It is only the French who can create a sense of design and etiquette in which one can sit back and enjoy the creation of art. So it is at Jyran, the latest restaurant at the newly opened Hotel Sofitel Mumbai BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex), part of the French Sofitel chain of hotels. The grand entrance and walkway lead the diner into a space designed using a fusion of styles. It seems totally Indian in perspective and when you look closer, you see that great attention has been given to detail, from the chandeliers, fabric and intrinsic patterns to the drapes and painted tin trunks. Reds, yellows and greens - all the colours that make up India are visible in and around the restaurant. The colours and elements blend well and are pleasing to the eye.

What makes this restaurant so exceptional is that it serves Indian food but with a sense of élan and class. The hotel has not bothered to skimp on anything and has pulled out one of the big guns of the food industry and a legend in his own right to head the restaurant. Jyran’s Master Chef Shaukat Ali Qureshi, who comes from the legendary, 200-year-old Qureshi family that prides itself as the guardian of the rich legacy of Nawabi cuisine, has perfected the art of cooking through his career spanning 40 years. He is said to have started cooking at the age of 13 and his culinary travels have taken him to many parts of the world. And despite his grand lineage and gained experience, he is too humble to be true.

To elaborate a bit on the Awadhi style of cooking, it is the cuisine of the Nawabs of Lucknow and focuses on cooking meat. Unlike some other Indian cuisines, the spices in Awadhi cuisine are select and of high quality. The subtle flavours brought about in the food are by the techniques of slow cooking, ‘dum’, which is cooking in sealed containers and ‘dungar’, which is smoking and cooking in iron or copper vessels. The richness of the food comes from the use of certain ingredients like saffron, almonds and other nuts. Gourmet chefs known as Rakabdars built a repertoire of dishes that have come down the ages. The famous galaouti kebas and flavoursome biryanis are from the Awadhi chefs who have mastered the techniques of dum or dungar, each of which brings out the best of flavours.

True flavours

Being a chef, one does get special treatment but Sofitel is known the world over for its dedication to service, which I feel is something that seems to be a dying art amongst waiters today. In fact, the Art Deco plates which were laid out were actually for eating on and were not whisked away when the meal came. The chef’s specialities were on order for the day.

For starters one must try the Murg Shaebi Karak Seekh. This effervescent dish of minced lamb stuffed with cheese and a hint of spice, wrapped in a pastry crust and cooked in a tandoor is something to experience. There is always one dish by which a restaurant can prove its mettle and that is the lamb chops. Here at Jyran, the chops were excellent and the level of spice was just right. One wasn’t left with that heavy feeling after the meal.

The advantage of eating at a high end restaurant is that certain ingredients are easily available to them. Guchi mushroom is a delicacy from Kashmir and is as expensive as French Morrel mushrooms. At around Rs 30,000 a kilo they better be worth it! They serve a Guchi curry here which is traditionally made with dates, dried fruit and cashew nut paste. The flavour of the Guchi mushroom is like no other. Another dish that the diners must try is the yellow lentils which are cooked and then mixed with hung curd. This was a first for me and I tasted it with fermented Aabi roti, which was out of this world. There are other styles of tandoori rotis on hand but this one was by far my favourite.

Not to be missed

I won’t go into the entire menu, but there are some exotic dishes to be tried out and the chef’s Nihari Al Subho made with a blend of spices (which are kept a secret) was smooth but a tad heavy due to the fattiness of the lamb shanks. A few biryanis dot the menu but a must have is the Awadhi biryani which is scented and not the usual mélange of heavy spices that we are used to.

The desserts are quite innovative and though the gulab jamuns were presented beautifully, the presentation of the Tukra Shan e Shaukat could have been a lot better. I’ve always maintained that Indian food should aim to be a global cuisine and for a fine-dine restaurant, a bit of attention to presentation is required. The fine presentation plates, earthy crockery and serving equipment, table cloths and décor all have a sense of French finesse to them. It does need to be reflected in the food as well.

There’s a fine selection of beverages, both alcoholic and non alcoholic and one of the best drinks to try out is the green tea with vanilla. It’s more than just an experience at Sofitel. Guests can have a truly relaxing meal here and what’s more, at the hands of a true masterchef with centuries of tradition at his side.

What: Awadhi cuisine

Where: Jyran, Hotel Sofitel Mumbai BKC

How much: Rs 2,500 per person exclusive of taxes

(The author is a Cordon Bleu chef and food stylist)

(This article was published on July 17, 2012)
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