So here we are on our friend’s birthday wondering what to do after consuming about half the cake. Tired from an earlier adventure we decide on “just dinner”. Considered a few options before settling on Nilgiri’s.
I have read and heard rave reviews about the place and one in our group of 3 has dined there. I had primarily heard about how competent the chef/owner is and that he runs something akin to “monthly workshops” on cuisines from each state of India, and about how cleanly he gets away with his act. This one I had to see for myself – have heard of “jack of all trades and master of none”, but could this be a case of “jack of all trades and master of all” – the Grand Master himself with a ballsy reputation that precedes him? Read On.
Conveniently found a parking spot right in front, which kind of made me wonder – isn’t it just wrong to be able to find a spot right where I found it on a saturday night? But then again I am the lucky kind. Was greeted at the reception by the man himself – welcomed us as though we were long lost friends. But the quite efficiency and matter of factness quickly resumed on his face as he discreetly radioed our arrival to his minions upstairs – nice touch Mr. Ajoy. Yes, he uses a walkie-talkie. Climbed the steep stairwell laden with Ganeshas in a multitude of poses – we took our time. The waiter who was radioed was dealing with another customer but did not fail to acknowledge our arrival, if briefly with a curt nod. We were quickly whisked to our table where we settled down and got lost in our conversation about Mr. Heisenberg. Waiters prodded us for orders for more number of times than I thought was necessary, but they were very polite each time so it did not feel like an intrusion.
First up, drinks and entree –
My male friend ordered a fancy sounding beer which we had not heard of before – “Royal Mumbai Premium Lager” and the birthday gal ordered a vodka based drink – “The Blue Lagoon”.
My friend, an avid beer connoisseur, loved it – went for seconds, but that was expected.
The Blue Lagoon did not really stir an affection – she has had better, she confessed.
We ordered “Paneer Tikka” and “Yerra Varuval” (Curry Leaf & Cracked pepper spiced prawns) for starters and they served “Paneer Tikka” and “Tali Hui Mahi” (tawa-cooked fish in a mustard, garlic, paprika & tamarind marinade). When we brought it to their notice, the waiter did not blink as he promptly corrected the order and offered us the ill-fated tawa fish, on the house – a lesson in delegation of decision making authority, well executed too. I thought the tawa fish was an even better choice than the prawns which did show up shortly afterwards. It was slightly burnt/charred, just to my liking and the chutneys served alongside each entree were exceptional. Finger licking good – literally!
Looking good so far although there was some discontentment about the prawns from a diner on the table, the tawa fish and the paneer dishes were flavoursome as agreed unanimously.
As we wound up discussions around our own mortality, metabolism and mid life crises it was time to dive into main course section of the menu. I picked the classic “Andhra Style Chicken Biryani”. You see, I have some experience dining at Nandini’s in Bangalore and believe it is the way a Biriyani is to be cooked. Ever since the “Nandini experience” I have been pining for authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani. So given Mr. Ajoy’s penchant for a “stick to it’s roots” approach to cooking, I wanted to test the waters. My friends went for Balti ka Bakra and Kozhi Milagu Chettinad with Naan & Lachcha Paratha.
The verdict? – here goes!
I thought the biriyani was good but more importantly the gravy served alongside was an experience to be savoured – tasted great and the aroma, beautiful. So they did not take away from the essence of cooking the biriyani itself, and the gravy complemented the biriyani perfectly. A very good effort I would say but have to say I have had better. But then again that was 10 years ago, so I do not know if I have the stomach or the “taste bud tolerance” for a full blown “Nandini” experience anymore…hmmm…my thoughts, strangely, at this point drift back to mid life crisis – 🙂
Next up, the breads –
We thought they were great. Naan was as good as any we had had. The Paratha was good too.
Balti ka Bakra and Kozhi Milagu Chettinad were quite simply, atrocious. Too much salt, confused flavour – in fact I was not able to tell the difference between the two!
In fact this was the only sore point in our entire dining experience and to a lesser extent the prawns. For an upmarket restaurant flaunted as the best in Sydney, with a hefty price tag hanging off each dish on the menu, and with a head chef who has a cult following, one would expect a seamless concoction of brilliance. The bakra and kozhi let us down to a point where I would say that these have been dished out far better at cheapsy take away diners.
However (and this is the big one), as we were making our way out after paying for the meal, having a chit chat with the head waiter, the reason as to why people flock to this place, dawned on me. The magic ingredient is not really what’s found in their dishes (most of them good but not exceptional). To a lesser extent it’s the ambience, the lighting and the serenity but more importantly the venue is peppered with smiling Ganeshas and waiters. The vibe is unmistakable, the intention, unmissable.
Mr. Ajoy’s greatest achievement would not be found in his dishes, but in his genuine affection for the culinary art and the more importantly the lost art of treating one’s customers right. Dare I say, he sees Lord Ganesha in every one of his customers! – a fast fading Indian tradition of treating one’s guests, as Gods.
© Jim Mareath and Just me, 2013
- The Biriyani Bus (markneiljohnson.wordpress.com)
- Paneer Biriyani (taleoftwotomatoes.wordpress.com)
- Significance of Ganesha (artoflivingsblog.com)
- 5 incredibly Easy North Indian Recipes (jyotinaturalfoods.wordpress.com)
- Fifty shades of curry (manilastandardtoday.com)
- Mediterranean Party & Mediterranean Dinner Party (potterybarn.com)
- Biriyani House – Kollupitiya (nleftovers.wordpress.com)
- Plethora of Food From the East (riadonli1.wordpress.com)
- Flavours of a community (thehindu.com)
- A Nawabi treat (thehindu.com)