A rediscovery of Royal culinary secrets at India Palace.

I have travelled far and wide in pursuit of good food but as I nudge closer to 40 and as New Dubai’s culinary scene advances towards world domination; I can barely make it past Bur Dubai just to eat at a new restaurant.  Unless of course there is a crazy vibe around a new opening or every second person is talking about a hidden gem that has been suddenly rediscovered or if I am invited to sample a menu crafted by Royal master chefs in the stately palace kitchens of Lucknow; there have been times when I do make the journey. On this occasion, it seemed as if I had all the reasons to venture North of the bridge.

‘Khansamas’ (Royal chefs)  were entrusted with the task of satisfying gastronomic desires of not just the Maharajas (Rulers)  of Lucknow but of their Royal guests who would come from as far away as Tashkent and Kabul. Over the years, they perfected this art of ‘Mughlai’ cooking which was a result of tweaking their local ‘Awadhi’ recipes to the palates of their Central Asian guests (invaders as well). It has since been passed down through generations and is practised in some of the most exclusive kitchens throughout India and the rest of the world.

I have driven past India Palace restaurant in the past and never thought of going in perhaps because I have always tilted more towards the spicier Hyderabadi and Punjabi cuisine. Mughlai cooking was never really my scene but after my first visit to this award winning establishment, I think I may have converted a bit.

I always thought that if you did not dial up the chili or the spice, you could not unlock the true flavor of desi food. That myth was shattered at the ‘Khansama’ menu launch by India Palace. The familiar aroma of cloves and coriander was complimented by the soft nuttiness of cashews. It was the most delicate balance of sub-continental spices and the richness synonymous with Persian and Afghani cuisine; an uncanny match that somehow worked. This my dear foodie friends, was my rediscovery of Mughlai cuisine.

The most popular dish of that evening seemed to be the Shahi Zafrani Murg which was a chicken breast stuffed with mince chicken with a rich pan seared gravy that was garnished with almonds and pistachio and infused with saffron. My favorite however was the Kasturi Murg which was a chicken kebab marinated in fenugreek and black pepper before being coated with cardamom flavored egg.

The interiors of the restaurant were reminiscent of an 18th century Mughal palace complete with live ghazals and headgear that would not be out of place in a Bollywood period film. This added an unmistakable authenticity to the whole experience. So, the next time you want a free history lesson while dining on a meal curated in the royal kitchens of Lucknow, head down to the India Palace restaurant at Garhoud and feel like a Maharaja, even if only just for a while.

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Shahi Zafrani Murgh
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No Royal experience is complete without live ghazals!
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Making glass bangles for the ladies. C heck out the turban!
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These sweets were so cute I almost didn’t want to eat them…until I did.

India Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hatam. Persian in a rush.

The blue motif at the centre of the table reminded us of an ‘evil eye’ charm which we received from Tehran as a gift but had also seen being sold on the streets of Istanbul.

Going through the menu was déjà vu all over again. Like Turkish food, Iranian cuisine is dominated by grilled skewers of lamb and chicken so we felt we knew what we were getting into. I am not sure how the two cultures influenced each other so much because the Ottomans and Pesians didn’t really get along that much throughout history. Anyway, it wasn’t just the Turks the menu seemed to be inspired by. While Lebanese influences were apparent in the appetizers (hummus, tabouleh and mutabel were listed) there was also a chicken boti on the menu which is an Indian/Pakistani boneless chicken tikka.

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Iranian Salad consisted of Feta cheese, walnuts, olives and fresh leaves
Thankfully though, most of the menu consisted of authentic Iranian Dishes and we did not order anything that could have interfered with our Iranian experience; well other than the hummus of course. I would have skipped it if I could have had my way but seeing how Mishals eyes lit up upon reading the word hummus, I dared not tell her that it had nothing to do with Persian cuisine.

So the hummus was slightly thinner in consistency compared to the Lebanese kind and had a sharp lemony zing to it. We had ordered the hummus laham (hummus with meat) but it also came with sanober (pine nuts) which would be a completely different kind of hummus at a Lebanese restaurant.

We ordered skewers of lamb and chicken mince kebabs, lamb and chicken tikkas and lamb and chicken yoghurt kebabs. To me, ordering the same things twice seemed like a waste of time but since the only kind of animals Mishal eats are the ones that have feathers on them, as always we had to order the chicken as well.

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Chicken yoghurt kebabs
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Iranian chicken tikka
Compared to Pakistani mince kebabs, these seemed a bit dry to me but they had minimal spices so we could actually taste the meat. It worked great for the lamb but I don’t think you really want to taste the chicken mince unless you are fine with tasting some feathers, chicken fat and maybe a beak as well. Both the lamb and chicken tikkas were also a bit dry to my liking but the yoghurt kebabs made up for that later. Marinated overnight in yoghurt and black pepper, yoghurt kebabs are extremely popular in Southern Iran and we could see why.

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Lamb mince kebab and lamb tikka
The winning dish of the night was the chellow khorosht bamia which was a boneless lamb and okra stew mildly spiced and cooked in a tomato paste. Think of it as a Persian goulash served with white rice. I found the dough (pronounced doug) to be particularly refreshing and highly recommend it. It was a drink made of fresh buttermilk, salt and dried mint.

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Doug – Iranian drink consisting of yoghurt and dried mint leaves
The plastic covered menu was not too classy and took away from the effect they might have desired to achieve.  It might as well have been a  food court joint and and no fancy tables with blue motifs were required. The coloured pictures of the food made a lot of sense though, considering that none of the waiters spoke any Arabic. Service was fast but our orders were mixed up twice (despite the coloured pictures). Not bad for a quick meal if you are at Dubai Mall and provides a good insight into the world of Persian kebabs. Not sure if my craving for authentic Persian cuisine has been satisfied though. I think I will keep looking.

Hatam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato