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No snakes, only snacks

Sizzlers and barbequed delights... Welcome to the Jungle. Le Royal Meridien takes you on a different safari


IT'S THE Jungle Book gone posh. The pool glimmers menacingly in the moonlight as a mob of bushes and shrubs gathers around small orange-blue charcoal-fed flames. But don't chew your well-manicured nails — yet. You won't have to eat exotically coloured and delicately flavoured worms, or even do a hippy-hippy shake dance number with bristly orangutans, for your dinner. "We have no snakes here, only snacks," giggles a representative from Le Royal Meridien as a customer looks nervously at the hotel's `Welcome to the Jungle' sizzler festival venue.

It's certainly unique. You walk past the pool, following the smell of deliciously smoky barbeque.

Then, clamber up a flight of steps while cut outs of brightly coloured snakes leer at you from either side.

Suddenly, you're in a secret garden, conveniently fitted with a barbeque and a bar. A tangle of shadowy greenery closes in on a scattering of tables and chairs. If Tarzan ever decided to open a restaurant it would probably look like this.

Jugesh Arora, Executive Chef, is professionally throwing things on to the barbeque tray. "The charcoal grill gives the foods a special flavour," he says as fragrant puffs of eye-stinging smoke rise. "Food cooks to perfection on the char grill. You won't get the same results from a hot plate or gas grill. It's what makes the `butta' (roasted corn on the cob) you get at Chowpatty in Mumbai so much tastier than the corn you roast at home." He's right. The New Zealand Lamb Chops (Rs. 950. Yes, at that price it's tempting to just buy a ticket to New Zealand instead) are delicious. Perfectly cooked, and curling up at the sides, they're firm, moist and bounding with zest. "I've used just salt, pepper and a little oil," says Chef Jugal, adding that with barbeque, the food has to speak for itself without a plethora of spices for support.

The Mang Ka Maag, Chicken Shazlik served with tangy tomato garlic sauce, (Rs. 315), though, has a tang of robust rosemary, which delightfully laces its flavour.

It, like all the sizzlers, comes accompanied by French fries, warm buttery corn, sizzling vegetables and, for some strange reason, a handful of popcorn. (Well, who says Tarzan doesn't have a home theatre system set up on some tree?) The service is excellent. No sneering I'd-squash-you-like-a-bug-if-I-could attitudes here - the waiters are cheery, chatty and excitedly bound about the garden with sparklers to light the way for each sizzler. They even have a crooner installed, who'll sing mushy love songs while you look affectionately at your warm caramelly Gajjar ka halwa (Rs. 150).

His biggest question for the evening seemed to be "Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?" Evidently, Chef Arora can.

The festival is on till Sunday (February 29). To make a booking call 22314343.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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