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Royal Afghan turns 35: Time seems to have stood still at this fine dining establishment

Stepping past the arches that surround it, and witnessing the Taj Mahal in all its glory, you may have felt what I did — the overwhelming power of its legacy; how it withstands the ravages of time, civilisation, commercialisation, the unpredictable weather — an eternal monument to love (as the story goes).

You get a similar sense when you step into the Royal Afghan at the ITC Windsor, Bengaluru. It may not be anywhere as old as the Taj Mahal, but after 35 years of its existence, the Royal Afghan too has passed the test of time, in a precarious/fickle industry. For three and a half decades now, the restaurant has stayed the same as it was on the day it first opened its doors to the public: the menu with its 20 dishes has not changed, neither have the seating arrangements, the linen used or even the bib draped around your neck. Of its five-member team, one of the chefs has been with the Royal Afghan since its inception. In fact, when he retired, he was asked to return on a two-year extension. Another chef has been around for 32 years!

 Royal Afghan turns 35: Time seems to have stood still at this fine dining establishment

Royal Afghan at the ITC Windsor, Bengaluru

This makes the Royal Afghan the oldest restaurant in Bengaluru to have retained its original avatar in every possible way, and the second oldest in the country (following Bukhara, also part of the ITC group).

Despite being familiar with it, the fare at Royal Afghan hits home every time, due to its simplicity and depth of flavour. The puff of steam that arises from a portion of malai jhinga as you pull it apart with your fingers (singeing them a little, until you lick them to soothe the burn — and to take in the lip-smacking marinade), or the beautifully Frenched bone around which the signature raan is placed (and which falls off with just a touch), or even the humble murgh malai kebab that epitomises what passion and dedication to create the perfect dish can achieve... all of these turn on its head, the notion that change is a fact of life.

What makes the Royal Afghan run to a full house even today? Uchit Vohra, executive chef for ITC Windsor, believes that it is the good food served and the expert cooking techniques employed. “If someone were to ask me to choose a bestselling dish from the menu, I would name all 20 of them. Our focus has always been on perfecting cooking techniques and getting the food to you hot rather than on elaborate presentation styles.”

Consistency has been at the heart of the food created here. Royal Afghan has a focus on grilled, marinated meats. The art is in the marination and the tenderisation, the temperature at which the meat is cooked and for how long. Riyaaz Ahmed, master chef — Royal Afghan, and the other chefs cut the meat themselves and the recipes for the marination are closely guarded. A new kitchen recruit will get the merest whiff of these recipes only after spending a significant amount of time here — over two years to get a place at the tandoor for starters.

The focus is also on the sourcing of ingredients — for the dal bukhara, the lentils come from Delhi and nowhere else. Standardisation is also important: if a murgh malai kebab is to comprise two legs and four other pieces of chicken, it is all weighed to be exactly the same for every dish of it ordered. Every bread that comes out is of a specified weight, no more and no less. So while all these details go into the creation of your meal, you will (in all probability) be oblivious to everything but the wonderful gastronomic experience unfolding on your plate — one that keeps you coming back for more.

“It’s very rare in the Indian context to say that you have a restaurant that has remained untouched in 35 years,” says Shekhar V Sawant, general manager, ITC Windsor. “We are not given to any cycles of change and I personally believe that to understand the concept of a good meal, you need to have a bad one. We serve original earthy fare, well done. Most people, especially Indians, find a ready connect with it”.

That is quite obvious from the wide range of diners one sees — from expats on a business trip, to large families celebrating a milestone, to young couples looking to spend quality time over a good meal and even the lone diner who wants a quiet evening...a mix of people that you will find even if you were to rewind 35 years and go back in time — along with the aromas, the food and the satisfied sounds of generations of diners to come.

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Updated Date: Nov 12, 2017 20:46:51 IST