Disclaimer: This is not a restaurant review, for reasons that will become clear as you read the article. However, the following may serve a useful introduction to those who want to know more about this avant-garde restaurant.
Additional Disclaimer - This meal was sponsored by the restaurant, but this does not mean that I have blindly praised the dishes.Also, I have not received any payment for writing this article - such a practice is against my ethics.
Lazy Saturday morning – I awoke belatedly, bolstered by thoughts of doing meaningful work. Telepathically, Suresh Hinduja sensed it and telephoned, inviting me for lunch at the avant-garde Pink Poppadum at the Hyatt, which specializes in re-engineering the beauty of Indian food, while selectively marrying it to an Euro aesthetic . Taking advantage of this profligate kindness, I accepted the offer, and was soon journeying through the ruins of Bangalore, transiting under the large concrete dinosaurs that hold up the Metro rail, and finally reached the hotel.
Pink Poppadum is stylishly designed no doubt (it needs carpets though) but I was informed that it is sexier by night ,while optimal atmospherics are not lent to it by the post-meridian light. We were therefore led to a pool-side table in the nearby Lido on which a white scroll of paper was tied with green ribbon. It was unfurled to reveal the legend – “Lunch with Mr.Suresh Hinduja” Impressed with this custom-made touch, I scanned the menu which promised a merry fiesta of multi-ethnic interbreeding. The lunch proved to be a one-of-a-kind, the likes of which I’ve never encountered before.
I am frankly afraid of ordering Pepper Chicken in many of Bangalore’s Andhra-style restaurants because often what is often placed in front of you is a forbiddingly dark heap of appetizer, which honours neither pepper nor chicken, rather it rips loose a ferocious kind of spicy fire that has rich potential to ruin the whole meal. Our first course at TPP however, set the spice sensibility straight. Two sauce boats jointly poured a bi-colour circle that took the shape of an elegantly designed yin-yang of soups on the plate –“Dora Mulligatawny”. On the right was a robust yellow concoction that was an engaging blend of the flavours of Daal and Sambaar, while a violin-bow of pepper zipped over the top of those hearty notes to create a harmonious symphony. Restrained creamy beetroot completed the balance on the other side. Thus putting an admirably modern spin on this Anglo-Indian “pepper-water” (Milagu-thanni),Pink Poppadum coolly launched his opening salvo.
The succeeding dish upped the presentation ante with beautiful pink slices of tuna arranged atop an avocado raita. After a long time, I was happy to be eating these minimally cooked meaty marine cuts (more satisfying than the whispers of a tuna tartare) in Bangalore. Concentrated flavor and dense meat of the tuna also evoked some of the hearty sea of a seer fish. Avocado raita (even something simple like a few drops of mirin would have been a better accompaniment) however stifled those nuanced accents of the ocean and bore a strong resemblance to the sour kick of “Kaalan” – a yoghurt-based Kerala preparation often eaten in an “Onam Sadya” – Chef Chaudhry did not have this cross-reference in mind while conceptualizing this dish.
We sipped a refreshing grape-basil mocktail, besides indulging in a fine white wine, while I loosened my belted mundu and geared up for a exciting quartet of savoury offerings.
What arrested my attention in the next dish was the Emu meat which the Chef sources from a supplier in Chennai ( Emu in India does not surprise me, especially after noting Ostriches in Iran in “Song of Sparrows”) Chef Chaudhry selected this meat for its lean texture and minimal moisture - he felt it went very well with a balsamic treatment. When feedback was asked from Suresh Hinduja, he promptly reported that it did not impress him (one wishes more critics in Bangalore were similarly forthright) while I felt it resembled a chewy mutton seekh of restricted flavor. The Tzatziki Shooter, which mixed cucumber with mild yoghurt, functioned as a decent palate cleanser. Ample compensation was provided by a succulent slab of chicken marvellously flavoured with tomato pesto – rarely have I tasted such a slick and deep flavourful version of this Mediterranean accoutrement.
