Iftar Feast, Cafe Mercara Express, ITC Grand Chola

From the streets of Bangalore to the opulence of the Grand Chola.

Last year, I don't think I visited any 5 star hotels for Iftar. The year before that, every hotel had got it wrong in some form or the other and this year I have only seen ads from Grand Chola and Crowne Plaza. Fingers crossed!

Started in Opulence. A very nicely refreshing rose sherbet with super soft dates. The dates were melt in the mouth, but weren't stuffed with anything, just natural but very high quality dates. I think what I saw on top was the gold leaf! This was followed by a nice platter of fruits.

The special stuff started! The Haleem. This could possibly be the best haleem in Chennai. If you tell them to add some onions, they bring it without any onions on top. And a big plate of condiments with ginger, fried onions, chillies, ghee and other stuff. Do it yourself, they seem to tell me which was just perfect!!! My friend didn't say anything and his came with condiments pre set! Not to say that he did not dig into my condiments plate for more onions. The flavour was fantastic. It is sad I have to mention that there were no bones in the haleem. That is how haleem should be, but in so many places, they are filled with bones which ruins the haleem experience. So a place that serves without bones is actually a stand out.

The next was even better than the haleem. A Nihari. Rather, the ITC take on Nihari. It was medium thick with a stunning flavour and two pieces of mutton which simply fell of the bone! The super soft bread served with it was the only thing better. It was slightly sour with loads of seasoning on top and soaked the gravy really well!

The biriyani, though super flavourful, stood no chance against the haleem and the stunning nihari!

We finished with kheer which was good, but again stood no chance against the haleem and the nihari.

If I was to pick on something, I would have been extremely happy to see the chef do a 5 star version of the humble kanji to showcase the really local hero. But the local hero has not been marketed and I am afraid that the nombu kanji will be extinct and the haleem will eventually take over Chennai. The kanji needs to be branded!!!!

Priced at Rs. 1250 plus tax, your damages will be Rs. 1510! The portions are unlimited and you can ask for refills of any of the above, but I doubt you will have space after a 14 hour fast for more. If you are not fasting and don't fancy the buffet, this is the perfect way to get the best of ITC for about Rs. 1510!

I am yet to try a lot of haleem in Chennai, but I doubt it is going to get better than this!