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Repast on the rooftop

Mewa aur mawa, Haleem, Balti and Shubnum ka salan... the menu at the Lotus Pond beckons gourmets to savour Hyderabadi and Balti cuisine.

EVERYWHERE ONE looks it is hype and marketing. Right from brushing one's teeth in the morning (remember the tooth paste that makes lissom lasses flock around a guy, whispering `talk to me') till we go to sleep, we are bombarded with messages, subliminal and otherwise about how and what to do, eat, drink, wear, live and even die (watch the insurance ads if you have any doubt). To wade through the chaff and get to the real stuff is difficult. And even if you do, there are doubts and more doubts because everybody else thinks differently.

At 9.30 p.m., one evening this past week, the Lotus Pond was abuzz with activity. About 20 minutes later, we managed to land a table. So we had enough time to absorb the ambience. It's rooftop, open air dining, with a few potted plants and a fountain from a huge jar for the `pond' effect.

The menu is a polished affair, eloquent and well-designed. Mewa aur mawe ki (Rs.90) was a good point to start the evening. It's a kebab made with raw banana, dried fruits in a potato blanket and topped with blackberries. An engaging hot and sweet combo.

For the main course, we went in for Haleem (Rs.190), Balti murg (Rs.140) and Shubnum ka salan (Rs.130). Haleem is not a dish, it is almost a ritual. This Hyderabadi specialty is eaten in the evening, breaking the day-long fast in the holy month of Ramadan.

To quote the inimitable foodie Jiggs Kalra, "For centuries, Haleem has been prepared in a variety of ways, most of them using the chaar-gaff, which is the alphabet `G' in the Urdu language. This is a culinary shorthand for gosht, gehun (wheat), ghee and gur (jaggery)." Sadly, the Lotus Pond version is a watered-down one and a revised edition of the original.

Coming to the Balti cuisine, touted as the USP of the restaurant, it would suffice to say that this heavily non-veg genre is a Birmingham branch of Indian cuisine, something like the generic curry of the Brits. It is a subculture that was spawned in the "informal, often unlicensed Balti houses concentrated in the West Midlands" (U.K.: The Guide). So the jury is still out on the legitimacy of this style. Be that as it may, going by the taste buds alone, the chicken curry didn't have a distinct identity.

Shubnum ka salan was very much in the creamy, rich traditional mode with an unusual combination of mushrooms and lotus seeds. The bread basket (Rs.90) had an assortment of rotis, which went well with the salan. The Lucknowi gosht biriyani (Rs.160) too went down quite well. The Kesar kulfi (Rs.70) and Shahi Tukra (Rs.80), the sweets, were pleasant. It is the upwardly mobile prices that make it hard to come to terms with the reality before you or rather what is on the platter.

MARIEN MATHEW

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