It is wise to take advice from experts if you are visiting a new place. Hyderabad is not exactly a new place for me, I have lived there for a few months and visit the city often on business. But I was going there on vacation with my family and we had decided to gorge on the Hyderabadi cuisine.
I emailed to someone I know- he lives in Hyderabad- for recommendations of some biryani joints other than the famous Paradise and Niagara. He not only gave me the names of the best biryani places in Hyderabad, but for good measure he added names of some restaurants serving Punjabi cuisine and typical Andhra cuisine as well. He should know as he not only resides in Hyderabad, he is also a restaurant reviewer with a popular national publication. He, the unnamed, has earned eternal gratitude from the four of us for whom the eating became the key activity during our Hyderabad break. Charminar, Golconda Fort and Ramoji Film City were mere add-ons!
The mention of “Four Seasons” may remind you of Vivaldi’s popular violin concertos. That enthralling depiction of the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. After the trip, four seasons means only one thing for me; the perfect biryani!
The four in Four seasons at Toli Chowki is written numerically; “4 seasons”. A simple place in a cluster of eateries at Toli Chowki. No frills, just great food. Period!
I am not a food critic (or a restaurant reviewer for that matter), so I will not be able to describe the fare adequately. This was great service without the fuss, biryani with all the taste and minus the spices, and lamb pieces succulent, incorporating all what is meant by succulence; juicy, tender, tasty and of course meaty! The accompaniments were just right and not overbearing; a gentle liquidy raita (called dahi ki chatni) and “mirch ka saalan”. Refills served with alacrity.
The “Khubani ka Meetha” (an apricot-based dessert) and the “Umm ali” (a milk-based middle-eastern dessert) which we had after the meal were ethereal.
“4 Seasons”, I am told, also serves great middle-eastern cuisine. I must return to the place to check this out.
Never mind Vivaldi’s concertos, this was a regal symphony celebrating great food. And I could have at in any season!
In my teenage elder son’s words, “Dude, that was awesome!”
We are given Himayatnagar as the location for Café Bahaar. We go round-and-round and discover the place finally at Hyderguda which is next to Himayatnagar. A plain non-descript place tucked into a by-lane.
The first thing which strikes us is the size of the place, we were told that it a small place. The place is HUGE! And then the crowd there. Even at 2.45 in the afternoon, it is crowded. (When we left it 45 minutes later, the crowds were still streaming in.)
As we enter the place, we are still confused about the Himayatnagar/ Hyderguda bit.
I ask the steward, “Is this Café Bahaar?
The steward replies, “Yes, this is Bahaar”
It was rather stupid of me as we had clearly seen the big signage for the Café as we entered the place.
I want to make sure and I ask the steward again, “Is it THE Café Bahaar?”
He reassures me. “Sir, this is the only Café Bahaar in the vicinity. Table for four? There you are”.
As we settle down, a grubbily dressed waiter serves us a strange drink in Fanta bottles. Our antennaes go up.
I remark, “But we never asked for a drink, we have just come in.”
“Sir”, we get the reply, “this is Fanta’s newly launched apple-flavoured drink. It is complementary!”
Fanta is not what we have come here for, though I must admit that it did taste fine. We were here for BIRYANI!!
“So Mr. Steward, what would you recommend?” my perfunctory question after we read the menu card. “Mutton Biryani, of course” was the answer we expected but we were in for a surprise when he mentioned we should go in for Chicken Biryani.
The next round of discussion was on the quantum of biryani to be ordered and he suggested “Chicken Biryani, Jumbo pack. With Full Bird”. We had to agree with him. After all we were a very hungry family wanting to have lunch at nearly 3 in the afternoon.
This is what was served: (compare the size of the serving with the size of the empty full plate placed in front of me!)
And what we consumed was probably 40% of it. Despite each of us taking multiple helpings.
I do not know why we were recommended Chicken biryani, but I can tell you that I have never had something as tasty to the east of the Suez Canal or to the west of Egypt. That pretty much covers the globe, right?
Then there was the mandatory Hyderabad speciality dessert, this time spelt pretty quaintly as “Qubani Sweet”.
Never mind the spelling or the taste of the meetha. Café Bahaar’s Chicken biryani is something to die for!
This time even I am tempted to say, “Dude, that was awesome!”
And, of course, we took back with us the left overs. To be finally polished off when we reached Bangalore.
Chutneys at 2, Banjara Road was the place recommended for “tiffin”. Tiffin in South India means a snack. Which in South India translates to dosa, idli and utthapam. Which are to be found across India and beyond its boundaries too.
So you ask what is the big deal about having dosa and idli in South India.
Let us start with the dosa. The big deal here is that we had “steamed” dosa. Mind you, steamed. With zero oil! This was developed by this establishment specially for the Telugu film superstar (and now also a political party leader), Chiranjeevi. And cooked the Japanese way, the menu card claims.
I wonder if this specially formulated dosa made the superstar or whether it was the other way round. But I felt every inch super satisfied biting into the dosa. So soft and fluffy! And tasty!
Then there was this famous “Babai idli” styled on its Vijayawada original. Hot, soft, fluffy idli crested with a scoop of fresh butter. Just the melt-in-mouth variety. Served with pure coconut chutney. And the restaurant, which has to protect its name- “Chutneys”- served four more varieties of chutneys. One dry chutney and 3 more chutney-looking chutneys.
Dear readers, if you think you have had a fill of dosas and idlis, my humble advice to you is to visit “Chutneys” once to see for yourself the difference between a good dosa and a great dosa. And a good idli and an insanely great idli.
We had a dinner at the newly opened branch of “Punjabi by Nature” at Banjara Hills. This is a chain of restaurants largely centered around Delhi and I see no reason why they should not have branches across the globe.
I shall not go into the details of our experiences there, it is a material of a separate piece on its own. Besides, it is not great Hyderabadi food, just great food had in Hyderabad!
However the following do merit a mention:
a. The “Jhangi” chaap we had there were the juiciest and crispiest and tastiest chaap I have ever eaten. Maybe the one I had at Lahore’s food street could be close comparison.
b. This was a rare occasion where the steward talked us out of ordering extra. I thought I was being conservative when I ordered six lachcha parathas for the four of us. Pretty reasonable, I thought. One and half paratha each. The steward gave us a smile and asked us to start with two. I thought he was being stupid. Till the two parathas arrived. These beasts of parathas were nearly a meter in diameter! Eventually, as it turned out, we had to struggle to finish the two parathas!
c. We had Punjabi food in Hyderabad in a restaurant managed by two Biharis and the steward too was a Bihari.
d. We were treated to gajar-ka-halwa on the house. The magic trick will be narrated in another post!
I have pledged to myself I will certainly return to “Punjabi by Nature” and eat one full paratha all by myself.
You see, I am a Bihari by nature (and birth)!