Punjab Grill, Bangalore: Hit and Run Expedition!
Fine dining in India poses certain problems which I will list and expand on.
Familiarity: we can cook Indian food so its attraction to us is not as great as to a non Indian.
Indian food preserves well: the danger of being served stale food is high, and old hands can spot death warmed over pretty easily, so the likelihood of disappointment is high. Restaurants are tempted to serve stale food as the general public finds it hard to discern.
This is a price sensitive market, so the restaurant will make it almost impossible to do solo dining. The meal is not plated, but consists of a staple (rice or breads) and an assortment of dips or gravies. I noticed this is the same problem face in East Asian dining: you need at least four persons to be able to enjoy some variety, which solves the establishment's profitability problem, (a situation not faced by Western dining as the cachet ensures a premium pricing) else you end up with a large single dish. Or you over order and pack the leftovers. Which I have done on several occasions. I remember going to Serengeti when its Lucknawi cuisine was still authentic and ordered for four and took advantage of the accepted practice of doggy bagging! Entire racks of lamb traveled home like this!
Makes sense when when you are in a different neighborhood and suddenly stumble across a spot that has been receiving good reviews.
That's what happened when my wife and I stumbled across Punjab Grill. We had been out shopping and wandered over to Edo, the new Japanese restaurant at the Gardenia, only to find out that they only did dinners, except Sunday.Headed over to Sahib Sultan and while parking, saw the Grill, part of Jiggs Kalra's chain.
As usual, we put our plan into action, educating the waiter of our requirement of fresh preparation, need for creative twists on old favorites, all the while holding him responsible for the results! This works as it requires him to put professionalism on display, and also pride requires that he performs adequately!
He recommended the Tandoori Chicken, Rack of Lamb, Paneer Lababdar with a side of kulcha. I am ready to order more, but since I have time on my hand and the service is fast, I decide to wait and checkout the size of the servings. While the food is being prepared he recommends the masala papad, a pepper encrusted papad, topped with chopped tomato and onions with a chat seasoning .
As we digg into the papas and sip on our fresh lime sodas (Vir Sangvhi has admitted as much that no wine can accompany Indian food, but a selection of wine is available! No harm trying to push product I suppose!) we notice that the decor is toned down to suit the average Indian family. The same cuisine is available in five star hotels but they are forced to slap on a luxury tax (30%). It makes a lot of sense for the hotels to open stand alone branches of their restaurants and I understand that Dum Pukth in Delhi is a manifestation of this strategy.
The tandoori chicken arrives and is a version different from that normally served. Rather than being crisp on the outside and semi dry inside, this tandoori is almost like a semi gravied kabab, with a moist marinade dripping over it. The spicing is not overpowering and definitely not the hated metallic assault some establishments are wont to torture you with. Highly appreciated!
The rack of lamb arrives and is equally well spiced, if a little over salted. Warning sign. This trick encourages the over ordering of beverages , so make your displeasure known to the chef, if you plan to be a regular. I also notice that the servings are humongous, so they are aiming for the client to bring larger groups. I am mentally thinking of whom I can commandeer for my next visit, the food is that good! So their strategy is working!
Enough meat, the next course is the paneer lababdar, supposed to provide a smooth velvety gravy with the addition of almond paste. I think its not as good as others I've had, but its partly our fault. We asked for a less fiery version, which is something you should never do. Interviewed, Jiggs insists on sticking to a recipe , down to exact measurements and weight. Which is as it should be. These are dishes that have been perfected over centuries, and it's a travesty to ask for modification. This is the reason for the invention of abominations like butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, which are nothing but tomato curry with kababs chucked in. If you can't stand the heat stay out of the dining hall!
I just read the review of the Singapore unit (excellent thread on Pakistani and Punjabi food also just read, saw chapalli kebab on lonely planet program, slurp!), viewing with great envy the range of desserts available. Sadly the same choices don't appear on the Bangalore menu. The usual suspects of carrot halwa don't appeal, and we settle for the complimentary paan shot : a betel leaf mouth freshener liquified and served in a shot glass. It would have succeeded as an interesting avatar if it had been served more chilled: traditionally this is sold OUTSIDE the restaurant and served with a flourish, on top of a bed of Ice.
Since this was an impromptu visit, no piccies. But I have a nice new low light camera just itching for an outing, and as everything is coming together nicely in my head, expect a sequel to this report! Keyboard is playing havoc (swype) , so ciao!
Cuisine: North Indian
Bill: Rs 3300/=
Timings: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM
Phone: 40902161, 40902162
SJR Primus, Ground Floor, 7th Block, Opposite Forum Mall, Koramangala, Bangalore
Landmark: Near Shopper's Stop , Forum Mall.