In the late 19th century the richest man in the world was the Nizam of Hyderabad. His prime minister built a particularly magnificent palace on the hill overlooking the city, but the building work was so lavish that it bankrupted the minister and the palace was taken over by the Nizam in 1898. Abandoned for many years after Indian independence, it was taken over by Taj Hotels in 2005 and has been meticulously restored, reopening as a luxury hotel in late 2010.
The palace is at such a height that red kites soar on the thermals just at eye level when you look out from its garden; such a setting demands a fine restaurant to match. Adaa (“elegance” in Urdu) is the flagship
restaurant of the hotel, and although it has a smart dining room, outdoor dining is the way to go. The restaurant terrace has a superb view, 2,000ft up on a hill overlooking the city.
Its head chef is Arun Saundaraj, who has worked for over 20 years in many Taj properties. The menu specialises in Hyderabadi dishes, but also ranges widely across the regional cuisines of India, with over two dozen chefs drawn from across the sub-continent.
The meal begin with tandoori scampi, with superbly tender large prawns, marinated and then cooked in a charcoal-fired tandoor. The spicing of the marinade is subtle and does not overwhelm the palate.
This being Hyderabad, biryani is a key dish. Biryani has Persian origins and the word comes from the Farsi word birian, meaning “fried before cooking”. There are different versions to be found across India, but the most famous biryanis are from Hyderabad, other regional variations including those of Calcutta, Malabar and Lucknow.
Chicken or lamb biryani is prepared in a large pot sealed with pastry and transferred to a smaller copper pan for serving at the table. The rice is superb, fragrant and light in texture, the grains well-defined, suffused with a delicate blend of spices such as cardamom. The meat within the biyani is a revelation, very tender and completely avoiding the problem of drying out that so often afflicts lesser versions of this dish.
Another fine dish served here is prawn malabar, with tender prawns and sauce with a lively citrus freshness. A specialty is patthar ka gosht, extremely tender escalopes of kid lamb cooked on a granite block after two stages of marinating.
Vegetarian dishes here also get plenty of attention. Mixed vegetables are prepared in a little copper pan topped with a layer of pastry to seal in the flavour, the pastry cut open at the table, releasing an attractive aroma and revealing vegetables that are tender and lightly spiced. Cauliflower florets are cut into shreds rather than larger pieces, served with a lively sauce including fresh curry leaves.
Black dhal was also excellent, its firm texture a delightful contrast to the wateriness that can often afflict this dish, with a slight smoky hint to its flavour. I was particularly impressed with bhindi, a dish that very few restaurants get right. So often it arrives as a sludgy mess, but here the okra was chopped fine and then lightly fried, arriving at the table with firm texture; a really superb bhindi. Of the breads I most enjoyed the excellent paratha and tandoori roti, the roti having a lovely light smoky note from the charcoal tandoor.
Desserts are not neglected either: a little sorbet of mango and passion fruit would have happily graced the table of a top French restaurant, with lovely smooth texture but also tremendous fruit flavour. The other sorbets I tried, made in both a Pacojet and a specialist sorbet maker, were also superb.
Overall, this was a terrific experience. Over several meals during my stay I was able to try most of the menu options and the standard of cooking was consistently high. The best dishes, such as the tandoori
scampi, the biriani and the bhindi were absolutely top drawer and there were no significant errors across a large number of dishes tried. In my 16 trips to India the food at Adaa is up there with the very finest that I have eaten across this fascinating country.
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