At Daniell’s Tavern, soothing music enhanced the flavour of Mughlai food

Noor Jahan’s signature song, “Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang”, wafts across the air as I enter Daniell’s Tavern at The Imperial. Apparently, the legend sang the gifted poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ghazal with such sensitivity that he gifted it to her. A few minutes into the melody and my mind goes back to an age-old argument: Did Lata Mangeshkar make it big in Hindi cinema because Noor Jahan migrated to Pakistan, leaving us all with mere memories? The question shall never be answered one way or the other, but suffice to say on a moist and misty evening, Noor Jahan’s voice set the mood for us.

Daniell’s Tavern is hosting the Mughal-e-Azam food festival and the ambience of the place takes us back to more leisurely times when shamadaan graced the dastarkhwan of the guests and in the distance a singer played songs on demand. Here too, the mehfil actually comes alive when the singers get going after initially playing some recorded music. But before they make their slightly belated arrival, we have some of the most succulent kakori kababs possible. The kababs are long, slender and soft. The spice quotient is just right; neither too bland nor too hot. Adding a dash of lemon and complementing it with a couple rings of onion, we could not have hoped for a better start to our dinner. Of course, the kakori comes with murgh nawabi beda, chicken dumplings and tandoori nisha, broccoli prepared with yogurt and chillies.

Meanwhile, keeping in mind that the signature of the restaurant is a more gentle age when people did not rush meeting some imaginary deadlines, the kababs are followed by a wonderfully aromatic paaya shorba with kofta. This lamb trotters and meat dumplings preparation is enhanced with the richness of the coriander. As we take spoonful of the soup, the singers get into some really good form, wafting from “Yeh sham mastani” to “Chalo dildar chalo, chand ke paar chalo”. They deserve attention, as does the food on the table. We settle for a fine balance, a helping of the soup followed by a quiet pause, appreciating the music.

Most guests around us are foreigners but even they seem to be appreciating the food, the ambience, the music. Meanwhile, Chef Prem Kumar suggests that we try out his speciality: mutton nahari. The gosht nalli nahari comes with a thick gravy and a leg piece with a very layer of meat that we could have finished without using our teeth. Simply irresistible with a tandoor roti – it does not go as well with a parantha – it even lends itself as an accompaniment to simple boiled rice. The nahari is followed by Akbari murgh masala and gobhi dolma, the former is rich, somewhat creamy but definitely holds its own in front of nahari; the latter plays a fine foil with cauliflower tempered with cumin, onion and chilly. It is quote close to the way, the vegetable is prepared in the Awadh region.

Very impressed with the fare on offer, I ask the chef about his research. He reveals he had travelled to Lucknow, Jaipur and some other places in Rajasthan and gathered the information at the ground level with interactions with the local khansamahs. The chef, apparently, is a fast learner for the fare on offer at the Tavern meets with the approval of my friend, Aslam Khan, a quiet foodie. Incidentally, it was Aslam’s candid acceptance of my daawatnamah that made the evening possible.

At the end, when the chef suggests some desserts; we ask for another helping of kakori. How is that for a compliment! We depart to the gentle notes of “Jab koi baat bigad jaye”. This evening, everything worked.

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