Sunday, 7 December 2008

Bangalore to Dubai

Sneha May Francis takes a nostalgic journey to find out if the restaurant retains its Bangalore flavour

No trip to the Indian city of Bangalore is complete without a night stop at the bustling Empire restaurant. Its legendary butter chicken and ghee rice have fed many a party-goer and left its mark on the Lonely Planet pages. And hoping to recreate the same magic, the hotel group has opened its first branch in Al Qusais. Being a true Bangalorean, I decided to do the litmus test along with three other true-blue Bangaloreans.

As we walked into the Bangalore Empire restaurant, we were greeted with the familiar hustle-bustle. Not a single table was vacant, each filled with people of different nationalities. So we waited a few minutes before being taken to our table. The waiter handed out the menu and we immediately scanned it for our favourites and weren’t disappointed.We decided to kick-start our nostalgic journey with the famous chicken kebabs and Tandoori chicken. The crunchy reddish chicken kebabs and tandoori chicken were as delicious as we remembered them. A bite into the succulent, spicy pieces of chicken left us craving for more. The meat was presented on a modest white plate with a pile of threaded onions, topped with a large lemon slice and a dollop of ginger pickle.

For the main course, we ordered the customary ghee rice and butter chicken. The mildly flavoured spiced rice, cooked with just the right amount of ghee, complemented the tender chunks of meat cooked in a rich buttery tomato gravy. The restaurant promised more than the usual. The Chicken Tikka Masala, succulent pieces of chicken cubes cooked to perfection with a host of spices in a tomato base, tingled our tastebuds. The Mutton Varaval was another discovery, each bite of the juicy mutton pieces left a burst of coconut-infused flavours that lingered in our mouths. However, the Prawns Dry didn’t quite live up to our expectations. The sweet meat was overcooked and the flavours didn’t blend. For the vegetarians, Paneer Butter Masala (chunks of cottage cheese cooked in a thick, organish sweet gravy) is a winner.

We ordered biryani rice (lightly flavoured basmati rice), Tandoori Roti (soft bread cooked in the tandoor oven) as accompaniments. The Kerala Parota (round, flaky south Indian bread) was a tad disappointing. The Chinese dishes also needed some improvement. The Chicken Fried Rice was oily with haphazardly chopped vegetables tossed with insipid chicken chunks.

The Idiyappam Chicken set meal was a stunner. The soft laced appams (a South Indian delicacy) were cooked to perfection and complemented the coconuty Chicken Stew and spicy Chicken curry.

We ended our meal with a chocolate fantasy ice-cream. The strawberry syrup smeared chocolate-vanilla ice-cream combo was plain and no competition for other sundaes, reminding us that this is just a fast-food eatery, not an ice-cream parlour.

And if you are one of those who’d like to try out different dishes without having to order the entire menu, try out the set meals, which are on offer during lunch. The restaurant has a wide range of value meals with a host of dishes that are easy on your wallet.

Talking about the pocket, this is a value-for-money restaurant. Unless you order the entire menu, you can’t possibly go over Dh50 per person.

And this is no luxury restaurant, so don’t expect royal service. This is a humble place where good food takes prominence over all else, be it d├ęcor or food presentation. And for us Bangaloreans, the journey was worth it. It was just like we remembered, taking us back in time, feeding our hungry stomachs the way only Empire did and leaving us licking off our fingers.

Published in e+, Gulf News (Dec 11-17, 2008)

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