North west frontier On Invitation

Celebrating - The Royal Afghan Way

Friday, January 24, 2014Me! In words

When you step through the glass doors out on to the poolside and approach the Peepal tree setting of the Royal Afghan at ITC Windsor, there is a building sense of anticipation of what is to come. In fact, the anticipation began when I first received this invite and heard that Chef JP Singh of the legendary (and the term here is definitely steeped in a long tradition) Bukhara was going to showcase his signature recipes. The Royal Afghan has given its menu a new look and patrons, new and old are now being offered a whole of world of delights on a platter. Chef JP Singh's showcase this evening was a means of heralding in the new era at the Royal Afghan. 

As I was led to the table I couldn't help looking around and taking in the mellow ambiance, the open kitchen with the chefs busy cooking up delights that would soon become memories on each table. As I settled down I was immediately enveloped in red apron (a quiet sign to the staff that I was a meat lover). A warm towel and a sip of water later, the anticipation was up a few notches... The table had some masala papads which made for some great nibbles and us friends and food bloggers chatted away. The menu of the restaurant is carved onto a wooden tablet - a affirmation by the restaurant that all good things in the restaurant are a long lasting promise and that's why the rare change in offerings. 

A Sula Chenin Blanc materialized and a few sips later, with our appetites whetted and the anticipation at its peak - Chef JP Singh came to our table - demure, yet so passionate about his food that it translates in the best way possible - in all that he serves. The Royal Repast had now begun. 

The Sula Chenin Blanc that soothed the anticipation 

Chef JP Singh

The vegetarians and the non-vegetarians had separate menus. Here is what graced my plate and carved a wonderful food memory - in the tradition of going from light to heavier preparations we started with the Tandoori Jhinga - tiger prawns, with their tails firmly in place - marinated in an ajwain yogurt mix, with an in-house garam masala creation, skewered and then finished on charcoal - the smokiness of the tender prawns was a high in itself. Every bite accentuates the flavor of every ingredient and will have you unabashedly asking for another helping - we all did. 

Tandoori Jhinga

The Murgh Malai Kebab came next - tender morsels of chicken, best described as creamy because of its cream cheese, malt vinegar and green chilli marinade. Cooked in a tandoor till a simple touch of the lips can tease it apart - this dish will relax you and allow you to settle down in your chair ready to take in more.

The Barrah Kebab (Pic Courtesy - Monika Manchanda) - When this first came to the table, it had about it this very unassuming demeanor - it arrived when all of us were deep in conversation and were actually still reminiscing about the Sikandari Raan we had just eaten. Though this came after the Raan, I couldn't hold back anymore when it came to writing about - This is a kebab that will set aside all your notions about Northwest Frontier cuisine being indulgent - its gentle yogurt marinade, the collection of spices it is coated in and the effect of red  hot embers in the cooking process makes it a dish that will have you burst out in instant praise before you go back to your plate and gently enjoy every bite. You will lick your fingers and not be ashamed to do so, as it is well worth every mouthful. 

The Sikandari Raan - needless to say was amazing - slivers of meat, hand torn and placed on a platter after its done its time with a marinade and in a tandoor. Its flavors are amazing and its place on the table will always be reserved. 

I did sample some of the vegetarian and the photos do not do justice to how good it looked or tasted. Here you see the Tandoori aloo - scooped potatoes, filled with mash, dry fruits and spices and then finished in an earthern oven - it yields easily to your fork - fingers in this case (you will repeatedly look for cutlery, but will not find it - the restaurant encourages you to eat with your hand) and takes you to tuber heaven!

The Paneer Kurchan and the Tandoori Shimla Mirch was delightful arrivals on our plates 

And then came the perfect accompaniment - the famed Dal Bukhara - while we know of meats being cooked overnight - working on a humble dal preparation in the same way brings in a whole new dimension to the character of these humble lentils - a melange of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, topped with some cream and finished with an indulgent dollop of unsalted butter - this is a dish that you will want to take and retreat into your happy place - content with life.

What pulled us all out of our food stupor was the arrival of the Naan Bukhara - literally a single large family-size (plus a little more maybe) version of the naan. Crisp, yet perfect as an bread accompaniment with the dal - this is not a sight you will forget soon. What also came to the table was the pudina paratha - a paratha with a tangy melange of dried spices on top - pudina, anardana seeds was about as far a chef revealed and the fact that I do not have a photo of it is testimony to how the tummy won the battle of food before photos instead of the usual way around. 

We ended on a sweet note of phirni and gulab jamun - the phirni had a wonderfully creamy and rich texture, further accentuated by the touch of saffron and silvers of dried fruits. Each set in individual matkas made for perfect servings. 

The Phirni and gulab jamun

Through most of our meal Chef JP Singh regaled us with his stories of the kitchen. His knowledge of food stems for his love for perfection in everything he serves - from his choice of meats, to the creations of the marinade, to the pairing with the perfect breads and to the presentation - every little detail is attended to and with love - that's why when you dine at the Royal Afghan you will find the poet in you taking flight  - just as my side seems to have done with this post. 

Chef JP Singh will be at the ITC Royal Afghan with his showcase till the 25th of January. Make time for a meal here - its about time the poet in your is given a morsel of delicious inspiration. 

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