Susan Kurosawa grills her own dinner at Bangalore’s hottest new restaurant
THE southern Indian city of Bangalore is the country’s information technology hub, a subcontinental Silicon Valley that’s growing at record speed. Life is fast and fashionable here, and the A-list push takes no prisoners. New clubs, bars and restaurants have just one chance to snare the attention of society snobs; businesses that get it wrong can expect little mercy.
Even the management of the deeply established Taj West End — the city’s bestloved hotel since the early 1980s — worries about such fickleness when it opens a restaurant. I am at the hotel’s Masala Klub on its launch night or, at least, the first dinner sitting for paying guests.
Local celebrities and leading business wallahs have been in for the past few evenings as invitees of the hotel, testing the waters, as it were, and trying their hand at Masala Klub’s signature stone grill concept.
Apparently it has been a success and general manager P. K. Mohankumar is de- lighted to see that some of the earlier guests have returned. He’s hovering near the bushes, waiting like an expectant father. The reason for such anticipation, I discover, is whether prosperous Indian middle-class diners, used to retinues of domestic servants, will cook their own meals.
It seems they will. Suit jackets are removed and flowing sari scarfs in gem-bright colours are swirled out of the way. One section of Masala Klub has tables fitted with slabs of Matterhorn stone from Swizerland that have been marinated in herbs and saffron for 15 days. Trolleys bearing the dishes from the stone grill set menus are wheeled tableside and diners pop the food on to this electrically heated plate and cook as they go. This requires detailed instruction from roving chefs but the male diners, in particular, seem to rise to this barbecue challenge, becoming rather competitive as they grill, say, succulent lamb kebabs or prawns basted in pomegranate seeds.
There are three stone grill menus — vegetarian, seafood, and red meat and poultry — and each starts with a light soup such as tomato and pepper broth with a hint of lemongrass and finishes with hot milk dumplings and tangy-sweet kulfi ice cream. The seafood menu, in particular, is terrific, with stand-out dishes including curried crab kebabs and chunks of lobster in pickled spices.
Myriad relishes are offered on the side to accompany the self-grill courses and there’s a fabulous palate-freshener of tamarind and date chutney sorbet. From a phulka (Indian flat bread) trolley, chapattis are cooked to order; light in texture and piping hot, they are ideal for mopping up fragrant sauces.
For those who don’t like the DIY approach, there’s a Masala Studio section with an open kitchen-bar where diners can chat with the chef, learn about the food being prepared and even direct their desired levels of spices and seasonings. The philosophy is in favour of light dishes, most prepared with extra-virgin oil and low-fat alternatives to the butter, cream and cashew-based gravies of traditional Indian cuisine.
Tandoori chicken and butter masala are not on the menu,’’ says corporate chef Hemant Oberoi, who has been with Taj Hotels for a record 34 years.
Oberoi and his team have travelled across India looking for regional home-style recipes that can be modernised. Among the adapted signature dishes are fish fillets drizzled with freshly ground peppercorns, placed in envelopes of parchment-like paper and chargrilled without oil; and chicken flavoured with pickled onions and burnt garlic.
There are also tasting menus served in more conventional restaurant style. But this food, too, is light and kilojoule-conscious, from wheels of cottage cheese wrapped with aniseed and pounded red chillis and quickglazed in a tandoor oven to a mysterioussounding kebab created for leisure-loving nobles who prefer not to chew’’.
Masala Klub looks out to a section of Taj West End’s flourishing tropical gardens, with a 120-year-old tamarind tree as centrepiece, and features smart contemporary decor in soft greys and caramels; the round chairs with curved backs are almost nautical-deco in feel. Ceiling fans swish the sultry air and open arches are hung with glass lanterns in dazzling red, cranberry and purple.
It’s a wonderful setting in which to enjoy mod Indian cuisine, even if the virtuous effects of such healthy fare can be soon undone by a succession of wickedly good tamarind cream cocktails. Susan Kurosawa visited Bangalore as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent.
The stone grill, studio and tasting menus at Masala Klub start from 2000 rupees ($48) a person for a set 11 courses. Similar concept restaurants are at Taj properties in Delhi (Masala Art) and Mumbai (Masala Kraft and Masala Bay). www.tajhotels.com www.abercrombiekent.com.au
Chapatti time: Flat bread cooked to order