Yet again I found myself seated at a dinner table with a few others at Trident, Hyderabad. Recently I got asked if I was associated with the hotel. My answer was no and yes. No, I am not employed by them or receive any payment in return for my review. Yes, I get invited to sample their food too.
When someone is invited to eat – to a home, a hotel or anything else, they know the guest is expected. During a review, I make it very clear that what I write is my own experience and the words and language is non negotiable, since you expect the guest, please do all that you can to ensure the food and the experience is what you would like it to be.
With that out of the way, let me tell you about the food I had. Bengali food and I don’t really have much of a history. I have heard of the food and its glorious description and tales of its origin much more than I have eaten it. The few times I have eaten Bengali food is at a restaurant in Hyderabad (I loved the food and the ambiance), at a home (disliked most of it and put it down to being badly made) and in Calcutta where I fell in love with the street food and was on a rinse and repeat mode for the duration of my stay, developing sincere feelings of love for the katti roll-wala and the phuchka-wala I frequented on Park Street.
We start with an array of appetizers. Fish Kabiraji ~ river salmon flakes, seasoned and breaded and then dipped in beaten egg to give it a lacy egg net. The flavour of the fish is full and unhampered by the spices or the breading. This one is worth a repeat and I loved each bite of this cutlet.
The little orange tail of the Chingri Macher Chop was a giveaway that it was a prawn dish. What I didn’t expect was the potato masala that it was wrapped in before being batter fried. This was the first time I tasted a prawn item made this way and while there are prawn pakodas and appetizers galore, who would have thought that potato masala would lend itself so beautifully to a prawn. The surprise element does not take away from the succulent prawn.
The Chicken Cutlet was disappointing. Dense and a little tough, I didn’t get through more than a few customary bites of it, served with kasundi (mustard paste) and a home made tomato sauce.
Vegetarians appetizers were served next, and the humble beetroot really surprised me. Beet and Gajur Chop was a croquette (cutlet if you insist) and the flavour of beets was fresh. Beetroots are not easy to work with. They can either be overpowering or completely tasteless depending on how they are cooked. I loved this preparation, seasoned just enough to allow the flavour of the beets to shine through.
The Mochar Chop which was the banana flower cutlet was good too. Banana flower is a much loved delicacy among Bengalis and this use in a cutlet is apt for a special occasion considering that cleaning of a banana flower is quite tiresome.
I lingered over the Fish Kabiraji and the Beet and Gajur Chop and considered seconds, then decided to leave some space for the main course that was to follow.
The names from the main course were familiar, one has heard unendingly of dishes that now have cult status. I was excited to taste a good Kosha Mangsho ~ Bengali home style mutton curry. The gravy was densely brown, the aroma very characteristic of golden browned onions. The first taste of it was of deep flavours and the traces of it being slow cooked. However the meat was dense, tough and inedible. I tried the couple of pieces on my plate I realised I was terribly disappointed with its texture. I expected the meat to be succulent and falling off the bone. The gravy still remains delicious. Possibly an off day for the meat, I would definitely try this dish again to decide if the meat is supposed to taste like that or it was just an off occurrence.
The Doi Murgi, made in the same style as the Doi Maach is a curry cooked in a gravy of onion paste, garam masala and yogurt. Chicken was chosen over the usual fish because it is a more neutral meat and appeals to a larger audience. This is going to be a crowd favourite and is very reminiscent of the kormas that are prepared in Indian cuisine. Each bite flavoured well and at several layers. This goes well with steamed rice.
Bhetki Macher Paturi ~ Fish marinated with poppy seeds and masala paste, steamed in a banana leaf. The flavours of the masala well incorporated into the fish fillet and steamed just right, this dish delivered on its promise and it is easy to see why it is so well loved. The novelty of presentation, unwrapping the banana leaf parcels at the table and the faint flavour the leaf renders the fish is all a nice bonus.
For the vegetarian selection, there was the Dhokar Dalna ~ channa dal koftas, soaked in a gravy. The onion and tomato gravy was nice, but the koftas themselves were chewy. I am not a big fan of channa dal anyway. So I would not miss this if it was not served.
Panch Mishali Shukto ~ a mixed vegetable curry cooked in a mustard paste dominated gravy is surprisingly good. The use of sweet potatoes, raw banana and bitter gourd is a surprising choice for mixed vegetables (one is used to potato, carrot and beans!), despite the use of the strong flavoured mustard paste, the gravy is very subtle and delicate.
