Simar serves authentic Punjabi cuisine with a dash of modern flavours

Move over Shirley Temple. Simar is proud to introduce the Shirley Guru. In the tradition of the mocktail named after one of America’s popular child stars, the Shirley Guru is resolutely non-alcoholic. And jaw clenchingly sweet. Rivalled only by the thandai Punjabi, an inspired mix of thandai and milk, topped by vanilla ice cream. Think that’s over the top? How about a midnight surprise then, a mix of cola, mint, ginger, lemon and ice. There you go. An entire Boyzone album in one glass. Sweet, earnest and befuddled, with five warring members.

Simar, the Punjabi restaurant on Khader Nawaz Khan road can’t seem decide what it wants to be. Should it fashion itself after a dhaba, always a favourite route with any place serving Punjabi food? Should it be chic, modernist and cunningly ironic? Or should it just be accessible, irreverent and fun? Instead of picking one route, they attempt to span all three. So there’s a hulking statue of a stereotypical Punjabi dressed in audacious yellow at the entrance. The interiors are starkly stylish: black and white. There’s a startlingly large fresco of a woman splashed across the wall. And hanging lights veiled by feathery shades which make them look like they’re mid-Black Swan-metamorphosis. And to top it all, there is loud bhangra music playing.

When my eyeballs start thudding in time with the dholaks, I finally protest. Fortunately the waiters are a nice bunch, and they obligingly turn down the music before handing us our menus. Endearingly, the menus — which feature all the staples from galoutis to butter chicken — also offer a range of comforting drinks: chai, badam milk and pudina juice. We start with dahi ke kebab, which they declare is made with a secret recipe, which involves bread in some mysterious way. Expecting sneaky wheaty subterfuge I’m mildly disappointed when they arrive. The slices have merely been used to hold spiced, hung curd together before the whole concoction is deep-fried. It’s tasty enough — if you can get over the fact that you’re essentially eating yoghurt-soaked deep-fried bread. I couldn’t.

Fortunately the meal bounced back with the main course. Botti kebabs, featuring tender mutton in rich, dark, substantial gravy zingy with ginger. There’s a velvety, garlicky, pea-strewn baingan bharta, with well-balanced flavours. My only quibble is it doesn’t taste smoky enough. (Though as someone who tried making baingan bharta recently, only to end with a ghastly concoction crunchy with brinjal seeds, I sympathise.) The portions are generous. Especially the jeera rice, which is long-grain, fluffy and fragrant.

We also try their ajwain parathas, which are small but liberally dusted with ajwain and generously brushed with ghee.

Dessert decisions are always tough. In an often ill-fated attempt to eat less sugar, I’ve been cutting back on dessert. (Of course the days when I scarf down chocolate bars mid-shopping expedition don’t count. It’s just cruel to stock chocolate in a book store, right?)

Not impressed yet? I’m also drinking my coffee black. No sugar. No milk. Well, most of the time. I was recently boasting about my incredible discipline to friends when we caught up at a café. Between tut tutting at their ice cream laden milkshakes, I asked the waiter for my usual café macchiato. A shot of black coffee topped with a dash of milk foam. Except, I have a sneaky version of the beverage. I drink mine topped with whipped cream. Let’s just say no one listened to any more of my diet advice after that arrived at the table. Especially because the waiter thoughtfully brought me an extra jar of whipped cream. Just in case. Eventually we settle on sharing a massive phirni at Simar. It’s sweeter than I expect. And blended a little too fine for my liking. I’ve been spoilt by a childhood peppered with the cool mud pot phirnis of Kolkata. I dive in nonetheless. There goes my sugar quota for the month. Hmmm. Maybe I should have a macchiato.

Simar is at 20B, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam. A meal for two costs about Rs. 1500. Call 95000 06831 for more details.

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