Sunday, July 31, 2011

Khyber? Pass!!!

Khyber is one of Mumbai’s older upmarket North Indian restaurants. If you wanted to take a foreigner out to dinner and give him `North Indian’ food, the first place one would look at was Khyber. Over the years, Khyber has become the 5 star hotel Concierge recommendation to guests who want to venture out for a meal. The other recommendation is Trishna.

For some reason, Khyber has long fallen off our horizon as a viable dinner option. On the rare occasion when we asked friends to join us for dinner there, they always cried off claiming ‘the food is very heavy and rich’. This, we thought was a strange comment especially since it’s consistently repeated. So last night, we decided we should take the plunge and have dinner there ourselves. We braved the torrential rain and were given a table despite, oddly, the restaurant having several vacant tables and simultaneously several punters waiting for tables. I did not quite understand this schizophrenic behaviour.

We were given a menu and looked at the drinks section. I wanted a beer and saw that a bottle of Kingfisher was Rs 250/- I assumed this was a pint bottle and therefore rather expensive. However, I am happy to report that this was the price of a large bottle i.e. 2 pints. This was a most reasonable price.

For starters we ordered a Kali Mirchi Chicken described as “Spicy chicken marinated in fresh ground black pepper and yogurt threaded onto skewers”. Before this was served, we were given the obligatory red pickle, pickled onions [very well done], green chutney, a plate full of sliced limes and green chilli. All good quality, not dried out. Soon the Kali Mirchi Chicken arrived. Disappointing. Well cooked but with not a hint of black pepper. Strange consistency, probably on account of it being marinated for too long in yogurt with ginger.

For our main course we ordered from the `Curries’ section of the Menu, a Saag Mutton described as “Mutton sautéed with ginger, garlic and rich red masala, cooked with spinach”. From the `Tava’ section we ordered Mutton Pasanda, described as “Mutton chunks in spicy red marinade topped with onion and mint”. Khyber describes `Tava’ foods rather interestingly; permit me to reproduce from their menu – “Stir fried and braised over high flame on the large Indian cast iron flat pan”. Strikes me as an odd description. The last thing we ordered was, what we thought was a safe as houses, Maa Ki Daal described as “the traditional slow cooked daal flavoured with garam masala, butter and cream”. Oh yes, we also had a plate of cocktail Naans and a Laccha Partha.

The food was strange to say the least. The flavours were flat and uninteresting. The Saag Mutton was a brown colour and left a red oily residue on the plate. I can assume this was because of the `rich red masala’. The Mutton Pasanda was an unmitigated disaster. The Mutton [goat technically] was mush, having been rendered so by lavish applications of raw papaya and being left in for too long. It was inedible. The Maa Ki Daal was extremely peculiar. It was deep red colour and not the dark brown we are accustomed to.

We were most disappointed in the meal. The most pleasant dish was the Mutton Saag. I have been thinking as to why the food was so strange. The only explanation I can think of, is a heavy use of the classic gravy that is the mainstay of Indian restaurants. I now remember a conversation we once had with the owner of the Great Punjab Restaurant at Bandra who said that the most boring aspect of his job was tasting the gravies every morning. Obviously, either the taster at Khyber is sleeping on the job or his taste buds are shot. Seeing the colour of the Maa Ki Daal I suspect the unthinkable had happened. The Daal had been cooked with the red gravy. This is really the only explanation that I can think of.

Was the food heavy? In my view not unusually. It was just (a) badly prepped, therefore, the end result was substandard and flawed and (b) cooked lazily by using large quantities of poorly made base gravy.

It’s sad that this restaurant should be the standard bearer of `North Indian’ food and the first exposure to many foreigners seeking out `Indian’ food.

I apologise for the lack of photographs. We had not carried a camera and frankly the food didn’t deserve to be photographed.

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