I knew to be impressed by the food at the JW Marriott hotels, in Mumbai and New Delhi. After all, the JW Marriott is one of Marriott’s top brands, and is five star all the way, particularly in India. From our experience at other Courtyard hotels, I expected an entirely different experience from the JW. But, the Courtyard Marriott Agra blew me away again.
This was our fourth Courtyard property overseas, and at each one I continue to marvel at how well Marriott has rebranded the hotel. I repeatedly opine that “this is not your grandfather’s Courtyard.” Ever since our first Courtyard stay in Seminyak, Bali, I’ve been impressed at the contemporary feel, and the fun ambiance at each of the hotels.[box]
Staying in Agra? Get these tips on How to See the Taj Mahal[/box]
Arriving and Settling in at the Courtyard Marriott Agra
The Courtyard Marriott Agra was no exception. We popped our head into the hotel on our way from Delhi to the Taj Mahal on our private Taj Mahal tour. Once we heard that the hotel was only 2 kilometers away from the Taj, we knew it would be safer to drop our bags at the hotel rather than leave them in the back of the hot car during our tour. We dropped our bags and fled to the Taj.
When we arrived back to the hotel, wet and sweaty, having been caught in some rains at the Taj, I felt particularly gross. I always hate walking into a nice hotel when I am as dirty as I was after our Taj tour. We finally made it up to our room, which was a nice sized suite, so big that it took us some time to locate our bags, which were waiting for us in a huge walk in closet. A folded towel elephant waited on the bed for a friendly welcome. As we showered up and settled in, we had the first problem at any of our India Marriott hotels – no internet.
This happens to us a lot when traveling. Most people check into a property on a holiday and don’t stress about the internet. After all, they are on holiday. But, for two digital nomads, who had not been online for over eight hours, it was stressful.
The hotel staff and IT managed it quickly, though, as there was a problem with their service provider. It was one of those times that I had to remember that even though we were traveling in luxury, we were still traveling in India, and these kinds of things happen. Within 30 minutes all was sorted, and we returned to being sane travelers and not neurotic digital nomads.
Dining at Momo Cafe at the Courtyard Marriott Agra
After a brief meeting with the General Manager, we made our way into Momo Cafe, which is the signature restaurant at many of the Courtyard properties. Like the other’s, it’s a buffet with both local and international specialties, with young, fun staff. The buffet offered a smaller spread than both the JW Marriott Mumbai and JW Marriott Delhi. I was hoping after our several days of eating until stuffed to the brim, that perhaps the smaller spread would mean smaller amounts of food.
I was oh so wrong.
Chef Vivek, and his team, were expecting us. It was almost as though our reputation preceded us, or at least that Chef Girish in Delhi and Chef Amitesh in Mumbai warned of our appetites. We received the typical tour of the buffet, but similar to the treatment by Chef Girish, we were very, very well looked after.
Similar to the JW Marriott Mumbai, the Courtyard Marriott Agra also had a large chaat station.
So, my first stop was for pani puri, a snack I sort of became of addicted to in Mumbai. Pani puri is a small fried bread puff, with the top popped out. It is then filled with potatoes or other toppings. After filled, it is dipped into a sweet sauce and a spicy sauce (that’s two full dips). It’s meant to be popped into the mouth in one bite, which more often than not for me meant pani puri liquid running down my check, and usually making a mess of the floor around me.
On our first night at the Courtyard Marriott Agra, we were joking with Chef Vivek and another chef on his team, at the chaat station. There was a European woman intensely watching us to see what the chaat station was about, what the chefs prepared, and what we were eating. We encouraged her to try one, and she readily did (I love when strangers agree to eat something on our recommendation). Maybe we didn’t prepare her for the experience fully, though, as she was caught off guard by the explosion of liquid in her mouth. After, she laughed. And ordered a second. I think she became quickly hooked, like I did.
After my second pani puri (the chef told me it is typical to eat at least five or six at a time, but I stopped at two, knowing I was about to eat massive amounts of food), I also tried the same puri fried bread, but filled with yogurt and condiments from the chaat station. This became another favorite of mine. It was sweet, spicy, and fried all in one bite. Although I also enjoy the “full size” chaat, which arrived on a plate loaded with potatoes, tomatoes, coriander, and all the other toppings, this tiny bite sized chaat became my favorite.
Of course, our dinner didn’t end there, as Chef Vivek continued to place dishes in front of us, including various kebabs. First was a dahl ke kebab, which was a soft yogurt paddy, with a fig in the middle, cooked to a golden brown.
