meals that tasted as good as the inspiration it was evolved from. Our little table thrilled at the interpretations drawn from the classics. Who would have thought that you could have a starter presented to you in a Bell Jar drawn from Sylvia Plath’s work by the same name. Salt Roasted Beet, Stock braised Leeks, Goat’s Cheese and Anchovy Pate accompanied by Balsamic Caviar and Pomegranate blood!
Or a Chowder presented exactly as it were described in the prose from Moby Dick, complete with pearls made from crushed ship biscuits as accompaniments. Or say a lamb dish inspired from a particularly poignant chapter from To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. He had us there. No one spoke. For, no one wanted the spell the break. Quietly we dug into the tender most lamb, as tender as the one Mrs Ramsay had saved for Mr Banks. For us, the Casserole braised Lamb had been cooked in Wine, Garlic and Herbs and came dressed in Cinnamon, Orange peel and Nutmeg.
The White Chocolate Pudding matched the Creaminess of Queen Ann’s Pudding as done by Gerty in Ulysses, only for us, it was plated with Candied rose petals and silver and drops of Lime curd on the side. It was a spell that made us all happy. We were all students of literature all over again. Living the characters from these books through their food thoughts.
This was only one of the several curated experiences that Narendra Bhawan threw up for us during a trip that was as short as two days. Looking back, I am amazed how beautiful our hosts made the destination seem to us. Like magicians, they kept pulling out experiences, one after the other, making us look forward to the next moment. For someone, who thought Bikaner was no main destination, here is a lot that proves the theory wrong. You have to make a trip here. Every single experience they offer makes it worth it.
PS: The Bakehouse at Narendra Bhawan is called Mad Hatter!
The address: Narendra Bhawan, Karni Nagar, Gandhi Colony, Bikaner 334001, Rajasthan (India).
For reservation, contact: +91-7827-151 151, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting there: You can take overnight train from Delhi. We recommend Dee Bkn S F Ex – 12457. It leaves from Sarai Rohilla station at 23:35 and arrives at 7:10 the next day.
The hotel provides a pick-up. But you must connect with them for details.
The nearest airport is at Jodhpur. Thereafter, by road to Bikaner.