There’s a lot that can be said about Indian food – we have more types of cuisines than I care to count, and more than enough restaurants and street food stalls touting the same. I love our cuisine, for all its bold flavours, subtle aromatics and delicate spices. On trips abroad, I often find myself craving it after a couple of days of the regional food – there’s just something about Indian cuisine that no other culture can capture in its flavours.
Among the most popular dishes in our country (and my personal favourite), biryani is way ahead of the rest. The origin of biryani is a highly debatable topic, but we all can agree that it has strong roots in both Mughlai and Hyderabadi (Nawabi or Deccani) cuisine. A simple dinner at the newly opened Food Story on Boat Club Road in Poona, however – changed the way I will look at every biryani dish I eat from here on out.
With the most unassuming of exteriors, Food Story is nestled inside the City Point compound, and I would have completely overlooked it, were I not meeting a friend there for dinner (we were invited by the restaurant for a meal). Understated and elegant on the inside as well – the decor was reflective of the philosophy behind Food Story – i.e. it’s all about the food! It’s a refreshing change from the flashy fancy decor we see so much in other places with food that doesn’t match up to the standard.
Honestly, I had absolutely no expectations to begin with, though I had heard rave reviews from a couple of my friends in the industry in Poona.
First to the table, were the Shikampur kebabs – a Deccan specialty of minced meat pounded and stuffed with hung curd, chopped onions and then shallow fried. If the description wasn’t enough to get me drooling, the texture of this superbly soft and moist kebab certainly was. It reminded me of the famous Lucknowi tunday kebabs (if you haven’t tried these, add them to your bucket list NOW), which had set the bar for me as far as kebabs are concerned.
The Navratan kebab – with chopped veggies with nuts, smoked and saffron flavoured – was the most unusual and beautiful vegetarian kebab I have ever tried. Subtle in flavour, it was easy to tell how much care has been put into cooking these, and the clean flavours of ghee and saffron with the slight crunch of the veggies just worked wonders for it.
Unfortunately, the Paneer Ajawani Tikka – paneer flavoured with carom seed – was rather dry and disappointing. We did mention this to the management, and they are working on sourcing fresh, better quality paneer as a replacement.
If you’re not a fan of red meat, the Murg Seekh Gilafi is for you! Chicken coated with bell peppers and boiled egg and cooked on skewers is probably one of the tastiest chicken kebabs that I’ve had which wasn’t in the form of the regular old chicken tikka. SO pleased that they’re doing different types of kebabs for a change!
I had no idea that a mutton soup could taste THIS good, but the Ghosht Marg Shorba – was an unexpected delight to eat. The morsels of meat were very light and the broth was spiced and balanced perfectly. Served with a naan-style bread, it was all I could do to not finish and scrape the bottom of the bowl!
Nalli Nihari is a dish I am quite familiar with – a North Indian specialty, lamb shanks cooked with potli masala have slightly different interpretations everywhere I’ve tried it, but one thing remains a constant, which was upheld here by Food Story’s version – tender meat, falling off the bone. I literally took off the whole piece of meat from the bone with just one swipe from my fork and knife. Fat is flavour, and this dish had bags and bags of it (yes, that is a Gary Mehigan reference), without the unwanted grease and undercooked fatty bits. Full points!
There are really no words with which I can describe how incredibly perfect the Gosht Kachi Akhni Biryani was. Before it even reached the table, I caught a scent of the saffron from the table next to me, and it made my mouth water (literally). Once it came to us, and we excitedly waited for the covering to be removed, my heart sang! The taste was exquisite, it was fragrant and flavourful without being oily and the mutton pieces were soft little morsels of heaven. It’s the kind of biryani that my rice at home aspires to be. Magical.
I’m told that this is prepared in the traditional Hyderabadi style – where the rice is cooked first until it is 70% ready, then added on top of the pre-marinated meat in a large vessel and sealed with a thin layer of dough. No water is added, and the whole dish is ready in the amount of time with which it takes the rice to cook the remaining 30%. The key is to pay attention to the steam that rises from a small slit in the seal and to make sure the bottom of the vessel does not burn the meat inside – phew! Sounds like a task, but one which Chef Arif has passed with flying colours.
I’m very picky when it comes to mithai (Indian sweets), so I wasn’t really expecting to like the desserts. Lucky for me, the Khubani ka Meetha – a Deccan made delicacy of apricots, was superb. I hadn’t actually had these particular type of apricots in a long time – when we were young, my Granny used to soak the dried fruit in water for us, to make it easier to eat. This dish brought back so many memories!
Most surprising of all, the Gil-e-Firdaus turned out to be the dessert I couldn’t stop eating. Prepared with pumpkin of all things, and reduced milk – it was mildly sweet and had a lovely air of cardamom and pistachios. I loved it even more than the previous dessert!
All in all, this was a meal that turned out to prove me wrong and simultaneously blow my mind. It was great to try new things as well as old favourites – albeit in the best avatar I’ve ever tasted. The genius behind Food Story, Subhash, has extensive experience in the restaurant industry, although his forte is not in the culinary arts – which is where Chef Sheikh Arif Ahmad comes in. Subhash has successfully run eateries in Hyderabad and Bangalore and is now bringing a taste of the royal cuisines of India to Poona (it’s about time someone brought their A-game). He is quite passionate about food, as I found out through my conversation with him, and is meticulous in all that he does, be it the interior decor of the place, to the presentation and ingredients that go on the plate. Chef Arif has also established himself in the culinary world, through several fine dining restaurants both in India and abroad.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say – and it sure is! I’m eagerly anticipating my next trip to Poona, just to make it back to Food Story for a meal (consistency is key). Please do yourself a favour and head on over to Food Story NOW and have a plate of that insanely good biryani for me.