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Seafood in a swanky bar...

EAT AND drink like fighting cocks. Incredible but this is exactly what Jayaram Banan, owner of Sagar chain of restaurants, was telling his esteemed guests, who had gathered over the launch of a swanky bar at his Swagath restaurant in South Delhi. The evening was a treat for connoisseurs -- who were treated regally at this Defence Colony eating outlet. The place was swarming with not only Banan's business colleagues but celebrities like Priyanka Gandhi's husband, Robert Vadra, NDA's most often seen on TV face, Rajiv Pratap Rudy with his better-half, designers, Madhur Jain and Payal Jain, model Shefali Talwar and stylist Anita Kaul Basu. All the floors were chock-a-block but the seats weren't crammed up. Before one could say cheese, the steward came with every type of dish, cocktail and mocktail, depending upon your preference.

The top floor has a bird's eye-view of the bustling market. In the background the Carnatic music being played was mellifluous. Everybody was treated royally - crispy, succulent crabs, marinated prawns laced with tandoori toppings were a bit drab considering this coastal delicacy just needs to be fried to taste mouth-watering.

The tandoori wrappings may have to do with competition from Moet, whose tandoori chicken is a quite a fad among youngsters. The plat du jou was certainly Bangda gassi - traditional mackral fish cooked in thick coconut gravy. The fish was fine, tasted really good and the spicy gravy was really out of the world.

Swagath offers Mughlai, Chettinad, Mangalorean and Chinese food. Fish varieties are littered with Mangalorean and Malabari spices. Mangalorean chicken kori roti -- chicken curry served on a bed of crispy flat rice flakes -- and chicken neer dosa are popular cuisines.

Not much conversation flowed as guests were so engrossed tucking into the starters and Banan, true to his character, kept telling everyone that he would soon give them company. He sat on every table and didn't allow anyone to leave before tasting the dinner. He said, "Its all due to the blessings of Shirdi's Sai Baba. Mine is a typical rags-to-riches story." Politeness and humility are the two hallmarks of his personality and he has inculcated these qualities into his staff. And this has stood him in great stead as Banan now owns 13 Sagar restaurants. "Even now you will find me standing near the entrance of Sagar. And those who don't know that I'm the owner pass me some change. But I accept it and distribute it among my junior staff."

Jayaram Banan has virtually forced people to eat from his hand as his public relations are fine and he is meticulous enough not to compromise with quality of food served in his restaurant.

MADHUR TANKHA

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