Friday, 3 January 2014

DINING OUT: Punjab Grill Lays Out A Platter Full of Nostalgia

This review first appeared on Page 23 of Mail Today dated January 3, 2014. To see the original page, click on http://epaper.mailtoday.in/epaperhome.aspx?issue=312014 and go to Page 23.

QUICK BITES
WHERE: 2nd Floor, Food Court, Select Citywalk, Saket
WHEN: Lunch and Dinner (12 noon to 12 midnight)
DIAL: (011) 41572977
AVG MEAL FOR TWO (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 1,800+++
STAR RATING: ****

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IF YOU were to ask me about the culinary gift of 2013 to the freezing year that has just unfolded, I would say it is the return of regional cuisines -- without any glossing over.
Starting with the tangy and unforgettable
Kaali Gajar Ki Kanji, the Punjab Grill's
winter menu is a winner all the way.
Delhi/NCR has seen Bijoli Grill, which has been doing steady business from one far corner of Dilli Haat, open to rave reviews at Banga Bhawan, the West Bengal state government guest house on Hailey Road. The city has gifted a new lease of life to the dying tradition of the Irani cafe, an institution associated with such venerable names as Britannia and Kyani Cafe in Mumbai, at the Soda Bottle Opernerwala, DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon. Everyone I know, as a result, has been eating berry pulao and keema pao as if these are going out of fashion.
Panchvati Gaurav, an import from Mumbai and a favourite of those who love their Rajasthani and Gujarati thalis, is drawing packed houses at the Cyber Hub. Dhaba by Claridges has barely opened at the same location and people are already comparing it with Made in Punjab, which, without doubt, is a leader in its category. Even Monkey Bar has rewritten the rules of pub grub with its bacon-wrapped tandoori sausage dog. These new openings have collectively made that amorphous creature we call Indian cuisine fashionable once again.
With these thoughts swirling in my head, I stepped into Punjab Grill, which is at the farthest end of Select Citywalk, Saket. I had not been to Punjab Grill after Zorawar Kalra parted ways with Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal. My mission was to sample the new winter menu prepared by Gurpreet Singh Gehdu, a former sous chef of Indian Accent's Manish Mehrotra, who came into his own at the helm of the hugely successful Singapore outlet of Punjab Grill.
As Gurpreet had just returned from Singapore, I was expecting him to amaze me with the magic of molecular gastronomy. He had another plan up his sleeve -- to floor me with the brilliance of traditional flavours, which are going out of fashion because they require the kind of time and effort that only our mothers could invest in food.
I knew I was on to a treat when I had the Kaali Gajar Kaanji, which had been fermented for 72 hours and had an inviting tanginess, followed by the apple wood-smoked Shakarkandi Kamrakh ki Chaat -- sweet potato and star fruit tossed in sweet and sour tamarind. It was an unusual combination of textures and flavours, and the smoke was the killer app! A heart-warming Kharode Ka Shorba packing in the punch of gelatinous lamb trotters; Bheja Masala redolent of freshly ground garam masala; succulent Tabak Maaz -- lamb ribs simmered in fennel (saunf)-flavoured milk and fried on a tawa -- the kind I have not had after my first lunch post-marriage prepared by my mother-in-law and her sisters; hand-pounded Sarson Da Saag, whose rough texture, balanced by the dollop of white butter, came with the bite you normally don't get to experience in this day and age of electrical mixer-grinders; and the must-have Punjab Grill Deg Hot Pot, which is just the way you'd want to dig mutton koftas (with the texture of galawat kebabs) in a soul-satisfying gravy with carrots and turnips -- it's the shabdegh reinvented!
This is food that brings back memories of a childhood when it was a winter ritual to lay out jars of pickles and vadi out in the balmy sun, to be shared with families in the neighbourhood, and when summer nights used to be spent sleeping on the rooftop under the stars, waking up to early morning birdsong (when there were birds still around in Delhi that you could identify from Salim Ali's books). When I was having Gudh Wale Chawal and Bajre Ki Choori at the end, the memories came rushing in. It takes a good chef to bring that past back to life -- if only fleetingly.