A brand new restaurant in town at Vivanta by Taj Surya serves up barbecued delicacies

It’s a starless night. Planes take off in the distance, a soft wind blows and occasionally, lightening flashes. We’re in the heart of the city, but risen above the din to a skyline of tree tops and illuminated crosses.

Poolside lights reflect off calm waters while the smoky fragrance of grilled kebabs wafts in. It’s an evening to remember at Vivanta by Taj Surya’s latest offering Smoke On The Water — an aptly named open-air poolside kebab and barbecue restaurant.

An interactive kitchen greets you as you step onto the lawns. Prawns are poked into skewers, generously slathered with marinade and slid into a char grill. Rotis are rolled out on the side, sizzler platters are heated over hot coals and much Hindi is thrown around between the two speciality chefs from Lucknow and Vivanta’s own team.

Executive chef H.N. Vijayan looks up from the madness to tell me he’s got two kebab and barbecue cuisines on offer - International and Indian. Both travel five courses, right from salads, soups and kebabs, through to main course and desserts.

For this evening, we’re served the Indian non-vegetarian menu. We open with ananas anarkali murgh chat, a quick chicken salad served with pineapples and crunchy pomegranates. To warm up in the cold breeze, there’s hot yakhni shorba, a dark green mutton soup. “The broth comes from boiling lamb bones for nine hours with herbs, followed by mint and masala flavouring,” explains manager-chef Natarajan.

On a kebab roll

Up next is Smoke On The Water’s highlight - the kebab and barbecue course. “In India, kebabs are associated with Lucknowi cuisine, so our chefs from there make them exactly as on Lucknow’s streets,” says Natarajan. They are served over banana leaves on warmed sizzler platters with a dash of butter thrown in for the sizzle effect.

First up is the lasooni tandoori jhinga, juicy prawns with their tails burnt a tad and flavoured just right. Chicken follows, first as whole pieces, marinated and evenly cooked on the skewer, and second as kakori kebab, made from ground meat shaped into small tubes. An absolute must-have is mutton galawat. “It’s mutton ground to a soft paste with masalas and papaya, rounded off into a patty and cooked,” explains Natarajan. It melts in your mouth like liquid gold.

Also on offer are a choice of the day’s fresh catch — fish, prawns, lobsters and the like — cooked in Asian, European, Mediterranean and Indian sauces.

Lucknowi touch

To accompany the kebabs, Vivanta offers a distinctly Lucknowi main course. We begin by yanking open a maida-glued bowl of chicken Lucknowi biryani. “Unlike most biryanis, the overpowering masalas are underplayed here and you get the actual flavour of the biryani rice,” says Natarajan. It is accompanied by a garlicky raitha and mirchi baingan ka salan (spicey brinjal).

Also available are an interesting variety of rotis — sheermal, romalli, ulta tawa paratha and taffthan — served with thick dal.

To round off a meal that filled even my bottomless pit, Natarajan decides to exchange the traditional Indian desserts for his own creation — litchi creme brulee with crispy biscotti. The sourness of yogurt meets the sweetness of litchi for an oddly delightful combination.

His brilliance is however topped by chocolate desire, made from concentrated chocolate held together with a binding agent and layered with warm melted chocolate. One word: heaven.

Smoke On The Water is off to a wonderful start. Though I’ve walked through just the Indian non-vegetarian menu this evening, there’s plenty to be explored on the vegetarian and International menus. Watch the weather forecast before you venture there though. Raindrop-flavoured kebabs don’t make for gourmet dining.