M likes it. It is easy to tell why. "That's a really famous movie," he tipped his head towards a poster as we walked into Sitaaray. We turned a corner and were greeted by dozens more, one could barely see the wall. I know I had to get M along when I receive the invitation from Sitaaray. Obviously, I had made the right call.
I have always loved Bollywood movies since as far as I can remember. When I was a kid, Bollywood movies were often telecasted at an unearthly hour of 4pm with the implicit understanding that only retirees and housewives would watch them. They didn't take into account the school children who would rush home just so that they could see the mustachio hero dodging bullets and even tossing back the occasional grenade. Never mind that the great majority of us didn't understand a single word in the dialogue, the action was all that mattered. Well, I had done my fair share of dancing around trees back then. Enough said.
Sitaaray is a dream come true for any Bollywood cinematic fan. Walls adorned with film posters and actors' photos aside, there are villains and heroes themed rooms on its first floors too. Unsurprisingly reservations are strictly necessary for these rooms. Not only that, every single item in Sitaaray's cocktail menu is named after some Bollywood movie.
I could on about that but let's talk about the food instead. Sitaaray functions on the buffet styled dining. For dinners, customers can choose to go with the vegetarian (£22.95) or non-vegetarian (£22.95) menus. Handy if you are not quite sure of what Indian dishes to go for. Once you have made your selection, each item on the menu will be brought to your table (more than ten items in each menu). Call that a taster and you would be able to request for more of the same kind thereafter.
To sample Sitaaray's entire menu, M and I went for both the vegetarian and the non-vegetarian options. As the dishes came one after another, M enthralled me with bits of trivia of the more popular Bollywood movies. "See that guy in the poster?" he beckoned to one of the more prominent ones just above the entrance. "We call him Big B simply because he is household name back home," he carried on wistfully. For the uninitiated, he was of course referring to Amitabh Bachchan.
The meal went past in a blur but there were some notable items. dahi batata puri (translates literally to yoghurt potato deep fried bread) left a deep impression. The chaat comes in a good size and you can just pop it into your mouth whole. Pierce the crispy exterior and the yoghurt potato mixture will ooze out instance. Fabulous.
We were rather impressed with the two fish items on the non vegetarian menu - pudine fish and amritsari fish. Amritsari fish would probably be the equivalent of the battered cod that we are all so familiar with, only more tender and infused with carom seeds. Pudina fish is chargrilled fish tikkas layered with a mint and green chilli paste. The result is a soft flavourful bite.
I am never a fan of grilled chicken for those that I have encountered more misses than hits. Once left in the grill for too long, the resultant piece is both dry and tough. Sitaaray's chicken archaari (flavoured with pickling spices) and chicken chakundari (marinated with a spicy beetroot mix) were done just nice. A hint of soot on the surface and tender as ever within. We would probably ask for more of those if not for the fact that we were stuffed by the end of meal.
We had a chat with Sajeeb, Sitaaray's affable head chef, later on and M, after complimenting him for the tasty spread, asked him why the vegetable nilgiri kurm were surprisingly crunchy. I was none the wiser but that apparently shouldn't be the case. Sajeeb quickly acknowledged that and pointed out that he tweaked the menu only quite recently after receiving some feedback.
As Sajeeb and M were deep in conversation discussing the finer points of Indian cuisine, I sat back and sipped my Mother Nature (a non-alcoholic lassi named after the 1957 film by Mehboob Khan). The sweet Punjabi drink brought a quick cool to the "heatiness" of the meal.
As we walked out of Sitaraay, I asked M what he thought of the meal. "It was good," he exhaled while patting his stomach. Knowing him, that was pretty high up on the complimentary scale. I took a glance back at Sitaaray. It didn't feel like a meal. It felt like we had just finished a movie. And a darn good one at that.
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