Jiggs Kalra, Take a Bow: Appraising ‘Punjab Grill’, Singapore

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No, this is not a food or restaurant review. I don’t think I am qualified enough to write a review of a restaurant that is the brainchild of  of the ‘culinary maharaja’ of Indian cooking, Jiggs Kalra. I grew up reading Jiggs Kalra’s food columns in the ‘Telegraph’ magazine and watching his food show ‘Dawat’ on TV while I was growing up. But reading recipes and watching food being cooked is completely different from tasting the food. I read a column where Jiggs Column says that critiquing a restaurant is a huge responsibility. “You appraise the food, you don’t critique the restaurant”, in his words. So I am writing an appraisal.

So, today when we went for a Sunday ‘kabab and biryani’ brunch at Punjab Grill at Singapore, I had high expectations. This is the first time that I felt like I should stop cooking for the rest of my life. Every dish I have cooked till date seems ludicrous after the food I tasted at Punjab Grill. I was feeling proud of the mango lassi I had been making for the past few weeks. But the taste of the mango lassi I had at the Punjab Grill blew my mind and gave me a alphonso mango sized inferiority complex.

I think I should list what we ate just in the order. The hope is that I might be able to preserve some of the taste if I list out what we ate for lunch.

1. Papad with mint, yoghurt and mango chutney. I like sweet, so I liked the mango chutney the most.

2. There is a buffet section with beverages and salads. Jaljeera, Mattha (Buttermilk) and Mango lassi. The beverages were served in cute earthen pots.  The salads consisted of a tomato and cucumber salad, a fruit salad, and a mixed beans salad. And along with the salads was a Papdi chaat. Out of all these starters, the light flavors of the mango lassi with a hint of the fragrance of saffron truly stood out.

3. The vegetarian kebab platter consists of crispy corn kebab, mixed veg seekh kebab, paneer kebab and dahi ka kabab. The dahi ka kabab is something I have never eaten before. How can you get dahi into lovely round shaped patties? When I dug into a piece of the dahi ka kebab, I immediately knew that the binding agent was rice flour. You can taste the powdery grainy texture, but the mild flavors of cilantro in the kebab is what I liked best about the dahi ka kebab.

4. The non-vegetarian kebab platter consists of fish kebab, two types of chicken kebab and mutton seekh kebab. The fish kebab had a crispy outer crust and was smooth melty (what melty is not a word. well, it should be!)  on the inside. Well, all I can say is I my very vegetarian friend tried a bite of the fish kebab and decided that she wanted to have a whole fish kebab. Its a big deal, you know, when a  fully vegetarian Tamil Iyer appreciates a fish kebab 🙂

5. The main course consists of a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian platters. In the vegetarian platter, you can choose between mixed vegetable biryani and kathal (raw jackfruit) biryani. In the non-vegetarian platter, you could choose between mutton biryani and chicken biryani. BUT, before they bring the biryani, they serve a platter of naan, tandoori roti and a Punjab Grill special dal makhni. This daal is the mother of all daals I have eaten all my life. And I am a daal fan-I eat daals at weddings, and in five star restaurants. Our friend summarized it beautifully ” The humble daal is daal no more.” I couldn’t agree more.

6. To round off our gastronomic celebration there was a dessert platter too. It consisted of kheer (rice pudding), phirni (ground rice pudding), rasgulla with a dash of mango syrup, chocolate cake and a mango cheesecake. I was so full by this point but I still had two helpings of kheer.

What stood out to me was that all the flavors were so mild. Though I cook Indian food at home all the time, I learnt something just by eating the food at Punjab Grill. The dishes were flavorful but the flavors were so mild. They played on you but did not overwhelm you. I read a few articles on Jiggs Kalra online and I read this little blurb about how he is against the idea of “pinch” of anything in recipes. “Your pinch is different than mine. Ingredients must be measured to the last gram.” Moms, aunts and grandmoms in India’s home-kitchens are experts at eye-ball cooking, so there really is no precise way of cooking one dish. This is probably the reason why the food at Indian restaurants is so unpredictable.

I was inspired at having read Jiggs Kalra’s insistence on precision cooking. I think the next on my to-do list is to acquire his recipe books and learn to cook from it. If I am going to learn, I should learn from the master.

P.S. I think my blogs are too long. Must work on writing shorter blogs.

 

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