A New York style maven once said, ‘Style is a way of saying who you are, without having to speak’. In the matter of The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, luxury seeps through every pore of its being! From the awe inspiring driveway, to the elegant and intricate jaali work, to the splashes of gold and the fire and stone décor – you just can’t escape it. Riwaz their North-West Frontier cuisine restaurant envelopes itself in this richness while somehow managing to still keep the décor modern. Chef Ramandeep Kukreja heads the culinary team at the restaurant and is clearly passionate about the cuisine. While I felt this type of cuisine was done to death in all the ‘North Indian’ restaurants in Bangalore, I still could not turn down an invite to sample the new menu at Riwaz. (They make a conscious effort to come out with something new every six months.) Why, some of the recipes are sourced from the chef’s own family and that gave me the necessary incentive to accept a dinner invitation on a weekday.
The restaurant is located on the 4th floor of the building and offers you some lovely views of the lawn. The style is modern and classy and except for the urns at the entrance there is nothing else that screams North-West-Frontier province. The interesting thing about Riwaz is the open kitchen where you can actually watch the chefs in action. While this can be intimidating for some chefs, the Riwaz team looked completely at ease. I guess, practice makes perfect!
Adjoining the main dining area is an intimate Whiskey table and the wine enoteca. If this doesn’t give you enough privacy, you can even opt for the two private dining areas. Our party just chose to sit at the main restaurant, after all, four is already an intimate number of people!
We were greeted by the cheerful restaurant manager and led to our seats. I couldn’t help notice how impeccably everything was laid out. The sparkling and intricately designed silverware caught my eye and I was informed that it was specially designed for the hotel by The plates themselves are a subtle mirror of the jaali design that seems to reflect itself throughout the hotel. .
We were bought a hot towel to refresh ourselves while we placed an order for drinks. I stuck to a melon and basil mocktail, being a work night. A basket of freshly made crisps (ok papads) kept us company till the amuse bouche arrived. The besan papad was so addictive that a fellow diner literally moved the basket away. The amuse bouche was a modern representation of the dhai vada. The ring, made of deep fried dough would have been the perfect garnish, if only it was savory instead of sweet.
An assortment of starters was the order of the day because the restaurant was intent on us trying the new creations on the menu. A quick note – the Riwaz menu does not offer beef (I don’t know if that is a NWF cuisine peculiarity or a conscious decision by the restaurant to cater to a larger audience). Anyway, we could not complain because the vegetarian and the non-vegetarian selection has more than enough to keep the majority happy.
From top left – The Subz aur Gucci di Galoti was melt in the mouth, as is the nature of a galouti. Now I presume everyone knows the story of the aging toothless Nawab and his love for meat and how the Khansama invented the soft galouti to keep his job! This version made from seasonal vegetables and morels, aims to rival its non-vegetarian counterpart. I’m not a fan of galouti – the fact that it lacks the bite somehow makes it an insipid kebab for me. But for people who like the galouti, I can tell you that the execution of the dish was bang on. Oh, this is a good time to mention that the staff is extremely courteous but also very knowledgeable when it comes to the restaurant cuisine (I asked them a couple of tricky questions and they just rolled the answers off their tongues!) Simple pleasures!
The Sunehari Jinga was a Saffron and yoghurt marinated prawn, cooked in a tandoor. The combination of saffron and seafood is legendary and you can’t go wrong with this one. We were informed that the Seekh Kebab Khandahari was part of a traditional ‘Pashtoon’ diet that originated by grilling skweres of meat mixed with local spices (think Anardana or Pomegranate seeds) on hot charcoal. The tangy flavor of the anardana definitely made this version of the seekh kebab memorable. The Turra Kebab was my favourite. Though the menu makes it sound like an innocent marinade of coriander and chillies – the final flavor was hot, smokey and piquant. Served with a really unique spiced hung curd dip, it was definitely worth its moniker – the crown or crest of a peshawari turban.
I snuck in some bites of the vegetarian starters so as to give you a fair idea of what to expect in that department as well. The Bharwan Tandoori Aloo was bang on when it came to the taste. Potatoes mixed with raisins and green peas flavored with caraway seeds. Where it falters was the potato casing – deep frying it to hold its shape and then sticking it in the tandoor just made it rubbery. We like different textures in our food, but this one was trying too hard. The Tandoori Malai Broccoli was never in a frontier menu, but if you understand that vegetables are given a secondary status in the north-west, the broccoli marinated with cheese, yoghurt and flavoured with cardamom atleast gives you a vegetarian option while being true to the cooking techniques and marinades of the North-west frontier. Special mention to the almost tempura like treatment of vegetables that was served as a side to the kebabs. Give me this in a larger portion with the hung curd dip and I will be a happy trooper.
