The story goes something like this – sometime in the late 19th century, Nawab Syed Mohammad Haider Kazmi, Lucknow’s local aristocrat hosted a lavish banquet for his British friend, during the mango season. A snooty British official ridiculed the coarse texture of what were considered the kebabs in Lucknow. Offenders, the Nawab ordered his rakabdars and khansamas to recreate the softest and finest seekh kebabs. After ten days of rigorous experimentations and trials, what came out of the kitchen lives as a legend even today. Centuries have elapsed, but the kakori kebabs continue to live on forever. Wonder of wonders, they are being reinterpreted, far away from the kitchens of the Nawabs – in the heart of India’s Maximum City, Mumbai.
The khansamas may not be the same, but under Chef Mukhtar Qureshi’s watchful eyes, traditional Awadhi cuisine is being reinterpreted to bring in a dose of health to dishes that are traditionally made in a rich manner, using ghee, butter, cream, nuts etc. This modernistic twist, as per Chef Qureshi, “still retains the rivayat, the culinary methods while serving with ruhaniyat, or spirituality.”
Each dish in the menu is named after the begums that have walked down the royal corridors. When you visit, start your meal with the Nadru ki Shammi (lotus root, rogni whole wheat paratha) and Malihabad Kakori (lamb mince in Malihabad spices, jalebi paratha). Follow it with the Ummrao Avataar-E-Halim (broken wheat, couscous, okra, lotus stem, recommended with green peas paratha) and Korma Murgh Wajid Ali, which is inspired by the royal kitchens of the fifth ruler of Awadh. Accompany it with breads like tafftan, bakhumas and more. To end your meal on a sweet note, go for the Purdakh Khubhani Tart (apricot tart with rabri).
The best thing that Ummrao stands out is the focus on the true flavours of ingredients, while giving them a healthy twist. So the meat gravies in some dishes are flavoured not with nut and butter pastes, but roasted and pureed bottle gourd in some. No, we aren’t going to name them – why don’t you discover them on your own;)!
The focus on non-conventional ingredients is not for just histrionic value, but only to enhance the classic level of the dishes, rather than creating something too avant-garde. Take the vegetarian haleem, for instance. Veg? Haleem??? Oh yes! Wait until the first creamy mouthful explodes with the same consistency and velvety texture in your mouth.
Whether it is the paneer pasanda or the prawn kebabs (served satay style on a bed of coriander chutney flavoured with lime), none of the dishes sit heavy on the stomach.
The traditional cooking styles continue onto the dessert menu as well – and so does the commitment to interpreting them in a healthy way. So the Anguri Rasmalai has the traditional milky flavours, but instead of sugar, relies on a jaggery and palm sugar laddu placed in the centre of the bowl to gently and gradually flavour it as the jaggery melts.
Every aspect of the menu is designed to perfection, from the unique Awadhi flavours to the traditional cooking styles that make a meal here a completely different experience.
Even the cellared beverages are personally selected by chef Mukhtar along with India’s leading oenophile, Sanjay Menon. When it comes to cocktails, you’re spoilt for choice. The ones that should top the list for you to try are Bill Boothby, made with natural Lakadong turmeric, sourced from the Jaintia hills in Meghalaya, home-made kaffir leaf syrup and gin; Ada Coleman, which has a julep of Malabar Kudampuli tamarind extract with jaggery, fresh mint and whiskey, and Constante Ribalaigua, a rye whisky drink with Indian spiced mulled wine, egg white, tulsi honey. They will leave you going back for more.
Ummrao, the English translation of which is ‘royal noble’, brings the fine flavours of Awadh of yore and places them on a very modern table.
Visit Ummrao, a reason and a place to celebrate the goodness of eloquent dining. Address: Courtyard by Marriott Mumbai International Airport, C.T.S No 215 Andheri Kurla Road, Mumbai.
Text by Aarti Kapur Singh