The Mughlai food fest at The Gateway presents a rich royal repast

Sometimes, the secret test of a wide spread is how good its most prosaic dish is. For if that’s been made with care, you know you’re in good hands henceforth. So at The Gateway Hotel’s Mughlai food festival in Bubble Cafe, I skip the complex creations and head first for the humble dal makhni. And sure enough, its warm, buttery, welcoming goodness is the kind of comfort food you want to curl up with cupfuls of — a positive sign of fine things to come.

“Mughlai food is about mild flavours presented in rich creamy textures that have a homely feel to them,” says executive Chef Jaffar Ali, who also introduces the festival as a promotion begun on popular demand from their regulars. Chef Santosh Yadav from Taj Agra has lined up an assortment of almost 30 dishes, each with Mughlai cuisine’s traditional touch of royalty. We open with murgh shorba, a light broth made of gently spiced chicken stock, and a wide variety of salads, interesting among which is the fish tikka salad richly marinated and served cold. The buffet also features two live counters of murgh shami kebab and arbi (colocasia) kebab. The first, comprising channa dal, is an absolute delight. It’s bite sized and crumbles at the tongue’s touch with the right amount of crispiness outside and softness inside.

The main course begins with mutton keema biriyani with its typical nutmeg, garam masala, saffron and dry nuts flavours. While pleasant on its own, the slightly dry biriyani makes a great match with the selection of gravies on offer. Pick from either the murgh noorjahani with its brown onion paste and yoghurt-based curry, or the machli masala, resplendent in ghee and cashew. The beef kurma is the highlight here for its thick, rich texture and bold spicing. Chef Santosh has experimented well in the vegetarian section too, the star here being the gobi musallam. “It is blanched cauliflower that has been deep fried, soaked in cashew nut gravy and then baked. The dish is then topped with more gravy before serving,” he explains.

One of the unusual delicacies on the menu is the lotus stem biriyani which is moist and mild in flavour. The lotus stem itself is crisp and chewy, resembles sliced ginger in its touch and is bland in taste. Accompanying it are navratan korma, composed of 12 vegetables and spices altogether, and brinjal salan, with its ground sesame seeds and cashew nuts and curd. To perk up the soft flavours, there’s the jaunty bhindi masala, the spices deeply wrapped around and seeped into slender cuts of ladies finger.

The dessert section to follow is as rich, heavy and filling as the meal thus far has been. While a couple of international desserts grace the table, the focus is on the Indian options, ranging from the staple gulab jamun and semiya kheer to the lovely cold rasmalai and date ka halwa. Santosh springs a closing surprise in the red bell pepper halwa that’s pointedly sweet and is a mini marvel in how thoroughly disguised the bell peppers are. The menu at the Mughlai Festival rotates every few days but Santosh promises similar gems every night. The festival is on for dinner from 7 30 p.m. - 11 30 p.m. at Bubble Cafe till June 22.