Giving a true tribute to Rajasthani delicacies, Mohan Mahal at The Leela Palace Jaipur is an incredible establishment that offers a 360-degree experience which was three years in making. Do spare three hours for it.
By: Soumya Jain Agarwal
Posted on: November 2, 2022
LF Says: ★★★★★
Food is never just about the tongue. All the five senses must be in mélange to be able to truly enjoy a meal. A full, sloppy burger won’t taste as good in a Michelin restaurant, neither will foie gras be as divine in a sports bar.
Then how can a meal fit for kings have any lesser surroundings? Mohan Mahal at The Leela Palace Jaipur presents a spectacular experience from first step to farewell. This limited-seating, specialty restaurant brings the magic of Amer Fort’s Sheesh Mahal into its walls – literally!
I talked about the craft of thikri in my last article – how artisans painstakingly emboss the wall with tiny mirror pieces to make it a beautiful, glowing art piece! Sheesh Mahal is a pure example of that. Located in the Amer Fort of Jaipur (a UNESCO world heritage site), Sheesh Mahal has enthralled millions of people across generations with its design. A handcrafted marvel, it’s true beauty appears at night with candlelight.
Over 3,50,000 mirror pieces have been installed by craftsmen over three years to make it the luminous place it is today.
Modeled on this heritage architecture, Mohan Mahal too uses traditional Thikri mirror work to create a spectacle within its walls. Over 3,50,000 mirror pieces have been installed by craftsmen over three years to make it the luminous place it is today. Beautiful traditional floral motifs combined with white marble make it an ethereal abode to be in! Even the ceiling has the same pattern that Sheesh Mahal has. Considering you cannot enter Sheesh Mahal since it’s a protected site now, Mohan Mahal is the closest you can get to a truly authentic experience.
But that is not the only part that contributes to the beautiful ambience. Mohan Mahal has no artificial lights, choosing to illuminate only through candles – many of them. The candlelight dances with the mirrors to help sparkle up the entire restaurant enchantingly! An elongated marble fountain in the middle of the room, with its calming sounds, indeed transports you to a magical evening. And live tabla invites you to the time when royals indeed ate in this very same ambience! It’s glorious. An experience unlike any other.
A Thali of Magnanimity
The food matches to the paraphernalia. Serving Rajasthani cuisine, as the royals of the area would have indulged in, the food is soul-satisfying, hearty and an indulgence with each bite. There’s no a-la-carte menu, instead offering only vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis, both of which are a feast – and a massive one at that! We made the mistake of having a late lunch and cocktails before our dinner at Mohan Mahal. Don’t do that! Go empty!
Matha Sangri Seekh at Mohan Mahal, The Leela Palace Jaipur.
As the golden brass lotus leaf shaped appetizer plates came, and kept coming, I gingerly tasted each one, not trying to fill myself, but then ended up wiping my plate off. The Mathania Paneer ke Sule (marinated cottage cheese cooked in tandoor) was soft, dripping with flavour. Matha Sangri Seekh (kebab made with local beans) was utterly delicious. And Thar ke Papad – a crispy spicy roll filled with potato and lentils, and topped with yogurt, was an exploration for the senses as many tastes and textures melded into one.
Very cleverly, we were given a break in between with a soup – Dahi aur Mangodi ka Shorba. Mangodi is a Marwari-Rajasthani dish where lentils are soaked, pureed (sometimes with spices) and then dried in the sun in the form of little balls. Once hardened, they are made into a curry. The soup basically blended the cool yogurt with spicy mangodi broth to give a distinctive Rajasthani flavour. It was earthy, light and quite comforting.
Dahi aur Mangodi ka Shorba at Mohan Mahal, The Leela Palace Jaipur.
We had highly underestimated the main course thali. It was a round platter of exorbitantness (this nonexistent word accurately describes my feeling for Mohan Mahal’s thali). Khees Papad – a curry made of spicy deep fried lentil crisp – tickled my taste buds; Achari Ker Sangri – a dry preparation made with local beans – was flavourful; and Gatte ke Saag – steamed gram flour rolls made into thick curry – was creamy, soft and took me back home. You see, my grandmother was from Rajasthan. And these are some of the dishes I have grown up with. But these are not dishes you make regularly in your kitchen. They require immense amount of time and multiple-step preparation – something that only women of that era could dedicate their life to. Leela Jaipur’s Mohan Mahal took me back to that childhood.
Malai Mirchi was, perhaps, my favourite. A curry made of chilies, it was topped with cream to give it a silky texture, and to slightly simmer down the heat of chili. Despite that, the chilies gave a piquant flavour, leaving my tastebuds in a happy, confused state. It was the only curry I finished in the entire thali!
A magnanimous Vegetarian Rajasthani thali at Mohan Mahal, The Leela Palace Jaipur.
How can any Rajasthani thali be complete without Dal, Bati and Churma? This now famous trio was cooked perfectly in the kitchen of Mohan Mahal. The Bati was well-cooked inside out, the Dal added zest to the simple Bati, while the fine Churma added the hint of sweetness without taking over the preparation.
The thali doesn’t end here. There were more curries, four styles of breads made of different grains and flours, Jodhpuri Pulao and many other accompaniments.
My companion, who chose the non-vegetarian thali, was too impressed with the food to really look up and give me notes. Silbatte ke kebab (ground lamb patty cooked and seared with ghee) and Sharabi Maas (overnight rum marinated lamb braised with mathania chili) were the outstanding features of the entire experience for him.
Ending with Grace
The desserts were local delicacies as well. Badam ka Halwa (sweet almond preparation) was grainy in texture and rich with just the right amount of sweetness in it. Feeni (shredded, flaky refined flour roasted in ghee and topped with melted sugar, cardamom and saffron) stole my heart as I savoured the roasted ghee flavour in my mouth. It’s a light dessert which you can continue to stuff yourself with without realizing. So be warned if you are counting the inches on your stomach!
Take your time relishing this meal. The courteous staff waits for you as you leisurely pace through your thali.
Take your time relishing this meal. The courteous staff waits for you as you leisurely pace through your thali. It’s a rare moment you won’t get anywhere and anytime.
Mohan Mahal at The Leela Palace Jaipur stands out much higher than other similar establishments in the area. It’s ambience, décor, live traditional music and incredible attention to local essence makes it a must visit. Like I said, it’s the closest experience you can get to eating like a Rajasthani royal.
LF Says: ★★★★★
Coordinates: Jaipur-Delhi Highway, NH 11, Kukas, Rajasthan, India