When you hear the name Royal Afghan, it's easy to assume that it's going to be a carnivores paradise, which indeed it was. But I was in for a pleasant surprise too. It turned out to be one of the most memorable meals I've had in a long time!
Last week, we were invited to share a table with the legendary Chef JP Singh. For the uninitiated, he is the Executive Chef of the legendary restaurant, Bukhara at the ITC Maurya. He has cooked for the who's who in the world and has widely travelled
across the globe promoting and educating people on the Bukhara cuisine. It was a privilege to meet and dine with chef JP Singh who has been with the ITC group for over 35 years- spends time in each of the Bukhara type restaurants to maintain quality. He looked into, supervised and even cooked the meal that evening.
The meal started with an introduction to the cuisine of Bukhara and how it has remained pretty much unchanged since its inception in 1978. The cuisine took inspirations from the North Western Frontier Province, that comprised parts of Afghanistan and the North Western part of pre-independence India. The food is almost entirely cooked in Tandoors or the traditional clay ovens where maintaining the temperatures and cooking veg, breads and meats to perfection needs much expertise that comes with years of experience. The Bukhara style restaurants are replicated in other ITC Hotels in the form of Peshawari, Kababs and Kurries and The Royal Afghan - and 95% of the menu is the same in all these restaurants with a couple of local specialities added.
|Chef JP Singh|
The Royal Afghan is located in the ITC Windsor, Bangalore. The outdoor poolside ambience, clay oven cooking and the cool weather of Bangalore evenings are a perfect match for each other. I loved my special green apron and the green glass for water, so the waiting staff know I am vegetarian. This simple hack makes dining so much more peaceful - otherwise I would've been asked if I wanted every meat dish on their menu causing a mild disturbance in enjoying my meal in peace. Yes, they provide aprons instead of napkins, because they want you to eat with your fingers (no cutlery provided) and slurp on the delicacies served on your plate without the fear of soiling your clothes.
The first course was tandoori starters. The Tandoori Aloo comprises parboiled potatoes, scooped and stuffed with mash, raisins, cashews, chillies, coriander, skewered and roasted in the tandoor. It was mild yet full of flavour and texture, paired with the green chutney, it was a delight.
This was followed by the Tandoori salad - if salads tasted like this, I could well live on them. The 'salad' has onion, capsicum, tomatoes, paneer, pineapple seasoned with yellow chillies, garam masala, black cumin, malt vinegar arranged on skewers and grilled in the oven. The sprinkle of the special in-house chaat masala made using a pink rock salt is what takes this to a whole new level.
Very few vegetables lend themselves to the tandoor like the cauliflower and the Tandoori Phool is a fine example of this. The preparation is quite complex where the cauliflower florets are marinated with yellow chili and spices, then dipped in a spiced gram flour batter with ajwain, deep fried and then these deep fried florets are made crisp and golden by skewering and char-grilling them in the tandoor. This gives the humble cauliflower a lot of flavour and texture, spicy and a hint of tanginess from the yougurt and chaat masala.
In the mains, the vegetarian menu included Paneer Khurchan, Tandoori Simla Mirch and the legend itself, Dal Bukhara. Khurchan, traditionally means 'leftover scraps' but this dish was far from that. Slivers of melt in mouth soft paneer tossed with pan fried tomatoes and capsicum tempered with mustard seeds would be a delight for any paneer lover.
The Tandoori Simla Mirch has been a long time favourite ever since the days we lived in Bombay and Peshawari was one of our favourite restaurants. A medley of fresh veggies such as beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots are sauteed with a mix of spices and stuffed into the capsicum along with cashews and raisins. These capsicums are skewered and roasted in the tandoor, cut in halves and served. The vegetables are so fragrant with the spices that even a veggie hater will succumb to this mix of flavours.
And now, drumrolls for the legend itself - Dal Bukhara - the hallmark dish of Bukhara, is cooked overnight in the traditional Bukhara way on the tandoor, simmered all night and finished with tomato, ginger and garlic. When that much of effort and patience goes into a humble lentil, it is bound to taste divine! You want to break the roti with your fingers, make it dive into the dal Bukhara and plonk it straight into your mouth and lick off any dal leftover on your fingertips. Eating dal roti with your fingers is the best possible Indian culinary experience- so earthy and full of soul.
A special mention must be made of the most neglected part of Indian cuisine in restaurants, where guests nonchalantly order a bread basket and break bits of the roti, using it as a spoon or a carrier for the vegetable and no more. No one cares about this really. But the Pudina Paratha that was served to go along with the vegetables was my dish of the day. It's easy to impress with fancy food but equally tough to impress someone with a roti. Perfectly crisp and golden in the oven, sprinkled with this mix of dried mint, anardana (pomegranate seeds), their in-house chaat masala and a couple of other secret ingredients Chef Singh would not give out, this one roti was truly unforgettable. It's been a week since I had the meal but I can still recall how my tastebuds tingled in reaction to this roti. I may go back there only to sink my teeth into the Pudina Paratha and revel in the deliciousness of this utterly perfect roti. I'm truly sorry I didn't capture a picture of the dish of the day for you! But I promise, I'm going back soon.
To add a fair bit of drama to the table, they also brought in the Naan Bukhara that is a family sized naan (surely a family of hearty eaters). Let me tell you that I did not deviate from my loyalty to the Pudina paratha, just gave that huge naan an appreciative nod and continued to tuck into the rest of the meal.
|Pic courtesy: Nitin Kandhari|
While I would have ended my meal with deep contentment right there, I succumbed to peer pressure and agreed to a serving of desserts. I must admit, I am not a big fan of Indian desserts, except for rosogulla and a few other Bengali sweets and definitely not a fan of phirni. But I'm glad I kept an open mind and tried this. It was of an ethereal cloud like consistency mildly flavoured with cardamom and saffron.
The gulab jamoon had the slight crispiness outside and the soft melt in mouth consistency inside- the size big enough to serve 2 people with a huge sweet tooth. Oh and yes, we did get a dessert spoon to eat this :)
For the meat lovers, you may read my friend Ruth's description of her dining experience. I wont forget how everyone on the table ate the Barrah Kabab and the Tandoori Jhinga with a hushed silence interspersed with exclamations on how brilliant it tasted.
All in all, it was a meal worth savouring and then relishing the memories for days to come. I most certainly need to make a trip sans camera, phone, and any other distractions and just focus on the food!
The Royal Afghan, ITC Windsor, 25 Windsor Square, Golf Course Road, Near Sankey Road, Bangalore.
Meal for two would cost approximately INR 2500 without alcohol
Open only for dinner on weekdays
Open for lunch and dinner on weekends
Call 080-41401205 for reservations
Labels: Bangalore, Bangalore events, Bangalore food writer, by invitation, restaurant reviews