Bangalore is a restaurant town of uneven joy and fractured opinion. Many outsiders, especially from North India, are unsatisfied with restaurant food here, while adventurous locals steadily add one dining favourite upon another to their culinary dossier. BJN group’s Samarkhand has long been considered one of the best North Indian stand-alone restaurants in the city, and if I had to guess in favour of just one theoretical choice to outdo this restaurant, I’d select Dum Phukt Jolly Nabobs which is backed by the 5 star ITC hotel group.Apparently Samarkhand has inspired the opening of numerous North Indian restaurants in Bangalore. The time had come for me to personally find out what the fuss was about, hence we settled atop the finest stallions in the city, and since the streets in this town anyway resemble the dusty crumbling pathways of the North-West Frontier, we took a suitably redolent ride and reached a mofussil mall inside which the signage of Samarkand glowed in electric red.

Our meal was largely governed by the favourites cited by commentators all over the Internet. Aatish-E-Aloo was instantly requested, but this hotly tipped contender of stuffed potato had the feature vegetable offered at a mediocre texture – the best potato starter I’ve had in Bangalore remains Barbeque Nation JP Nagar’s Cajun potato. Long sticks of fried besan kept on the table as a complimentary snack, may be sampled if you are starving and there is absolutely nothing else to eat for a long time – they were hard and tasteless. Chandni Kebab, which is repeatedly reported to be fabulously tender here, was alas not so – this cream-cooked chicken starter has sufficient portions and is good no doubt, but is definitely not the stuff of dreamy-eyed recommendations –and it does not match up to the stellar softness of Tandoori Chicken I ate at Andheri, Bombay’s Urban Tadka.

The Ambience 5.5/10 Inspite of striving for ethnic flourish, it lacks the “wow”factor – it comes off worse in the photographs, gains a better impression on seeing it directly, but still seems rather kitschy .While its flat stone floor is a sensible aesthetic choice, the gray tiles that cover the pillars and walls give a rather staid look. Low-set chairs covered in auburn and green cushions, set around a rosewood table , may be a legitimate attempt at creating an authentic setting, but it has dubious design value. Overall, the colour scheme definitely needs an overhaul.

Whilst you chomp through hearty fare that Samarkhand dishes up, the North-Western ethos in evoked in more ways than one. There is a large portrait of men on horseback with swords, in the thick of action –exhorting you to similarly throw aside pusillanimity and tear into your high-calorie food. Waiters in black ethnic garb with turbans give you the menu that is presented on custom-designed black-and-white newspaper (as distinct from the Times of India tabloid variety) which carries bits of reportage (not unlike TOI) about what’s happening in the region du jour.

Tandoori Pomfret came pre-seasoned with lime juice and though the oven-baked masala was in harmony with the flavor of the soft pomfret, freshness of the fish came into significant question. At Samarkhand’s price point, this is a costly error. Paneer Peshawari would have satisfied me were it to be served by an unassuming home-cook, but the creamy luscious softness expected of legendary paneer is not to be found here.

We moved on to the main courses, our sub-optimal state neatly offset by a rip-roaring conquest of a target of 357 set by Australia for Dhoni’s Marvellous Boys. The staff were even kind enough to relocate us to a table where all 4 of us could watch the television nearby. Even Dal Afghani couldn’t dampen our spirits that much. This widely praised gravy of Samarkhand’s had me wondering what the others found to be so nice about it, just like how I didn’t understand the fuss about the Daal Makhni in Tattv .Tangy notes again affected delivery of the creamy wallop I was expecting, unground lentils dotted the dish too much ,and none of the others at our table liked the dish either. We were too full to order Murg Peshwari as the other gravy. Roti and Kulcha garnered no special distinction.
Dum Gosht Biryani in Samarkhand is a favourite of Top Chef Abhijit Saha, besides impressing many others in the city. A tasting of the rice grains alone will not dignify those high honours, but when you mix it with the sporadic thick clouds of masala from the same pot, and especially when you taste the succulent mutton with its smoothly gamey undertones (which do not undermine the meat’s taste), this Biryani’s excellent credentials are better appreciated. My uncle informed me that it had been a long while since he’d tasted mutton of this caliber in the city.

The Bakhlava was superb - a rich blast of ground and perfumed dry fruit, paired with refreshing litchi ice-cream (we selected the latter over vanilla, mango and chocolate) The Kulfi, billed as the “master-chef’s specialty”, had a khoya-like texture and improved only when consumed with cool cardamom sauce –the sweet noodles on the same plate were rancid.

Tariffs – Expensive overall - the mark-up is excessive for beer and atrocious for mineral water. 10% service charge is added to the VAT and service tax, thus generating 27% tax that is levied in addition to price points of Rs.300 for veg starters, Rs.400 for Chandni Kebab, Rs.425 for Mutton Biryani, and Rs.200 for desserts. A pint of beer costs Rs.250.

The restaurant placed mineral water on our table without my knowledge – I didn’t send it back then but now I know what to do the next time such trickery is slid in. Two bottles of mineral water were billed to be Rs.190, as we noted later.

If I were to come here alone, I’d manage to eat three-quarters of the Dum gosht biryani , finish with a Bakhlava and litchi ice-cream and leave as a contented customer. I found the food here to have approximately the same caliber as another highly rated stand-alone North Indian restaurant Tattv. The evening for us in Samarkhand was enhanced by the attentive service (7/10 ). We never got the impression that they were understaffed- similar to my positive experience in the same BJN group’s Khansama. After I’d filled the feedback form and outlined the disappointments as mentioned above, while purposely omitting my name and contact details, the waiter came back and said “Sir, Please fill your name and contact details. I’ll call the chef”. Since I had already written down the issues in question on their feedback form, I didn’t feel the need to personally speak to the chef, moreover I did not care enough to ask why they wanted my name and contact details. Anyway, the Chef did not come up to us later.

Samarkhand enjoys a healthy volume of patronage and for the prices it charges, it has to pay more attention to detail, like making the potato softer in its much-vaunted Aatish-E-Aloo while making its savoury filling more compelling .If it cannot get fresh seafood (a constant shortcoming in Bangalore) then it should leave that section out of its menu completely. Unless such mistakes are rectified , it cannot hope to become a star player.

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