Dining like Emperors, the ‘Umerkot’ experience…

– Ever wondered what ‘taste’ would have relished the Mughal Emperors?
– Which recipes would mesmerize their taste buds with the magic of their Khansamahs?

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The leads to the answers may be found at Umerkot, a traditional Indian and Mughlai place situated on 80ft Road in Koramangala. Three entrepreneurs- Sajit Chacko, Sanjay Tyagi and Anand Singh while with a strong background in multistar hoteling experience opened up Umerkot, a fine dining restaurant and offers up gourmet delights akin to those produced by the royal khansamahs.

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Having ruled over India for so long, the Mughals left a deep and long lasting influence on Indian cuisine. The Mughlai cuisine is Royal due to its rich sauces, magnificent curries, marinated roast meats and mouthwatering sweets. It’s a fancy of food lovers all over the world ranging from tangy shorba’s, biryanis to the rose petal strewn kulfies. Its irresistible flavors both aromatic and pungent, exotic spices, gravies and completely different cooking methods from Noble Bawarchikhana’s…

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While my visit was driven by the passion my friend bloggers hold for food like Charles, Anita ( with her sister Ranjita, who is also a chef ) and Madhu (Chef at his own restaurant Shiok), I jumped (with family) on the invite received from Charles to have this experience called “learning dinner” to learn more about the history, tradition, and techniques of Mughlai cooking. Rather than a scattershot approach Charles proposed being more systematic about it. The idea was welcomed by Sajit going to have his chef, Sanjay prepare a tasting menu tour with explanation through the history and development of Akbari gharana of north Indian cuisine, including a discussion of each of the dish being served.

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I reached bit early in the evening, beating Koramangala traffic and managed to reach well before the standard dinner time. Sajit welcomed and joined me waiting for others and the conversation broke with my first stupid question to a well informed veteran, “What’s so special about north Indian food?” he was nice to smile and clarify “there is nothing called north Indian food, but a collection of cuisines we have adapted from various cultures, gharanas, invaders who rules, visited and became part of India.” I was all my ears. It made me think on the lines I put forth my question to him as if a foreigner asking any Indian “Do you speak Indian?”. While there are 14 languages spoken in India no Indian speaks language called Indian.

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Sajit continued explaining the ideology of Umerkot, the birth place of Akbar, the emperors process of getting along his khansamahs (chefs) while he is on the move visiting places, fighting wars and the journeys setting up on musafirkhana’s and sarayah’s ( temporary cooking places ) and his khansamahs would being creatively cooking for the emperor keeping his taste, inclination, expectations in mind balancing it out with ingredients they carried, local ingredients they savored along the fresh meat they could find etc…the magical amalgamation mesmerized my soul and the stomach…

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As we joined by me fellow friends Sajit invited us to the table and we started discussing the wines…Umerkot has a fantastic cellar which houses 50+ varieties of wines, few of them go well with the menu he had in mind for us.

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He was graceful and patient to hear our questions and managed to answer almost all of them while few of us even visited the cellar… few moments later we agreed the Indian way of ‘Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz’…

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The ambience of Umerkot was relaxing, not heavily studded with upholstery but very artistic placement of furniture with ample space between seating to help protect the privacy of conversations and proper isolation. The capacity of this 80 seater restaurant has three sections: a patio, the main restaurant and a secluded cozy section near the bar.
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All the sections are ideally isolated from each other and most importantly place is well ventilated. The use of silk on the walls and on the table spreads was creative yet simple.

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The artifacts like paintings, weapons on the wall help you relate with the emperors saga. The wood d├ęcor is rather understated and simple making it ideal for both business and families.

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The menu is apt and precise; focuses more on the experience and not on the long list of menu’s creating confusion. As for us we honored what the Sajit and Sanjay had proposed, it goes like …

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for Starters we had .. Aalo tikki, