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It's raining dessert at Machan!

Don't desert your dessert at HoteI Taj Mahal's Machan restaurant! While its pao-bhaji is excellent and Lazy Sunday Lunch something to laze over, it is the dessert which gets you started! SUMITRA SENAPATY writes... .

IF YOU have never been to Machan it is definitely worth a stop. If you've been there before, branch out and try a new menu item on your next visit, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Take a few minutes to read the menu carefully and you will observe that Machan has retained many popular dishes, despite menu changes through the 20-plus years of the restaurant's existence -- it has indeed been a long innings for this popular hotel coffee shop.

As we stand waiting for a table and taking in the `new' atmosphere in this restaurant at Taj Mahal hotel on Mansingh Road in New Delhi, a friend and I discuss the aesthetics of Machan's refurbished interiors. Already, we are hooked. Hooked by the tiger stripes pattern on the carpet and leopard spots on the sofas. Hooked by the jungle chic murals and rows of green ferns. Machan, which used to be a favourite late night hangout, now has a completely new look -- it is still the old Machan in name and spirit, but things are more adventurous, bright and posh. Our conversation trails off when the captain approaches to tell us our table is ready. As we sit down on the sturdy wooden chairs with amber upholstery, white cloth napkins are placed daintily on our laps. Then a huge menu as big as a children's picture book is handed over and we are told that our waiter would soon be with us.

If you're a breakfast buff, Machan starts early, generally before you wake up -- 4.30 a.m. -- and never closes, even after you hit the sack, as the food service is on for 24 hours with menu variations. Any other time of the day, your best bet is one of the nine sandwiches on their menu. The buzz around town is that you can make your own sandwich at Machan. Choose your combination of breads, spreads and fillings and decide whether you want your sandwich to be plain toasted or grilled. It takes a while to make up your mind - French bread or Focaccia, Dijon mustard or Oriental peanut spread, Tuna salad or grilled vegetables - this or that! Machan also offers a Lazy Sunday Lunch for Rs. 575, which stretches from 12.30 to 4 p.m. An unlimited supply of delicious food, a glass of New Zealand or Australian wine and a Barista coffee is what you get.

Now we are enthusiastic on checking out some of Machan's perennially hot-selling items and that is exactly what we do. Our food soon arrives. My pao-bhaji is excellent. This is `tawa' fried spiced potatoes, peas and tomatoes, served with Bombay style bread. My friend raves over her steak, which is thickly glazed in a rich sauce. The Great Machan Steak is a hearty meal with mashed potatoes, onions, mushrooms and green peppercorn sauce. There is a wide range of old-time crowd pullers to choose from -- Shrimp Cocktail, Chicken Kathi Kebabs, Goa Prawn Curry and Thai Chicken or Vegetable Curry with steamed rice. The Chicken Satay is also a favourite but as always it is hard to decide what to eat out here! For dessert, we share the amazing Bulls Eye -- seriously one of the best desserts I've ever had -- piping hot truffle pastry with vanilla ice cream. My friend comments on its rich, spongy texture. Our spoons are at war for the last few bites.

When the waiter comes to clear away our dessert plate, I tell him I was skipping straight to Bulls Eye next time. "I'll bring you four of them next time,'' he assures me.

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