Complexity then escalated with a plate that was remarkable for the various geographic influences that canoodled inside a common perimeter. Duck leg and breast , Chicken paupiette and a small ceramic beaker holding the sauce all recalled France, plump grains of Poha brought in Maharashtra (Shiv Sena notwithstanding), a Chettinaad sauce that extinguished falsely-attributed fiery notes of the region while allowing myriad spices to shine, represented the Tamil Nadu of a gentlemanly Rajnikanth, while an Aam-Kasundi veloute that had undertones of mango with pungent mustard riffs, saucily slid in from Bengal (a sweeter,lighter version of this sauce is used by Ken Yakitori Bar in Auckland which deposits it atop bacon-wrapped plump prawns and fried soft-shell crab, both to superb effect.)
Duck meat, soft as it was, could have been still more tender, while the chicken was one of those offerings which you absent-mindedly polish off and only later realize that you didn’t really have strong feelings for it. While I liked the Daal Makhni here more than the ones at at Tattv and Samarkhand, because the creamy savouriness and smoke were not affected by tang here (Mr.Hinduja will not be happy to hear that), for me the multi-colour multi-ingredient star of Pink Poppadum was the “Tofu Mappas”, kept on the side but once tasted, it occupied virtuoso centre-stage. It looks like a standard-order Paneer-Mutter that you’d be obliged to eat with Roti, but Chef Chaudhry ensures both of those components function as impressive signatures of his restaurant.
Small cuts of Tofu integrate smoothly into this gravy, unlike larger chunks in a hundred other renditions that shake off all flavour. There’s a coconut milk base that beautifully evokes Aviyal or Kai Stew while the mild makhni sauce brings to mind a paneer butter masala. This brilliant fusion of South India and North India may be sampled with an equally pleasurable Croissant Paratha –a Wah! blends into a French kiss! In this petite product of Paris-Punjab the roasted goodness of a Paratha beds the al dente fluff of a Croissant.
Chef Gautam Chaudhry hails from Delhi, having worked in Kebab Factory there, where he and the team reportedly synthesized 1,500 varieties of Kebabs . Mr.Chaudhry is a chef of serious talent and cutting-edge imagination, and he must be doubly commended for starting an audacious enterprise like this in a unadventurous town like Bangalore. He cites innovation blended with a rootedness as the hallmark of his re-mastered Indian food, and has admiration for Homaro Cantu - State-of-the-art Chef who heads Moto restaurant in Chicago and who has a patent for a food replicator which Chef Cantu envisions will eradicate world hunger.
Our hunger was largely sated, but Desserts were yet to come. While the sweets lacked the “wow” factor, novelty style and balance were all intact. A rich but not complex “Fig Baklava Halwa” was served with star anise-scented grilled fruits and a shotglass of holy basil baked yoghurt (the latter made me ask the Chef whether this was inspired by temple prasadam –he smiled and said “mishti doi’ was a closer influence). The smooth consistency of a “Paan Shot” – imagine a shooter filled with sweet paan essence distilled into a milkshake – marked a suitably interesting end to this uniquely eclectic repast.
PS: My petite four was a blitzkrieg innings complete with helicopter shots by MS Dhoni watched later that afternoon, while the post-event hang-over was provided by Ishant Sharma.
Illuminating and enjoyable at the same time, this was easily one of the more memorable restaurant lunches I’ve had, and my generous host Sureshji (who’s a culinary consultant himself) steadily provided insights into the various nuances that informed our meal. Hyatt hotel (which was Ista earlier) needs to be commended for supplying continued support to a visionary but logistically challenging restaurant like Pink Poppadum. Manager Madhav Sehgal dropped in to attend to us- overall, Pink Poppadum's hospitality was superb. Chef Chaudhry joined us often to provide and receive any helpful information, and it increasingly became clear that this man helms an operation that has very few peers in India – Manish Merhotra’s Indian Accent, Hemant Oberoi’s Varq and Vineet Bhatia’s Ziya. Bangalore’s customers continue to give avant-garde kitchens a lot of hand-wringing , but one fervently hopes that Chefs with the imagination and cool confidence of Gautam Chaudhry will continue to march ahead with their challenging cuisine.
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