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Chicken in many guises

Chawla's, the latest chicken-speciality restaurant, treats foodies to Punjabi flavours


LET'S JUST call her the good food snoot. Constantly on the lookout for outstanding restaurants, she terrifies waiters and suspiciously prods her plate with a disdainful fork. So, when we decide to check out Chawla's, Chennai's latest chicken-speciality restaurant, her foodie radar beeps frantically. "Chawla's? That's chicken from my hometown, Ludhiana. Hmmm.... Looks like they're really spreading their wings." (Did I mention she also cracks the world's worst jokes?)

Chawla's, which opened about a week ago on Greams Road, is a franchisee of Chawla's Chic Inn. The chain began from a single outlet in Ludhiana in 1960 and now has more than 65 outlets around the country, and even two abroad.

Their minty-clean restaurant on Greams Road aspires for `posh' but is hindered by a flurry of too-bright lights and screaming children ducking between its tables. "It's a hole-in-the-wall type place in Ludhiana' whispers the Snoot embarrassingly loudly, oblivious to a glaring waiter, "we generally just pick up the food and take it home."

Chawla's speciality is `cream chicken,' and the waiters begin the meal by bringing in a steaming bowl of the peppery gravy. The Snoot gingerly takes a big spoonful. Then... there's an appreciative silence. "It's delicious. Just like they make it back home," she declares, to the obvious relief of management. Cooked in thick cream, the chicken is slowly simmered in a secret blend of spices supplied from Ludhiana.

The waiters pile the table with chicken in many guises next. There's tandoori chicken, followed by a plate of chicken tiranga, which includes tandoori, haryali and malai kebabs. Though the tandoori kebabs are unexceptional, the malai and hariyali kebabs are delightfully succulent and complement each other admirably, since the malai is as mild as the haryali is fiery. "I've tasted better tandoori, but you can't just peck at these chicken kebabs," giggles The Snoot, as she pushes away her lassi and digs in. (Made with thick curd and spiked with lashes of ground cashewnuts, the Chawla's lassi may be too mild for people used to lassi with a bite.)

Just as it looks like the meal is ending, the waiters appear again, bearing a bevy of trays. They begin with a plate of unhappy-looking salad. It's followed by dal makhani accompanied by a plate of rotis. The sauces and pickles that should have accompanied the now non-existent kebabs end the procession. (They include a fabulous lotus stem pickle, by the way.)

"Um... are they confused, or is this some new-fangled menu progression," asks the Snoot raising an eyebrow as the waiters excitedly unload their trays. "First the main course, then the kebab appetisers, then the salad and now dal and breads?"

For the record, however, their dal makhani is deliciously warm and buttery. "The missi roti, however, is "dry and chewy," chirps the Snoot, replacing it on her plate with a lacha paratha.

A flurry of vegetarian `appetisers' follow. ("So, is this how restaurants in the Twilight Zone work?"). The tandoori paneer is a disappointment, but the chilly mushrooms are wonderfully succulent — moist but firm.

Dessert. There's thick, sweet, icy cold kheer. The perfect ending to a decadently rich meal.

P.S: The Snoot discovered that this tandoori food is the `real thing.' (They use no artificial colouring; hence you aren't stuck with the ghastly orange coating that most tandoori joints leave on your fingers.) She now has Chawla's on speed dial.

A meal for two at Chawla's should cost about Rs. 250. For reservations call 28293051.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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