Dining at the Dhaba

Dhaba by Claridges is far from the dhabas you see on highways, for it is not a simple or rustic space, but it does give you an expansive menu of Punjabi cuisine, and is known for its specialty dishes like Balti Meat, Tiffin Chicken, and Kanastree Baingan, and a range of interesting cocktails. Residents and visitors to Delhi have long been familiar with the brand, ensconced in The Claridges Hotel, putting a fine dine stamp on dhaba fare. After nearly three decades in existence and with multiple outlets in the NCR area, the brand has spread its wings and taken flight to other Indian cities, including Chennai and Bengaluru in the South.

The Bangalore establishment is a small one, with around 40 covers, but with a  bright and colorful decor, defined by hand-painted walls of quirky images. The staff have gamely learned the dance moves to a few Bollywood songs, and perform them at intervals with great enthusiasm and dedication. Check out the video of them dancing at Dhaba! If you don’t find them performing during your meal, do ask and they will gladly put on a show for you! What makes this equal parts adorable and cool is that it is the staff in its entirety, from manager, to waitstaff, to hostesses, to chefs!

Food is served and plated on shining copper and stainless steel ware, giving it that ghar-ka-khana feel. This is rich, cream and butter laden fare, unapologetic in its excesses. So, keep that in mind when planning a meal there – we ended up in a food coma for the rest of our Saturday! And yes, in the name of tasting we clearly ate more than the norm. There are options a-plenty for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners, and make sure you leave room for dessert! And start with a cocktail – the Paan Mojito, Toofan, and Imli Bai were my personal favorites, though the Gulaabo and Basanti were also nice. A little tip – order the Ganne ka Saaras, a lovely and refreshing mock sugarcane mocktail (and by that I mean it tastes and looks like sugarcane juice but actually isn’t!), and then if you want it spiked, get a shot of vodka on the side and voila – you’re all set, especially in the summertime!

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Now for the food – start with the Dhaba Prawn, seriously giant prawns marinated and grilled in their special dhaba masala. You need a fork and knife and a dining companion to get through a plate of these! The other must-order from the starters is the Galouti Kebab – yes, they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Vegetarians will enjoy the Dhaba Paneer Tikka or the Veg Galouti. The Amritsari Fish on the menu didn’t do anything for me – I expect a strong hit of Ajwain (carom/caraway) and flakiness when I think of an Amritsari Fish, but this one was heavy on the batter and low on the ajwain.

From the tandoor, the obvious choice is the Tandoori Dhaba Raan, for which, at present, the lamb is being flown in from Jaipur because the brand wants to maintain the quality and standard that has made the dish eponymous with Dhaba by Claridges. This dish too, meets all the drool-worthy and cliched thoughts you can muster, like fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. Cooked for many hours and spiced and presented just-so, again you will need a couple of dining companions at least, to do justice to this. From the Patila section, you will do well with any of these: Chitta Butter Chicken which has a yogurt and Kasoori methi gravy, the Tiffin Chicken served in – you guessed in – a tiffin carrier (which makes it worth ordering for the fun factor), or the Balti Meat (served in a mini bucket), one of their signature items. Get a Dal Dhaba (their version of the Maa ki Dal, the quintessential black lentil dish) and any of the Parathas or Naans (the Missi Tandoori Paratha stood out for me), and you have yourself a sumptuous meal.

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I did say to save space for dessert, right? Well you will be spoilt for choice, between the Tilla Kulfi, Matka Kulfi, Gulab Jamun (North Indian style), Rabri, Phirni, Rasmalai, and Badam Halwa – the last is a combination of moong dal and badam, and quite yum. A meal at Dhaba is both a rich and elaborate affair, and not light on one’s pocket, either. But it is to be experienced, both for its long standing fame, and for the ambiance and the show the staff put on!

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Details: Dhaba by Claridges; 12th Main Road, Indiranagar; INR 2500 plus taxes for a meal for two

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