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Fit for a nawab

The non-vegetarian food is exotic; nevertheless veggies have no reason to despair.

IF YOU'RE nostalgic for asli Nawabi khana, Hyderabad-style, you're in luck. For Hyderabad Mahal (Church Street), which opened about six weeks ago, serves authentic dishes that will win over the gastronome and layman alike, at prices that are extremely affordable.

This is a cuisine once described by a Persian ambassador to the Qutub Shahi court in 1603 as "a dream of deliciousness." But how did this cooking style originate? Probably from the Mughlai cuisine of the Asaf Jahi period, fine-tuned to perfection over the past 400 years. Judging by our taster meal, the historical claims to culinary achievement ring true in this RR group restaurant; so certified authentic by a friend of Hyderabadi origin.

To escape from the midday haze, we sip fruit-based mocktails — a huge pineapple-inspired Virgin Paradise served in a scooped-out fruit, garnished with grapes and sweet lime segments, and a Fruit Punch of sweet lime, strawberry and other seasonal fruit juices blended to silky smoothness. That prepares us for the variety of starters that come our way.

Starter's luck

The patthar ka gost lingers in memory long after the last morsel has vanished from the plate. Its thin slivers of marinated pasanda mutton are barbequed to a smoky, melt-in-the-mouth delicacy on a coal-heated stone slab. It's truly worth devoting a whole meal to.

The aloo took proves as irresistible — a mashed potato and paneer tikki redolent of herbs, fried to a golden crispness with a topping of til and khus khus. Equally unusual is a bonda-like aloo ka garlay, with its besan-batter coating and gently spiced potato filling.

The classic Lukmi follows, its reputation preceding it. Its deep fried muslin-fine envelope of flour and yoghurt parts to reveal minced mutton enriched with garam masala that seduces the senses in a flash. So does the spicy Hyderabad Special Prawns, fried crisp with undertones of ginger, chilli, and curry leaves.

Just when we feel we have made a meal with just starters, a mint lime juice is served. Its refreshing flavour helps to give our palates a new lease of life, so that we can relish the main course to follow.

For veggies too

Though this is an essentially non-vegetarian cuisine, vegetarians have no reason to despair, thanks to an exhaustive menu that caters to them too. Take for instance the famed bagara baingan, with its tomato-onion based gravy, which does justice to the juicy brinjals cooked in it. Or the unique achari bhindi, in which slivers of the vegetable are cooked to a tangy fullness with pickle spices.

But what's a Hyderabadi meal without a biryani? Despite being replete with good food, we sportingly taste the Hyderabadi chicken biryani, its layers of saffron and plain basmati rice cooked fragrantly till every grain separates, while the tender chicken flakes off the bone at first touch. It is a masterly dish that only bawarchis with decades of experience can turn out, teamed like a dream with a cucumber-onion raita and a fiery salan.

For dessert, we opt for the Nawabi favourite, khubbani ka meetha, which catches us by surprise with its initial whiff of rose water. But once we sink our teeth into the stewed apricots with a dash of whipped cream, it proves divine. Our only quarrel is about its lack of crunchy kernels, so crucial to its success.

An unusual morsel rounds out our meal. "Did you know that the Hyderabadi Nizam's emblem has kulchas?" asks Hyderabad Mahal's Managing Director, Shanthi Kiran Bulla. "Legend says when the Mughals sent the first Nizam southwards to rule Hyderabad, he was hungry on the way. So, he stopped at an unknown house and dined on seven kulchas. His host predicted that his dynasty would rule for seven generations. And so it proved to be!"

(Hyderabad Mahal, 55 Church Street. Ph: 51122323/ 2424.)


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