My pick from the vegetarian main course has to be the Aloo Jhinge Posto ~ ridge gourd and potatoes cooked in a poppy seeds paste with nigella seeds. The sweetness of the ridgegourd (really did not see this coming!) and velvetty texture of the poppy seeds paste was terrific. This is a home style preparation and the subtle texture and flavours are soothing and comforting. I tend to be partial to dishes which present more than one texture and flavour. The multiple layers as you eat the dish always delight me as I keep guessing the ingredients or the way they were cooked and how that particular ingredient or cooking process rendered itself to the final dish. I find uni-dimensional dishes boring. And really, who expects ridge gourd to surprise you? Not me atleast!
Cholar Dal Narkel Diye ~ Channa dal cooked with fresh coconut and sugar and asafetida. Like I previously mentioned, I am not a fan of channa dal, having said that, the flavour and sweetness of the fresh coconut is really the star of this dish. I know my dinner partner enjoyed this. The tempering made from ghee brought in specially from Kolkotta adds a nice angle to this dish.
Of the breads that were served, something I cannot wrap my head around is the hype over the Luchi, for a poori made out of maida, it sure gets a lot of mileage. The Radhaballavi on the other hand, like a soft kachori, is a luchi stuffed with urad dal, fennel (saunf) and asafetida is a superior option for a bread. The flavours and the stuffing so subtle, it again surprised me when I was least expecting it.
What can one say of a Biryani that delighted me despite my loyalties lying with the land of my birth? The rage over the right / correct/ original biryani rages on and while my sibling believes that there is only one true biryani, the one he makes, following the recipe of a Master chef from an illustrious Hyderabadi family, I am of the opinion that there is no holy grail and as long as a dish is true to its ingredients and brings out the flavours, I am agnostic to its name. Needless to say he scoffs at me and I don’t take him too seriously! I must say when I did eat in Kolkotta, at a place highly recommended by the locals, I gagged and found the biryani oily and unpalatable. Forget flavours or seasoning, I felt like an oil slick was in my mouth. I just put it down to an overhyped eatery and left it at that.
Kolkotta Lamb Biryani ~ made in the Lucknow style, was a flavour bomb in my mouth. The kewra hits a sweet spot, the spice so subtle that what you actually taste are the flavours and not the heat and the meat so succulent, you wonder why you ate anything else at the meal! I loved this biryani and I must compliment the Chef who oversaw its preparation. Chef Sandip Bhattacharjee who traces his lineage from Bangladesh and learnt the nuances of Bengali cooking from his grandmother and mother, is the name behind this well put together menu. Cooking for more than 13 years in commercial kitchens, he finds the process therapeutic. The food for the festival is drawn from three broad categories ~ Mushalmanderi Aahar (Food with Islamic influences), Jamindar Khabar (recipes from the zamindari households of Bengal) and Grameen Aahar (peasant food). His culinary journey includes conducting several Bengali food festivals and the attention to detail is evident. He stopped by for a chat, but unfortunately, I was so busy eating, I didn’t take his picture!
The love of their sweets is legendary about Bengalis and while I don’t care much for the celebrated Sandesh, I love their jaggery flavoured offerings. As a child, I would have to be peeled off the glass panes of sweet shops by my mother because I would want one of each of the attractively coloured bengali sweets which were versions of the cham cham, stuffed with coloured cream and nuts and raisins.
I tasted a trio of desserts. Mishti Doi ~ sweetened yogurt which is dense and almost like eating dulce de leche. The milk is cooked down till the colour is deep. Served chilled, this is as classic a bengali dessert as one can get.
The Komola Bhog ~ Orange flavoured rosogulla was nothing novel but for the flavouring and while I don’t care much for the rosogulla, I love its cousin the cham cham.
Nolen Gurer Ice cream ~ jaggery flavoured icecream to me was the show stopper. Rich and creamy and the deep flavour that only haggery can give a dish, this one was to die for. The freshness of the home made icecream is evident. I had an emergency call back from home and had to leave before I finished my dessert.
Overall, a delightful meal. The Bengali Food Festival at Kanak, the main restaurant at Trident Hyderabad ends today. If you want to savour Benagli food that is lovingly made, do not miss this one. Various personal upheavals which most personal contacts already know have prevented me from posting this review even though I should have done it a few days ago.