Table Talk

02 Aug 2014
3 min read
Andy Hayler, FOUR’s International Edition’s new restaurant critic, takes a seat at Falaknuma Palace hotel’s Adaa restaurant in Hyderabad, India…

In the late 19th century the richest man in the world wasthe Nizam of Hyderabad. His prime minister built a particularlymagnificent palace on the hill overlooking the city, but thebuilding work was so lavish that it bankrupted the minister andthe palace was taken over by the Nizam in 1898. Abandonedfor many years after Indian independence, it was taken over by Taj Hotelsin 2005 and has been meticulously restored, reopening as a luxury hotelin late 2010.

The palace is at such a height that red kites soar on the thermals justat eye level when you look out from its garden; such a setting demandsa fine restaurant to match. Adaa (“elegance” in Urdu) is the flagship
restaurant of the hotel, and although it has a smart dining room, outdoordining is the way to go. The restaurant terrace has a superb view, 2,000ftup on a hill overlooking the city.

Its head chef is Arun Saundaraj, who has worked for over 20 yearsin many Taj properties. The menu specialises in Hyderabadi dishes, butalso ranges widely across the regional cuisines of India, with over two dozenchefs drawn from across the sub-continent.

The meal begin with tandoori scampi, with superbly tender largeprawns, marinated and then cooked in a charcoal-fired tandoor. Thespicing of the marinade is subtle and does not overwhelm the palate.

This being Hyderabad, biryani is a key dish. Biryani has Persian originsand the word comes from the Farsi word birian, meaning “fried beforecooking”. There are different versions to be found across India, but themost famous biryanis are from Hyderabad, other regional variationsincluding those of Calcutta, Malabar and Lucknow.

Chicken or lamb biryani is prepared in a large pot sealed with pastryand transferred to a smaller copper pan for serving at the table. The riceis superb, fragrant and light in texture, the grains well-defined, suffusedwith a delicate blend of spices such as cardamom. The meat within thebiyani is a revelation, very tender and completely avoiding the problem ofdrying out that so often afflicts lesser versions of this dish.

Another fine dish served here is prawn malabar, with tender prawnsand sauce with a lively citrus freshness. A specialty is patthar ka gosht,extremely tender escalopes of kid lamb cooked on a granite block aftertwo stages of marinating.

Vegetarian dishes here also get plenty of attention. Mixed vegetablesare prepared in a little copper pan topped with a layer of pastry to seal inthe flavour, the pastry cut open at the table, releasing an attractive aromaand revealing vegetables that are tender and lightly spiced. Cauliflowerflorets are cut into shreds rather than larger pieces, served with a livelysauce including fresh curry leaves.

Black dhal was also excellent, its firm texture a delightful contrast tothe wateriness that can often afflict this dish, with a slight smoky hint toits flavour. I was particularly impressed with bhindi, a dish that very fewrestaurants get right. So often it arrives as a sludgy mess, but here theokra was chopped fine and then lightly fried, arriving at the table with firmtexture; a really superb bhindi. Of the breads I most enjoyed the excellentparatha and tandoori roti, the roti having a lovely light smoky note fromthe charcoal tandoor.

Desserts are not neglected either: a little sorbet of mango and passionfruit would have happily graced the table of a top French restaurant,with lovely smooth texture but also tremendous fruit flavour. The othersorbets 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 mystay I was able to try most of the menu options and the standard ofcooking was consistently high. The best dishes, such as the tandoori
scampi, the biriani and the bhindi were absolutely top drawer and therewere no significant errors across a large number of dishes tried. In my 16trips to India the food at Adaa is up there with the very finest that I haveeaten across this fascinating country.

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