The most interesting kebab was a Mahkmali lamb kebab, which was topped with egg white and then carefully placed in the tandoor oven. The egg remained fluffy and delicate, and I wondered how they so artfully placed it in the tandoor.
I tried to eat as much as possible that first night, to show Chef Vivek our appreciation, but I was thoroughly exhausted from our Taj tour, still stuffed from Mumbai and Delhi, and ready to call it a night.
Our Chef’s Lunch at Courtyard Marriott Agra
We took it easy during our second day at the hotel. Having seen the Taj Mahal the day before, we, more than anything, wanted a day to catch up. I had the image in my head of lounging poolside, perhaps while writing a bit. That’s what we attempted to do, until our lunch back at Momo Cafe. After the hospitality during our “light meal” the night before, I braced myself for our lunch.
As soon as we sat down, Chef Vivek displayed a delicious grin that almost implied “buckle up.” And, the feast began. There were two themes that ran through our Chef’s table meal. First, Chef Vivek is opening a speciality Indian restaurant at the Courtyard Marriott Agra later this year. The restaurant will focus on cuisine from the region, including dishes from the frontier region, Lucknow, the Punjab, and Uttar Pratesh cuisine. He used us as guinea pigs to test some of the dishes that he plans on adding to the menu.
In addition to focusing on the cuisines of the local regions, Chef Vivek also focused on dishes that are not often found on restaurant, and in particular, hotel restaurant tables, in Agra. Instead, he focuses on a menu that mixes contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes, along with homestyle cooking. This is why he introduced a few of the dishes, even during breakfast, saying “my mother used to make this for me.” I loved that.
Chef Vivek started with a few salads, to offset some of the heavier dishes he promised for later in the meal. Of course, one of these salads included a plate of chicken. Our salad starters included a tandoori chicken salad, which almost reminded me of the citrus flavors in a Thai papaya salad. A sprout salad included tomatoes, coriander, onion, green pepper, and pomegranate, again with a citrus based dressing.
One of the more interesting dishes included a rolled tandoor bread with a garlic chutney. This was interesting because the dish looked like a kebab, but was clearly bread, which was wrapped around a skewer to cook in the tandoor.
The tandoor bread rolls were served with papri, a crisp bread usually used for chaat, but filled with untraditional toppings. I never quite got what this papri was filled with. But, it was creamy and unlike any other Indian dish I’ve had before. I try to do my best with keeping track of dishes and ingredients, but of course the speed at which dishes arrived, along with trying to take decent photos of it all, and wanting to eat the food as well, makes it a little difficult.
The most controversial of the dishes came next. When Chef Vivek placed this dish in front of us, I initially was excited as it looked like a plate of tandoori paneer.
The Chef asked us to taste it in order to guess what it was. It was not paneer, and not tofu. Even when we placed a picture on Facebook and Instagram, most people still couldn’t guess that these were tandoori egg whites. The chef actually placed the egg whites into a mold to chill, before slicing them and placing them in the tandoor. Genius!
My favorite dish came next. A traditional Mowgli preparation of baby lamb leg, slow cooked in the tandoor.
The meat was tender, and didn’t have that traditional lamb taste. It was served in a pulled pork-style, but then shaped to look like a reconstructed lamb shank. If Chef Vivek could mail me this dish right now, I would ask for a dozen kilos of meat. This was incredible.
Once we finished our starters, and yes, these were all starters, our main courses arrived. We ate dal mahkani and a Mowgli style butter chicken, made with cashews and watermelon seeds, giving it a unique color. The curries were served with a special naan, containing seeds, dried fruits, and even saffron.
I was happy to try to daal because Chef Vivek said there were three dishes that you can taste to judge any Indian restaurant kitchen, and daal is one of them. The other two are butter chicken and biriyani. His daal passed my test, as it was creamy and flavorful. It was also interesting to note that it was different than the daal we had at the JW Marriott Delhi, which had a unique seasoning in it, that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
A small plate of Indian desserts arrived to finish off our lunch. In the end, even before the desserts, Chef Vivek offered us ten dishes. I guess I learned what Chef’s table really meant at the Courtyard Marriott Agra- the Chef will sit you down at the table and treat you like human foie gras. Color me impressed.
We were hosted by the Courtyard Marriott Agra during our stay, but all of my opinions, yummy sounds, and belly rubs are my own. Rooms at the Courtyard Marriott Agra start around $80 a night.
For more information about India, see our India Travel Guide, for information on accommodations, what to eat, and tours to book.
We’re a huge fan of Courtyard Marriott properties in Asia…so different than in the US. Click here to book a Courtyard Marriott property!
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.