(A monthly column first published in Car N Style magazine).
Reigning kebabs at Chor Bizarre!
By Ravi V. Chhabra
Vintage Indian comedian Johnny Walker’s 1957 Bollywood classic hit song from the film Pyaasa - 'sir jo tera chakraye, ya dil dooba jaaye...aaja pyaare paas hamare'... greeted me as I stepped inside Chor Bizarre – the fine dining Kashmiri Wazwan and Indian cuisine restaurant at Hotel Broadway in Old Delhi.
Furnished to the hilt with a rich and unique collection of antiques and ‘stolen’ paraphernalia among other pre-Independence era stuff and memorabilia that made its way into the flea-market (chor bazaar) and from there, perhaps, to the Chor Bizarre. The restaurant with a seating for 72 has done well to have punned it with bizarre!
The vintage maroon-coloured Fiat (1927 model) parked inside, makes for the static serving trolley of sorts, housing salads and dips, while an old sewing machine doubles up for a dining table! The eclectic (read bizarre) decor is noticeable and omnipresent - the chandeliers, the curios, a jukebox, the central dining table carved out of solid walnut tree-trunk are all treat for the eyes. As much as the evergreen yesteryear Hindi movies’ pop songs are for the ears.
I noticed the restaurant’s majority diners were foreigners, who seemed to be enjoying the unique yet aesthetic ambience and whatever was there on their forks. The special promotion put up by the Old World Hospitality in September, promised an entire range of non-vegetarian and vegetarian kebabs, while keeping their usual Wazwan and Indian cuisines menu/repertoire intact.
I took the last sip of my Mojito (mocktail) awaiting the kebabs to arrive as I plonked my spoon into the green mint-chutney placed alongside vinegered baby onions. I had never experienced such a wonderful after-taste with this rather ubiquitous chutney whose aroma was appetite giving; the pudina (mint) chutney had a special zing about it. On probing, I realized it was the ginger and black pepper.
Soon enough, the tandoori prawns arrived, (Nimbu Ka Jhinga - fresh water prawns marinated with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves priced at Rs. 675); charcoal aroma and its crimson red finishing appealed my senses as I dug my teeth into one. The prawn simply melted in my mouth as I squeezed some lime juice on the remaining six pieces, relishing each succulent one to the core.
With a weakness for fish, the next delicacy to appear on my table was tamatar adrak wali machhli - Mekong Basa that was marinated in tomato paste and chopped ginger done on the grill. The fish was perfectly marinated and garnished with chiseled ginger that had a wonderful flavour and smooth texture to it.
The special kebabs festival comprised thathe ke kabab - lamb flavoured cake with aromatic spices, cooked over perforated iron mesh. Chappali kabab - made with a unique technique by pounding the lamb meat with fresh pomegranate seeds stuffing - a delicacy from Peshawar. The Bhatti ka chooza as the name suggests is spring chicken-soaked in dressing made with malt vinegar and star anise that is pan-grilled. The Murg dill tikka or the chicken tikka is coated with dill leaves and roasted in clay oven/tandoor. The lamb and chicken kebabs are priced at Rs. 425-450 a plate, while the fish is for Rs. 475 a portion. The damper being mutton seekh-kebabs which seemed hurriedly grilled in the tandoor and tasted bland (though these weren’t a part of the kebabs festival).
The vegetarian kebabs included: tulsi chutney ka roomali paneer or sweet basil and nuts rolled into cottage cheese slices and grilled. Khumb kurkure - deep-fried large mushrooms stuffed with cheese and peppers. Hare matter ki chaampein or green peas mixture skewered on sugarcane stick, fried till crisp. Banarasi seekh, melange of cottage cheese, nuts and spinach, flavoured with coconut. Gulkand aur dahi ke kabab - a popular Mughlai preparation, made from hung curd and stuffed with spiked gulkand. The tender vegetarian kebabs I relished most were the Pudina dal ki shammi - mint flavoured kababs made from split moong dal, stuffed with spiced yogurt and grilled.
Despite no appetite left for the main course – Wazwan or Indian cuisine - on Sous Chef Pradeep Khullar’s recommendation, I went for the Kashmiri mars wangan korma - lamb cooked in a very spicy red gravy with tender juicy marrow lamb pieces. I took a few bites of it with steamed rice that reminded me of the vindaloo I savoured frequently in Goa a few years ago. The korma here is a fine curry that I recommend for all those who can tolerate some chillies.
My kebabs feast ended with the special Kashmiri suji (semolina) Phirni (with dry fruits) served in clay sakura and it turned out to be the finest Phirni I ever had. This was followed by steaming hot kahwa (Kashmiri tea with cinnamon, green cardamoms, saffron and shaved almonds) that tasted heavenly after a satiating meal. The Chor Bizarre in Old Delhi started way back in 1990, it now has 4 outlets: Delhi, London, Noida and more recently in Lavasa. I realized upon my visit after so many years that in the last two-decades, the kebabs still tasted as good if not better. Driving back, the taste of kahwa lingering in my mouth, I promised myself that next time, I will go for the Wazwan fare.