What would happen if this happened? If indeed there was a time machine that took away the chefs from the Nawab's kitchen and transported them to a time far away in the future, that is. Or if our minds cannot comprehend something that sounds as blasphemous as that, how about taking the cuisine of the Nawabs and adding a healthy dose of molecular gastronomy to it? I would expect disaster. Plain and simple disaster. A cuisine that is rich and grandiose being fused with a technique and concept that is minimalistic is bound for failure. Or at least you can't do justice to both.
The chefs at J'Hind though, have nearly pulled it off!
An attukal paya, a simple soup made of lamb bones with strong Indian spices was re-imagined with a coconut heavy broth and the spices in a tea bag. Though mild, the memories of attukal paya was unmistakable. A truly wonderful soup with all the elements of a restaurant that tries to add a modern touch to cooking; a little theatre, a little innovation, but staying true to the flavours. On our second visit we got a good prawn soup with the same coconut heavy base, but it didn't live up to our first visit's mutton soup.
Yes, I jumped straight to the soup, but you get some pre-appetisers, an amuse-bouche of sorts with a platter of spheres that is now cliche! On the opening night, the galouti had dried out terribly, but thankfully in our second visit, the kebab was juicy. I don't know why it was served on a plate of fried noodles though. It didn't do anything to the dish, except maybe making it look slightly prettier.
And then a round of starters, each one vying to grab our attention and space in our tummies. The smoked lamb, no, no liquid nitrogen, but a smoke gun with wood. The smoke just carassed the already beautifully cooked, juicy lamb meat with a tinge or smokiness. Not overwhelming, but simply the right amount to retain its original flavours and add some meaning to the theatrics. That lamb was hard to beat. The liquid nitrogen based theatrics with a frozen bread pappdi chat, with a hint of shahi tukda was interesting. A hard and nearly terrible paneer tikka and a fantastic samosa completed the starters.
The first of the main courses was a tiny surprise. A bunny chow. Now, I don't know when a bunny chow got into the kitchens of the nawabs! A molecular version with a tiny bread bowl filled with mutter gravy. Being bite sized, it disappeared in no time at all.
Then came the hits and the misses. Three dishes were spot on. The lamb gravy with a lamb so juicy, it could be reclassified as a beverage! A fish tikka with a fried fish lined up instead of being dunked in the gravy was rather unique. A single large prawn perched on an egg was lip smacking. There was a bread basket with a fabulous dried tomato roti, a saffron roti and paratha. And the hero of the day, the Arcot Biriyani was.......well.....disaster! I guess the rest of the meal set the expectations and expectation don't go well with biriyani and the biriyani simply did not live up to the rest of the meal and was ordinary at best. In fact, calling it ordinary is doing great service to a terrible biriyani!
The dessert was minimalistic to look at, but quite rich in its composition. A blob of rich badam halwa was satisfying to the tummy (though the heart may have had trouble with the, well, healthy dose of ghee), the crisp shahi tukda with a molecular gastronomy styled sheer sphere on a fried bread, with the exact same emotions for the heart and a paan shot to coat the stomach. A dose of theatrics came again in the form of a quick liquid nitrogen chilled jackfruit ice cream.
Priced at Rs. 1650 plus taxes for the non veg (I think the veg is priced about Rs. 200 lower), this is a 12 course degustation menu based on the cuisine of the Nawabs of Arcot. I was there for the opening night and went back with a friend a couple of days later, so this is based on two visits. The festival is on till the 31st of July at J'Hind, the modern Indian restaurant at Grand, by GRT. More details about the festival here.