For maincourse we started with the Masala Tawa Sabz and the Sindhi Aloo Bhindi. The tawa subz is essentially seasonal vegetables cooked with peppers and spiced with cloves, cumin and cardamom. The Sindhi Aloo Bhindi is probably something you will not find in restaurant menus. (I know Sindhi friends who closely guard their recipes!). Whether a Sindhi approved this or not, I sure did. The crunchy okra complimented the soft-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside potato and the spices brought it all together. Even so, I couldn’t help shake off the feeling that the vegetarian main courses were same-old, same-old. The next one however, aimed to give that thought a 360° turn. The Khandahari Gucchi Subz (yes, we ate some more morels – eat your heart out!) cooked in a saffron flavoured curry was definitely something different. While one diner claimed it was slightly sweet for her liking, I think the mild sweetness absolutely compliments the earthy taste of the morels. My only grouse here is that I like to treat my morels special – combining it with other vegetables (including peas) in a gravy, somehow dims their awesomeness. The final vegetarian main course was the Dal Makhni. Well…it was AWESOME. I just died and went to heaven. One bite of this and your cholesterol will soar to a 400, but trust me it is worth every single calorie. I will go back to Riwaz one day, order just the Dal Makhni and some roti and sit back and experience bliss.
The non-Vegetarian Main courses were the stars of the evening. The Nalli Ghostalready had me salivating when it arrived. A famous dish from the “Dastarkhan” of Awadh, it is a lamb Qorma marinated with spices and herbs, cooked on dum. The richness of the dish can be attributed to the Nalli or the marrow and it’s the same thing that makes the gravy silky and glossy as well. Lamb is a very popular meat in the frontier province and is given pride of place in their preparations. The Baluchi Raan definitely deserved pride of place on our table. A whole leg of lamb marinated overnight in spices and nuts and cooked slowly over a tandoor. I was disappointed when it arrived in a shredded form and not the whole leg (ok, I know that was being extremely greedy) but the gold varak (gold leaf) garnish somehow made up for it. (Yes, I’m a sucker for pimping it up!). We tried the gravies with an assortment of breads – Rogani Naan, Khasta Roti, Bharwan Aloo Pyaaz da Kulcha and Bakarkhani. The Bakarkhani was something I had never tried before and it completely took me by surprise. It’s almost like an Indian Foccacia – baked leveaned bread made with refined flour but studded with raisins, almonds and saffron instead of olives and rosemary. If you go there – it’s a must try.
The surprise package of the evening arrived – the Lobster Masala. This one had me excited and confused at the same time. Was this traditional fare? Was Lobster even used in frontier cooking? Where did they even source fresh Lobster in the mountains? Chef Ramandeep came to the rescue. The base or the recipe for the gravy is a traditional one sourced from the Punjab region where they generally use fish in the preparation. Chef decided to take it up a notch and use a fancy Lobster in its place. Well, after a couple of bites, I’m not complaining!
Because of the number of dishes we had to try, I restricted myself to tasting portions of each. But even then I was bursting at the seams. So when the biriyani’s and the pulaos arrived I was ready to call it quits. But try I did, because they were serving Yakhni Pulao with Burani raita! Borrowing from their menu “Yakhani is a lamb broth that is believed to have originated in Persia and introduced to India by the Mughals. Basmati rice is cooked in a thick lamb broth made by using whole garam masala, desi ghee and yoghurt”. The lamb was perfectly cooked and subtly flavoured and I couldn’t help marvel at how a good broth can transform a dish.
The Motia Pulao takes getting used to, but is again something that was completely new to me. Cottage cheese dumplings mixed with khoya are deep fried and then cooked with saffron laced basmati rice. This is finally garnished with dried fruit and nuts. This was very reminiscent of the sweet Kashmiri pulaos and I made a mental note to research it further. Personally I found the deep fried cottage-cheese-khoya dumplings too heavy and rich but the sweet loving Bengali on the table had no complaints.
We decided to forgo the desserts. Gotcha! No, we ate them all! And this is where I give Riwaz a 100%. The Dark chocolate layered cake with Star Anise is such a tough combination to get right, but this cake rocked it! Subtle hints of star anise percolated the pastry and we kept going back to taste this unique flavor again and again. The homemade Rose Ice Cream though seemingly disparate complimented the cake. But the star of the platter was definitely the Warm Belgian Milk Chocolate and Mango Pudding. Essentially a lava cake, it’s perfectly cooked chocolate top gave way to a warm gooey pudding center. Mango, my friends – that’s what I tasted. Warm, decadent and everything that reminds me of an Indian Summer. Sigh! It…was…divine.
They bought a Soan Papdi flavoured Kulfi dressed with some more gold leaf (ritzy :P) and a Saffron baked Yoghurt with frosted nuts and fresh fruit. The poor things didn’t stand a chance compared to their predecessors. Maybe if they were served first, or maybe if they didn’t have to compete with chocolate, or maybe if they had just been served on a different day where I didn’t fall for the Mango pudding … we’ll never know.
The night ended with us contemplating on whether we wanted to pack the Dal Makhni home. (It was THAT good.) But we decided to save it for another day of sheer indulgence. A stylish platter of four silver cups arrived – ‘mouth fresheners’ they casually claimed and watched in glee as we oohed and aahd about the ingenuity of it all. Saunf flavored crackers, chocolate and jasmine bites and Pear jujubes completed the experience. If this elaborate review of all the awesomeness on offer doesn’t entice you to go to Riwaz – I have to conclude that you have a heart of stone (or you’re just an ascetic who’s shunned worldly pleasures). The restaurant is open all days of the week only for dinner.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore
99, Residency Road,
Bangalore – 560025
Ph: 080 4914 8000
Parking: Valet Available
Cost: Rs.3800/-++ for a meal for two