I am no food critic (nor a foodie, or worse still, a blogger), but I will be the first one to acknowledge that the ITC Hotels have done a fabulous job of preserving the traditional Indian fare. By introducing standardisation to the most common Indian dishes, they have managed to lend a sense of authenticity and a cognisance of the flavour profile which would have otherwise remained a generic and open-do-debate.
For, let’s face it, Indian food, albeit yummy, isn’t as precise and methodic as French cuisine. Sure we have an order of introducing spices onto the oil and a certain way to cook rice that makes a pulao and a biryani identical yet different dishes, but it isn’t like making a Bechamel sauce where no matter who makes it, the end result must always be the same.
Conversely, ask any two chefs to prepare the same dal and chances are you will get two different versions. While this allows for creativity, it embeds doubt into every expectation. ITC has been instrumental in weeding out such doubts even though, in the process, they may have evolved what can only be called their interpretation of Indian cuisines. Given the numbers that line up outside their outlets Peshawari (or Bukhara) and Dum Pukht across India, and you know that success has been theirs.
Recently, I stayed at the Grand Chola, Chennai, which can literally overpower all your senses with its sheer grandeur. I curiously ventured into their all-vegetarian fine-dining outlet. Now I am a tolerant one but ‘royal’ and ‘vegetarian’ aren’t words I use together, ever. Pardon my carnivorous sensibilities. For vegetarians, food can be many things—satiating, healthy, yummy, homely, light—but it isn’t exactly what I would vouch for as luxurious. And yet here I was at the Royal Vega, waiting in anticipation for my experience of the Ranjit Khasa (a three-serving pre-set vegetarian meal). The courses were served in pairs, two curries at a time, accompanied by breads. At any point I could ask for a top-up of any of the dishes. Then, there are two kinds of rice preparations and an equally inviting array of desserts.
I am not describing much of the individual dishes from the meal here for, as I said, I am not a food critic.
I would have never doubted the variety of vegetarian dishes that one can serve up in an Indian meal especially when spanning the length and breadth of our country’s cuisines. All six curries that turned up on my plate were markedly different from each other. Between them, they covered an extensive area of our country’s food map. And this from a culinary group that has cemented their reputation for serving up great kebabs and biryanis. Sure they have that iconic dal (Bukhara) but frankly, outside of that, I couldn’t think of any vegetarian exploit that had enjoyed equal stature.
And here with The Royal Vega they have managed to set Indian vegetarian food on a pedestal.
The hyperbole may be the food talking, I am writing on a full stomach but I assure you that no antacid has been popped in post-prandial regret. So the next time you happen to be in Chennai, make your bookings for the awesome food at Amma, Aeseo and Avartana (quite an alliterative exhaustive list) but also, if you can, try a lavish Indian vegetarian meal here for a change.
The writer is a sommelier.