Pehle Aap – Bringing Royalty to your Dinner Plate
Kangan in Hotel Westin is my regular haunt, because of the fabulous Dal Kangan that is served there. And ever since the first food festival that I enjoyed at this restaurant, I’ve decided to make it a habit to not give any other food fests introduced by Kangan a miss.
So, it was but obvious that I would check out the Pehle Aap Awadhi food festival that was held from the 30th of November to the 22nd of December 2012. Not just to enjoy the spellbinding view of the pulsating Mumbai streets from the 18th floor, but also because I knew this would be a meal to remember… and I was proven right!
The best thing about the Pehle Aap food festival is that it takes the guessing out of the game. There are two set menus – vegetarian (1,850) and non-vegetarian (2,050) – each with Aam Panna as the welcome drink, four starters, one soup, six main courses dishes and one dessert factored in, which makes your life easy if you are a newbie to Awadhi cuisine. But if you would rather be adventurous you can choose from the festival’s a la carte menu, which is styled after a royal scroll. Not a bad start for our royal culinary expedition. This benign feeling of being treated like royalty continued with servers bringing us warm water perfumed with rose petals to wash our hands. Now this is a lifestyle one can easily get used to!
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of what I ate!
- The ever helpful Chef Ajay Chopra recommended the best of the fest for us to savour. While discussing the cuisine with him, the Kakori Kabab (1000) brought home the fact why Nawabi dynasties almost came to blows over this delectable kabab. It literally melted in my mouth!
- The Khuroos-E-Hamwaar (900), which is cooked in the authentic Awadhi style that calls for sandalwood to be infused in meat marinade, had a crispy crust with succulent chicken inside. While by itself it’s a great starter, when compared with the Kakori Kabab it fell short.
- The Habibi Lamb Chops (1100), however, were a bit tough though and one could not slice the meat off the bone as one ought to.
- The Hakeemi Yakhani Shorba is very different from your run-of-the-mill soup. Inasmuch as you can literally taste the marrow of the mutton, it has a slight pungent twang that might not be everyone’s bowl of soup. The spiciness of the soup is however mitigated by the liberal use of fresh mint used.
Make allowance for leisurely service in between courses, which goes with whole languorous lifestyle that the Nawabs were known for. But you can use that time to make some lac bangles of your choice with the help of the in-house bangle-maker (the restaurant is named Kangan, after all, dig it??)
- In the main course, we ate Nargisi Bhindi Jahanara (825), which is okra stuffed with a mixture of fennel, turmeric and chili paste then cooked on slow heat with onions. The preparation was quite fiery for me, but it would definitely work for those who like their food spicy.
- The Gosht Kundan Kaliya (1175) was excellent. The braised lamb is rendered in its own fat and cooked with poppy paste, which makes for the smoothest, perfectly spiced gravy, which slides down your throat and makes you want to lose the roti and eat just the gravy!
- The Mausami Sabziyon Ki Taheri (850) is fragrant rice cooked on dum with just turmeric and salt, which is hard to believe when you suddenly find so many flavours bursting within.
- The Murg Khushka Pulao (950) will thrill those who like their chicken biryani. With big chunks of chicken, cooked with a browned onion paste and mild mix of spices, we loved and totally recommend this rice dish.
- The Dal-E-Nawab Tajiuddin (800) was good, but when it comes to dal in Kangan, there was no way I was going to miss out the Dal Kangan – one signature dish that has become the hallmark of this restaurant. The beauty of this must-have dal is that it is not cooked with cream, but slow cooked with milk, which does not weigh heavily on your system after the meal. Now you know why I am not embarrassed to state that I happily polished off two servings of the dal with a Cheshire Cat grin plastered on my face!
- The Baadal Falooda (Rs 450) was a different take on the usual falooda which is served in a tall glass. This falooda was served on a plate where the kulfi is drizzled with rabri and set on a bed of chopped nuts and vermicelli. I would have preferred the traditional falooda in a tall iced glass with the oodles of rabri and a healthy dose of soaked basil seeds.
And that was how we signed off our Nawabi dinner. In a nutshell, the entire experience had the right tinge of lavishness with heartfelt hospitality that the Awadhi royals took so seriously. Well, we can say that we will definitely keep our eyes peeled for the next year’s Pehle Aap, because we are confident that festivals like these will, and should, be revisited year after year.