Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Sometimes, it becomes imperative, for one’s own sanity, to sit in solitude, with a good cup of tea, and watch the world go by. A ritual that can be immensely comforting in down times, a celebration on happy occasions, or simply, a quiet moment snatched and treasured in the hurly burly busyness of our lives.
In celebration of tea or chai as we call it, and all that is associated with it, the Lobby Lounge of the Taj Banjara Hotel, is hosting a two-week long teatime promotion called Chai Happenings. The Lobby Lounge is a quiet bar-cum-lounge so it serves as a great spot for a quick meeting or even a private getaway for anyone seeking a break.

img_8083Unlike my headline, Earl Grey is not served, but several other variants of tea, ranging from the green to the lemon variety, local favourites like the Sulemani to the Irani Chai, here named Salauddin ki Chai; and filter kaapi (filter coffee) for those who don’t like tea; is available along with a bunch of tea time treats to munch along with it.

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Just like the British have a high tea tradition, we Indians can lay claim to several snacks that taste best with a cup of tea. Right on top of this list would be the Bun Maska — a slightly sweet bun, slit into two, slathered with salty butter, and to be had after dunking into a hot cup of milky tea. The salty, molten butter, along with the sweetness of the tea, is a taste I remember from childhood. The Irani cafés of Mumbai still serve them with great pride and here too, in Hyderabad, it is a simple snack to quell hunger pangs.

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The Lobby Lounge of course, has included a host of snacks that make tea time that much more delicious. Aloo Samosas, Bread Pakodas — made with multiple layer of bread with different stuffings, batter coated and fried; Cut Mirchi (Mirchi Bhajji – slit jalapenos, stuffed with onions and masalas , coated with batter and fried); Bombay Toasties – a grilled sandwich stuffed with vegetables, Chutney Sandwich, Vada Pavs, Sabudana Tikki, Dal Wadas and Patti Samosas among others are the options available.

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From the dishes I sampled, I would pick the Bread Pakodas and the Patti Samosas. Both were served with different chutneys, and the Bread Pakodas had a layer of ketchup and a potato masala each, which gave it a sweet and salty taste. Besides, anything fried always tastes better, so, along with my cup of lemon tea, this combination was perfect.

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You can pick any one snack and the tea of your choice – for Rs 155 plus taxes. Between 3-6 pm you can sample any of the tasty bites with your favourite cuppa. If you happen to have a good book along for company, it will have been an evening well spent.

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Punjabi by Nature

Often, when an iconic brand rolls into Hyderabad, the hype and curiosity overshadows everything else and for some time, everyone is talking about it. Then, there are some brands, which have made a name for themselves in other cities, and make an entry that quietly announces they are here for the long term.

Punjab Grill, a well-known chain of restaurants, with its USP of Punjabi food, served in a fine dining ambience, more than lives up to its reputation. The cuisines of the North West of the Indian Peninsula – Punjab, Afghanistan and Pakistan – are served here; however, Punjab Grill takes the food to the next level. Exquisitely presented, delicately garnished, kebabs, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian; unique mocktails, making the most of desi flavours; and the international favourite butter chicken – all make a statement; subtly so.

The mocktails are innovative to say the least. The Paan Meetha  mocktail mixes gulkand (a preserve made with rose petals) with a betel leaf and brings out the flavours of both in a manner that can only be called refreshing. Another very Indian flavour was in the Lime Pickle Soda – where spicy lime pickle is mixed with soda and a bit of syrup and even served in a pickle jar.

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The starters tell a different tale. The Veg Kurkuri are wonton skins filled with mushrooms, celery, olives, onion, pine nuts, tomatoes and cheese, rolled in a bed of vermicelli and deep fried to a lovely golden. Served with a sweet chilli sauce, this dish is my pick for what vegetarians must try from the choice of starters. Another must try is the Dahi ke Kebab – made with hung curds that has been delicately flavoured with coriander and cardamom.

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The non-vegetarians will be in gastronomic heaven here. There are plenty of options to choose from. Chicken starters include Murgh Malai Tikka, Tandoori Murgh, and Bhatti da Murgh;  Chaamp Tajdar made with mutton; Tandoori Duck; and a seafood kebab list that includes Tandoori Crab and Tandoori Pomfret. My favourite however, is the Salmon Tikka, where Norwegian salmon has been marinated in dill leaves, fennel, ginger, honey and a touch of mustard oil. This fish does not easily lend itself to the Indian style of cooking; but here the flavours assimilate so well that unless told, you wouldn’t know you are eating a fish associated with Mediterranean and European styles of cooking. Do not miss this dish – it is worth the price they charge for it.

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How can anyone go to a restaurant serving Punjabi food and not have Butter Chicken? The dish, that is perhaps India’s best known culinary export, tweaked a million ways to serve Caucasian palates more used to eating bland food; definitely rules the roost here, pun unintended. Though the franchise owner, a young lady by the name of Bhargavi Yerram, informs us that the vegetarian dishes are more popular for some reason, the restaurant gets full marks for cooking Butter Chicken to perfection. Having tasted some too oily or too sweet versions of this dish, I cannot say I have truly eaten a well-made butter chicken. Till now that is. Served with a choice of rotis and naans, the chicken and the gravy just melt in your mouth.

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Then comes the Dal Panjratni – which explains why the vegetarian dishes are so popular. A combination of five lentils, cooked to a creamy level of deliciousness seldom experienced in dals; if you eat only this dal with rotis at the restaurant, you will have sampled one of the best dishes it has to offer.

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Desserts. Never leave without tasting them. The efficient staff ply us with a platter of gulab jamuns, in different flavours such as cardamom, white chocolate, nutella etc. Phirni – a milk pudding and the unmissable Litchi ki Tehri – a sweet milk concoction with litchis, raisins and toasted makhanas on top.

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Finish with a Paan shot – a mouth freshener made with paan leaves and you will be remember this meal for a long time.

For a fine dining experience with food that celebrates the richness of Northern cuisines, in luxurious surroundings, overlooking the sylvan KBR Park; Punjab Grill is my pick. It is not light on your pocket but well worth the expense.

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Punjab Grill

4th floor, Guru Raghavendra, Road No. 1, Jubilee Hills Check Post

Tel80083 33555

12.30 pm to 3 pm; 7 pm onwards