Restaurant review: Dum Pukht, ITC Maratha
When you’re invited to partake in opulence, the sheer anticipation starts having its effects on you for days before the event. I was invited by my blogger friend Rushina and the ITC Maratha to a soft launch dinner of their newly refurbished restaurant, Dum Pukht last night. The moment I accepted the invitation, I decided I was (for a change) not going in my maternity jeans and a tee. I don’t remember the last time I dressed up so willingly. Thank goodness, it was all more than worth it.
Dum Pukht, ITC’s boast-worthy restaurant featuring the Awadhi cuisine of Nawabs long forgotten, is an experience in itself. If you’re looking to go to an elaborate, warm, indulgent dinner with close friends, this is where you should head. Except, don’t eat anything all day and wear loose clothes. And probably book a room in the hotel so you can go and crash there immediately after.
I was very impressed that the team behind the restaurant put in sincere effort in piecing the menu together and recreating the grandeur of the period. Rini Sinha and Aishwarya Chhetri, our ITC hosts for the evening, had evidently done their bit of reading as had our service attendants, who pitched in with their bits of interesting trivia. Special thanks to this guy for being particularly patient with camera-armed food bloggers, who made him pose with hot food in his hands while they went shutter mad.
Note: Sorry for the exceedingly yellow pictures; I am not good with non-natural light photography, and at one point, I stopped trying too hard with the camera and just concentrated on the food and the conversation (which was so difficult to catch up with because I was sitting in the center and when you have Kurush on your right and Shanky on your left, there are often two different and equally enthralling conversations going on at the same time.)
What I liked: I have a special liking for white-and-gold. So the intricate hand-painted panels on the walls really appealed to me (I hope they rub off the stenciled outlines before the actual launch, though). The lighting was just right–I like to see what’s going on on my plate but I want it dim enough to feel warm and cozy. I don’t think I can say anything that will match the sheer perfection that the crockery and cutlery was. I mean look at them! I had to eat off them! These were specially designed for the restaurant, and just looking at them made me feel like royalty.
What I did not like: The orange and the mirrors! The first thing I noticed when I entered was the color of the chairs and some of the lamps. Nawab meets Shiv Sena, if you ask me. Mirrors, I understand. Just that I don’t have a thing for them. Also, I hope they reupholster their stained dining chairs.
What I liked: A special menu was designed for us to sample. Personalized menus that take you through the several courses worked for me. It was evident that the team had tried to bring together the findings of their research and make it suitable for their audience by tweaking things here and there. By and large, they stuck to the basic principles–making everything in ghee, and allowing one dominant flavor (usually a spice) to stand out in each dish.
We started with an astonishingly wide array of kababs, of which I particular liked the Mahi Dariya (a fillet of Bhekti or River Sole spiced and deep fried to perfect crispness reminiscent of the Schnitzel). The Dum Pukht Kakori lived up to its reputation of being melt-in-the-mouth (a recipe made for a Nawab who lost his teeth but wanted to eat meat) like a pate, almost. In the vegetarian section, I was surprised how much I liked the crisp Seekh Nilofari (a lotus stem kabab) that was served with a green mint-based chutney bejeweled with pomegranate. That chutney I could have packed home. They also made us an unscheduled lamb chop that was beautifully cooked. The kababs were paired with a white wine–a beautiful South African Sauvignon Blanc that acted as the perfect palate cleanser between the rich kababs.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the sublime Shorba Purbahar, a lentil-based soup served with well-cleaned alfalfa sprouts. The sprouts were skinned carefully so they did not bring any bitterness to the soup but instead, added a refreshing change of texture from the smooth soup.
For the mains, (we were already too full by this time, so most of us just tasted a tablespoonful of each dish) my favorites were the Dum Pukht Badin Jaan (shallow-fried brinjal slices topped with a tomato concasse and thick yogurt) and the Murgh Khushk Pardah (a sort of Nawabi Chicken Pot Pie as Rhea put it). I am almost convinced now, though, that I liked the chicken because of the drama around it! The Shahi Nehari (good quality lamb in an aromatic masala of sweet spices) was perfectly cooked but not much of the flavor had permeated through the meat. I liked that the Lamb Biryani was piping hot, the meat well-cooked and the rice very delicately flavored.
By dessert time, I just wanted to run away but the Hungarian Dessert Wine they opened for us (it did not go with the Indian desserts at all, but was lovely in its own right albeit a bit sweet for my taste) kept me hooked. I had the Kulfi Badshah Pasand, an Indian ice cream of sorts served with sweetened vermicelli but thought it could have been better plated. I particularly liked the Phirni that Rushina ordered–it was thick and creamy, yet light on the palette and perfectly sweetened. I did not venture into the Shahed-e-Jaam, a stuffed gulab jamun that everyone proclaimed was too sweet.
Oh, and you simply must try the raw papaya, raisin and kalonji (onion seed) chutney at the table. It was perfect atop a piece of roasted papad!
What I did not like: The Hara Kabab Awadh was too dry and the Murgh Chandi Tikka was quite average. The only Prawn dish on the menu, Jhine ka Salan, was quite ruined because the beautiful prawns were overcooked to rubber. The breads were quite cold by the time they reached the table and I couldn’t bring myself to finish them.
The service: was impeccable. They tried their best (and succeeded) in making sure we were comfortable and like I said earlier, they were very patient with our unending chatter and obsessive picture-taking.
Overall, I’d say go eat there at least once. If you like rich, indulgent food (and Kewra) once in a while, you will like Dum Pukht.