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Food without frills

If you yearn to eat Punjabi food that tastes just like mum made it then Icarus is the place for you

Pic. by Vino John

IF YOU'RE a snob, there's just one thing you can do when you reach Icarus. Pick up your Prada handbag and flounce home. This is no place for you. There are vibrant paan stains lovingly splattered along its staircase, and its entrance is almost hidden by the noise, clutter and ever-shifting human scenery that blankets Pantheon Road. On the way up, you're likely to bump into shifty young couples, looking for a quiet restaurant to hold hands and coo over dal makhani. And if you turn left instead of right at the second landing, you'll end up in a makeshift junk-room, artfully covered by a flapping dupatta.

But, if you're a brave heart in pursuit of good, reasonably priced food, keep going. Once you actually make it into Icarus's cheerfully `homey' interiors, you'll realise that beauty is only skin deep. That you can't judge a naan by its cover. And that all that glitters is not gold. Or gobi manchurian, for that matter.

Icarus is a classic example of good food without frills. A Punjabi restaurant that promises to deliver a `taste of home,' it doesn't waste time on fine cutlery and snowy linen. Once you're seated, a cheerful waiter will bounce up with the menu and assure you that "everything here is best!" The two-year-old restaurant has an exhaustive menu, which dishes out everything from the usual suspects (dal makhani, methi paratha) to lesser-known items like pickled chicken and kakori kebabs.

Mr. and Mrs. Chadha, proprietors of Icarus, who say the restaurant is more of a well-loved hobby than a career, take an avid interest in the day-to-day running of Icarus. Mrs. Chadha supervises the making of the chaat masalas, paneer and curd at her house for the restaurant, while he heads out to buy fish for the kebabs everyday. Their reward? "We don't want money... we have enough. What makes us really happy is when customers come and say `that's like the food my mother makes.'

If your mum's Punjabi and a good cook, you've probably tasted most of this before. There are pickled chicken kebabs — crispy barbequed pieces of chicken dusted with a tangy dry mango chutney — brown, crispy at the edges and luscious, especially when they're paired with Mrs. Chadha's spicy mint chutney. Then there's steaming flaky fish tikka and firm, crusty paneer straight off the tandoor. All excellent starters, hence a tough act to follow for the main course, which waffled slightly.

The mutton curry is good, in a unexceptionally kind of way and the dal makhani is blamelessly warm, creamy and unremarkable. The spicy green chicken masala, on the other hand is delicious - a battleground of various spices, all peppered with languidly floating green chilly ringlets.

The breads they're served with, by the way, are remarkably tasty. Icarus makes all its breads with brown wheat flour, so its wholesome parathas blushing with ghee have a wonderful texture.

Their methi parathas, warm and speckled with generous handfuls of methi leaves, are irresistible. Just eat them before they turn cold, or you'll be socialising with the tooth fairy before you can say `Ouch'.

And when you go there, don't forget to end with the kheer. Thick, warm and burnished with almonds, it's the perfect end to an evening of comfort food.

A meal for two at Icarus costs about Rs. 150. For reservations call 28418104.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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