The EVVIVA Sky Lounge, on the rooftop of the Courtyard by Marriott – Pune City Center has the kind of casual-smart vibe that appeals to the twenty-to-thirty something working professionals as well as a slightly older audience. I’d been there before (two years or so prior), for a couple of after-work-parties, but never had a chance to sample anything from the menu. They’ve made a few renovations and changes since then, so I didn’t know what to expect when I was invited over, but I was looking forward to relaxing over drinks and dinner with a friend.
With mature, understated decor and an uninterrupted view of Pune’s skyline that looks quite lovely after sunset – it’s an idyllic setting for a date night, or even dinner with your parents. Typical lounge style sofas and tables make for most of the seating, with a couple of bar-height chairs and tables thrown in as well. Subtle, soft lighting and good music (I picked up on a Chet Faker mix while we were walking in, which won me over instantly) just added to the appeal. They even boast a refrigerated Wine Cellar with an impressive list of wines!
To begin the evening, the Assistant Manager, Rohit Awate came over to introduce himself with our first round of drinks – Pommes Fresca – a mocktail of apple, apricot, peach, pear, pineapple, mint and lime. A light citrus drink, it was a much appreciated reprieve from the stifling heat and was also meant to stimulate the palate, Rohit explained.
Also brought to the table, were three kinds of bar snacks – spicy Batter-fried Peanuts, and a plain and masala version of Banana Chips (yay)!
Chef Akhilesh Pathak – a king of Hyderabadi cuisine in his own right – was kind enough to take time out from the kitchen to come and discuss the food we would be dining on – Nawabi cuisine. I really enjoy bold, rich flavours in Indian food so this was enough to get my appetite going, before the first dish for the evening landed up on our table – Jusheela Murgh Tikka. Tender pieces of boneless chicken, marinated in ‘frontier spices’ and finished on a sigri, this was so much better than the regular run-of-the-mill tikkas that we lieterally wiped the plate clean! Chef joked that the name ‘Jusheela‘ actually came from the punch of spices in the flavour of this dish – which I can attest, was justified in taste!
I’m not a fan of paneer, in fact I’ll avoid eating it at any cost, so when the Paneer Makhmali Tikkas turned up at our table, I was only going to attempt a nibble at it but boy, was I bowled over by this one! Most times I’ve tried paneer tikkas, they have always been dry, rubbery and/or overcooked but these were really, really, soft morsels with a slightly charred coat of saffron and spices. It was sublime, and I ended up eating more of it than I had intended to.
As we rounded up the first course, our second drink for the evening made it’s way to our table – a Litchi Mélange – a concoction of fresh musk melon with litchi juice and spiced rum. It was a perfect start to the second course – well balanced, cooling with a hint of spice from the rum to go with the spices in our food – I couldn’t have asked for a better drink.
Observing that we were almost full and not going to be able to eat too much more, Rohit very kindly arranged for tasting-sized portions of the main course. We had a single serving each of Afghani Nalli Nihari – baby lamb stew simmered in mace & yogurt gravy; Nazakat ke Koftey – delicate dumplings of fresh cottage cheese & vegetables in a creamy tomato sauce; their signature Dal-e-Evviva – a rich, black dal made with cream; and Peshawari Naan – seasoned to perfection with some dried coriander and cumin seeds.
Accompaniments to the mains were a side of Papad, Pickle and Mint Chutney – which had also featured with the tikkas in the first course and was quite palatable.
The Nalli Nihari alone was enough to have me dancing circles around the table – so good, it was like a party in my mouth. Tender lamb that I only had to nudge with a fork for it to fall off the bone (though it wasn’t a marrow bone, unfortunately) and sinfully warm, buttery gravy of the dish in one of the bowls which was an absolute joy to soak up with the naan. I loved the earthy tones of the Dal and the tangy gravy of the Koftey as well, and could not find fault with either dish except that it was all so rich, I was slowly slipping into a foodcoma.
Last, but definitely not the least, was dessert – a gorgeous Ras Malai, with bite-sized morsels of the malai-soaked paneer balls. Balanced with saffron, pistacho and cardamom in the milky sauce but not overly sweet at all, it was just the thing to end our dinner.
I really have to say, though it is standard protocol (and good PR sense) for a Restaurant Manager to be attentive to his/her guests, Rohit was exceptionally prudent in his manner of taking care of us, as well as being well-informed about balancing the flavour profile of a meal. It’s so nice to actually discuss the meaning behind the food with a representative who is just as passionate about it, rather than having them just shove food at you and expecting you to eat and write.
We even had a nice chat with Chef, who explains that he handpicks the meat and ingredients himself, and how he uses a traditional homemade ghee in his cooking (oh, my waistline!). You can also tell that the food has been prepared and cooked with a lot of care and heart. A personal experience like this just lends so much more meaning to the overall experience. Even the wait staff were extremely polite and helpful, something I think more Hotels in Pune should inculcate in their employees.
If you decide to dine here too, I would suggest making a reservation in advance.