You can picture the curvaceous Zeenat Aman, swaying seductively to the strains of the song. She was definitely on a high in that movie, and so was I. It is just a wonder that the cops did not catch me for ‘suspicious behavior’ as we stumbled out of the restaurant opposite the Panjim police station. Yes we were on a high , and the intoxicating substance that we had injected were ‘Dum Pukht’ delicacies from The Rajshahi.
What was it that made the meal so memorable? Meet Ankit Sahani, the proprietor of the restaurant. At a first glance, one can dismiss him as a college going kid…but Ankit as many untold laurels under his belt. To start with he is a student of the IHM Aurangabad, many would consider that institute as the IIM of culinary expertise.
I look around the restaurant, heavy carved wall furnishings….the stuff found in those palaces up North, even the chandelier is made to order. And the photographs of the Raja’s of yore sit in their glass frames smiling down benevolently. Ankit informs us that all these trappings are sourced from Udaipur. So step 1….he has created the ambience.
The waiters now start their performance. No shoddy service here, drinks are served to standards, the tray, decanters for mixers, even the stirrer. Even to the point of sqeezing the lemon on the kebabs. Well he has Step 2 organised…..the service.
But it is Step 3 which I am going to elaborate upon. The food after all, one goes to eat-don’t they? I do not have to ask Joe this question, as stated earlier- he lives to eat. Ankit has decided to pamper our tatse buds with Kebabs and Dum Pukt fare. ‘We will start with the kebabs as starters,’ he states. We nod slowly. Our maxim for a good time is let the experts tell you what is good. They know what their kitchen is famous for. Unfortunately, most diners insist on having a chicken fried rice when the USP of the restaurant is Indian or Goan.
The waiter walks to our table with a ceramic plate designed to hold the salad, shavings of carrots and cabbage strewn like petals in a pond, a tomato hollowed to hold a flame. I look across the table at Joe. Was he visualizing a sensuous harem girl walking towards the throne of the Raja? I give him a small pinch. He gives a guilty start. I was right in my assumption. I forgive him. I guess it is the ambience which creates those visions.
The waiter is solitiously saying…’ Chicken Benarasi kebabs, maam.’ I look at the dish. Was he serving a new paan concoction. No! They were tiny chicken kebabs rolled in Paan leaves. What a lovely idea. I unfurl the leaf and take a bite. Oh lal la, soft, succulent, so tender…I did not get much of a chance to think of any more adjectives as the second starter arrived to the table. Murg Sikandari kebab. I look at the mini tandoor appearing on the table. I peep inside…it even has the coal inside. The two skewers peep out tantalizingly, and then the waiter draws one out….a similar action as the three musketeers on duty…only he has pointed the skewer at the plate and had dexterously placed the chicken chunks on to the plate. I dip the kebab into the green chutney with a few shavings of thin onions on top…and then place it into my mouth. Did the strains of the music start then…I had no idea. This young kid on the block has learned the fine art of retaining the juices of the meat intact. The third kebab comes on to the table. This time the fire on the dish is ignited within an onion shell. ‘Asth Kebab,’ the waiter states. Was it a seekh? Yes it was…but with a difference. Ankit had managed to wrap the mutton mince with a coating of chicken mince before putting it into the tandoor. Well this was a jugalbandi of sorts…but the result divine.
‘Your creativity is stupendous,’ I remark when he popped out of the kitchen. Well no wonder, Ankit has trained in the best of hotels…the Taj, the Hyatt. ‘I even tried out a special dish called wine kebabs at a wine tasting dinner,’ he confesses.
He now has decided to pander our tatsebuds to the Dum Pukht preparations. Enter the waiter with two miniature wooded blocks on which the sizzling handi’s covered with the tradition flour paste. The waiter rolls back the ccooked atta, to reveal Dal e dum, Dum ki Macchi with the platter of Tandoori breads. Khasta Roti, Garlic naans and Kheema paratha. What can I say…let Joe state his mind. ‘I can drink this dal all by itself,’ he confesses. As for me....I dip that crispy roti into the thick masala of the minced fish roundels and the yellow dal…da dum, da dum, da dum. That reverberating beat was the slow movement of the muscles of my oesophagus. They were waiting to get into action but you see my mouth refused to let the food go down my gullet. My gastric glands were having a field day. I am given to understand a little later when I was forced to relinquish the food from my mouth, that the dal is not boiled over the fire. Ankit lets its cook slowly overnight with the heat of the embers of his tandoor.
The icing on the cake was the mutton biryani and the cold creamy mint raita. Ankit was one of the chefs cooking for that major bash…the Sahara grand wedding. And more recently the Badshah of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachan himself, dropped in for a quick meal of omato soup and curd when he was shooting for the fim Bhootnath. No wonder. The curd that he used for the raita was par excellence blending effectively to coat each morsel of the biryani rice, the mint leaving a subtle flavour to complement rather than mask the rice preparation.
As we got up to leave the restaurant, with yours truly gorging on a matka kulfi, I give those majestic rulers an eye for an eye. Although their courts might have dished out the best of fare, in this small niche of Panjim Ankit had given us a meal that is fit for Royalty.