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

Tamarind – Fine Dining by the Airport

As every visitor to our fair city, and most residents too, will attest, a trip to Bangalore’s airport is a trek and a half. As someone who ends up there at least every other month on her way to/from someplace, I think I see quite enough of the airport road and the dreaded Mekhri Circle. But I will admit, I now have a reason to head to the airport, without any travel in mind…thanks to Tamarind, the newly opened North Indian restaurant at Taj Bangalore, Devanhalli, which is literally across from the airport. Now, if you are actually at the airport and want an excellent dinner, well, you need look no further than Tamarind. As for me, I will be planning dinner at Tamarind next time I have a late night flight out.

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The specially designed plates and bowls – waiting to be filled!

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We visited on invitation a few weeks ago, and the restaurant was opened up for us at lunchtime – and was all ours for the meal. Chef Alok Anand, the Executive Chef, has created the menu on the premise of home style Indian cooking and back-to-basics, with focus on imparting different, and unique flavors across dishes rather than serving generic looking and tasting curries. He uses modern touches, including a little molecular gastronomy, but by and large lets the flavors speak for themselves. The Tamarind leaf motif – seen on the walls and the menu, as well as in the plates and as little accents that accompanied dishes, is subtle yet ever present, and I can say for sure I will be able to recognize a tamarind leaf from now now on – a skill I definitely didn’t possess earlier.

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The innovative take on a bread basket – Namak Para and fresh, hand-pounded chutney

 

You know you’re in for a fine dining experience where flavor is a priority, right from the water you’re served – infused with essential Indian spices, like cardamom (on the day we went), and I believe anise and clove were others and there were a couple more too. We started off with an amuse bouche of Dahi Kalash, a spoonful of yogurt served atop a wooden box filled with crisp sev. After this came the architectural and palette pleasing Bakli Salad, a salad of boiled wheat with tomatoes, onion, lemon and tamarind, served with a “dust” of different spices, with fried namkeen pieces held up by two paneer rounds – the picture will help make sense of the design!

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The architectural Bakli Salad

Our next course was soup. Now, much as I love soup, I also see it as a taker up of the limited space in my tummy when dining out. So, it was a welcome sight to see the two soups served in small cups – just the right portion size, and you can enjoy the goodness of soup without worrying about filling up! Chane Ka Art, a chickpea soup topped by a crisp roti and the Ghosht Pudina Yakhni, a mutton broth, which came with two little mutton pieces on a skewer – so good, and giving such depth to the dish.

Then began the real food assault, from a range of starters to mains. Gilori Paneer Tikka, which is paneer stuffed with nuts and spices, was tasty and made sure none of us felt we were eating “boring” paneer! The Gucchi Malai Bahar, a fantastic selection of mushroom caps filled with cream and spiced just right, will make you reach for more. As someone who can be vegetarian if there are mushrooms about, this dish won me over instantly! The Kakori Kebab and Murgh Reshmi Seekh were both handled with a light touch and quite delicious. The innovative dish, though, was the Sheermal Tart Mein Gilouti, with its roti tart and perfectly melting galouti. 

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Sheermal Tart Mein Galouti

By this time we were already well on our way to full, but Chef had a succession of mains that we could not resist – each one looking and tasting quite beautiful! My favorite of the vegetarian offerings was the Qasar E Pukhtan, butternut squash gravy with roulades of paneer. There was also a plantain bhurji (Phaldhari Bhurji) that was distinctive in flavor, Kukkad Methi Saag and a Hara Moong Kofta Curry and a Laal Moth ki Daal. The Nalli E Khaas was special indeed, and had tender, slow cooked meat that was heavenly.

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Qasar E Pukhtan

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Nalli E Khaas

Safed Murgh ki Biryani and the Khumb Pulao as well as the Saufiyani Khameeri Roti and Kuti Mirch Jaituni Naan were the perfect accompaniments to the gravies, but each dish held up on its own too. The Safed Murgh ki Biryani in particular, was so delicately flavored, I wanted to keep eating, but sadly, was lacking the space! Apart from the array of chutneys and raitas, Tamarind also puts on each table freshly churned white butter and jaggery, that you mix and eat with – well whatever is nearest to hand, or just by itself. Some people at our table seemed quite prepared to make a meal of it!

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Desserts were last and I took just a bite of the Baked Gajrilla, aka carrot halwa in a pie, but could not resist eating up two of my trio of ice creams – the tamarind and rose flavored ones – the third, of paan, was not my thing, but paan lovers will enjoy it and feel it does justice to the end of the meal. Oh, and a final word – if you even mildly enjoy Lassi, you must, must order a glass of the Malai Lassi – with cream and nuts and saffron topping it, it passed the ‘spoon standing straight’ test and was the one thing I would have liked to get to-go as I left that day!

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Ice Cream Trio

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Carrot Halwa, pie style

Details: Tamarind, Taj Bangalore, Devanhalli; Dinner Only; INR 4000 plus taxes for two people

 

Another Sunday, Another Beautiful Brunch – BG’s at Courtyard Bengaluru

I am an unabashed Sunday brunch fan. The idea of waking late, and then spending a few hours indulging in food and drink in the company of friends – it is the day of rest, and I can’t think of a better way to start it off! Since I also belong to the “will travel for good food” mindset, a trip to Marathahalli to check out the recently launched brunch at BG’s (Bar and Grills, natch!), a restaurant that does double duty for both the Marriott Courtyard and Fairfield by Marriott hotels, which share the space, was not daunting. And the somewhat less crowded roads of a Sunday noon helped too.

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On arriving at BG’s, the sight that first greets your eye as you get off the elevator is the dessert spread – it takes up the entire wall, multiple tables laden with all sorts of sweet goodies – and you already know that your “dessert stomach” will need to be in top form! Plus, it’s always good to get a glimpse of dessert first, right?

They have some fantastic cocktails on offer, and each week, a rotating special cocktail bar is set up – the week we went it was Mojitos, and there were a variety of fruits and syrups to choose from – I unabashedly dug into the pitcher that came to our table, and my glass too, to get at the alcohol soaked peaches therein (you can get the mojitos customized with the fruit of your choosing – kiwi, peach and so on). We were told the earlier weeks had seen Martinis and Margaritas as well.

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Cuisine of the Navaithas: Food Fest

I enjoy the food festivals that the hotels in town put up as part of their buffets, for the simple reason that they are a departure from the norm – sure there’s a good meal to be had at any of the all day dining restaurants in the 5 stars, on any given day. But, add in a short term, week or ten day long food fest that takes over a section of the buffet and showcases a particular cuisine or culture, and you get that something extra. Raj Pavilion at ITC Windsor just hosted a festival that celebrated the cuisine of the Navaithas, a Muslim community from Gingee, brought to Bangalore during the British Raj, whose cuisine features a mix of Nawab and Mughal influences. That means kebabs and biryani, so snagging a dear friend visiting from Delhi whose heart always beats faster for biryani, we made our way over on the festival’s opening night to sample its wares.

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