Beyond Punjabi cuisine - Loya’s North Indian culinary odyssey in Bengaluru

The new restaurant at Taj West End, Bengaluru brings to the city pahadi food cooked with traditional techniques and vessels, besides a bar featuring inspiring desi takes on classics

September 20, 2023 09:23 am | Updated 12:14 pm IST

  • Restaurant Loya
  • Cuisine Indian
  • Cost ₹₹₹₹
  • Address SEE MAP
Loya, Taj West End, Bengaluru

Loya, Taj West End, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Punjabi cuisine often takes centre stage as the primary representation of north Indian food, and while it’s undeniably delicious, it’s just one part of the story. Enter Loya, where culinary exploration unveils a broader canvas of the north. Their menu embarks on a delightful expedition, leading you from the expansive Gangetic plains to the rugged Himalayan foothills, and onward to the picturesque mountains and valleys of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir.

As for the name ‘Loya’ draws inspiration from the Pashtun term ‘loya jirga,’ signifying a grand council of tribal leaders convening over a sumptuous feast. The restaurant’s ambience mirrors this communal spirit, creating a sense of belonging to a larger gathering, united by local food and captivating conversation.

The rustic and chic decor complements this experience with its satrangi (colourful) decor of vibrant red, yellow, and green stripes across cushions with the furniture inspired by traditional Indian khatia and peeda. Antique pahadi vessels are displayed on counters, paused by stoned pillars that give accents of the mountain terrain.

And then there are copper lanterns adorned with philgiri art — found in homes in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh — hanging from the ceiling along with colourful dari (tapestry) that transport you to the tales of horseback travellers and the bustling bazaars (markets) of the north, with monitors on the wall in the indoor seating area, playing visuals of the flora and fauna of the regions. The handmade cutlery, made of steel and brass, is adorned with local artworks.

Loya interiors

Loya interiors | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

At Loya, the culinary artistry is deeply rooted in the traditions of indigenous tribes inhabiting the mountainous region, known as the pahadi ilaaka. Beyond their dedication to sourcing fresh, local ingredients, Loya excels in its commitment to authentic cooking techniques. The kitchen skillfully employs age-old methods like dhungar for smoking, baghar for hot oil tempering, sigdi for traditional coal cooking (uple), using cow dung cakes and wood bark, and the slow-cooking finesse of dum. Traditional clay pots and iron kadhais are used to cook, infusing each dish with earthy flavours and colours.

The food menu crafted by chef Rajesh Wadhwa is extensive and a testament to the research done by Loya’s team that embarked on a culinary research expedition through the northern Indian mountains to explore the region’s cuisine. As a result, many dishes feature indigenous ingredients such as timru fruit (Indian prickly ash), jhakhiya seeds (wild mustard seeds), kaala neembu (preserved lemon), preserved black garlic, bhoot jolokia (ghost pepper), and patthar ke phool (stone flower).

Kala Moti Gucchi Pulao

Kala Moti Gucchi Pulao | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Kathal baingan bharta

Kathal baingan bharta | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Loya offers plenty of options whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat lover. Some standout dishes include the kachori chaat, a delightful blend of dried green pea vatana (peans) and anardana (pomegranate seeds) with saunth chutney. For a unique experience, try the kathal baingan bharta, where smoked jackfruit and brinjal are prepared using the dhungar technique over Himachal Pradesh’s applewood chips, paired with missi roti.

Meat lovers can savour the Kangra khodiya gosht, a pahadi-special mutton curry infused with hand-ground charred walnut ink, which turns the curry black. Another must-try is the tender minced meat chapli kebab served on flaked paratha. And if you’re a fan of seafood, don’t miss the timbri jhinga, marinated with shrub seeds and served with bhang jeera chutney. And you can end the meal with Gud-ke-maan, a delightful almond kheer straight from the chef’s grandma’s cookbook.

Loya boasts diverse spaces, including a chic champagne lounge, a stylish bar area, and a charming Qissa lounge. The Qissa lounge exudes a nostalgic aura, evoking summer vacation memories of the backyard chowki behind grandma’s house, where you would find elders and children gathered around a tamarind tree for tea at 4 p.m. There is a swing gently swaying from the tamarind tree’s branches, and outdoor seating arranged with large brass plates transformed into tables. It’s a delightful blend of old-world charm and modern comfort.

Masala whiskey

Masala whiskey | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Mulethi

Mulethi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Loya’s bar menu, known as Loya Paanch focuses on using local ingredients and spirits from the north. It is divided into five sections: Harmony, Experience, Authentic, Revered, and The Spirit, each offering a desi takes on classic cocktails.

You can clearly see the influence of New York-based mixologist Hemant Pathak in Loya’s cocktail menu. One of his standout creations, known as The Masala Whiskey and inspired by the classic Old Fashioned cocktail, has found its way from Junoon, New York to Loya, Bengaluru. It comes highly recommended by our bartender, Siddhanth and honestly I am so glad I ordered it.

The Masala Whiskey is made using special homemade masala syrup, which includes eleven different ingredients such as bay leaf, nutmeg, white pepper, and more. This syrup is mixed with whiskey and bitters, and the drink is finished with a touch of star anise smoke. Next, we savoured the Mulethi cocktail, where liquorice-infused gin, homemade citrus blend, and sugar harmonise perfectly under a captivating black honeycomb tuille. It’s a beautifully balanced drink, allowing the gin’s botanical flavours to shine alongside the licorice.

Loya’s bar programme is truly exceptional. Every drink is a hit, and all praise goes to the concept and the skilled bartenders. In the pub capital of the country, finding a well-balanced cocktail can be challenging, but not here. So, pull up a high chair at the bar, trust your bartender, and relish your Himalayan mule as the nearby fountain’s soothing flow completes the experience — it’s all about a “mountain” of flavour in an oasis of ambience.

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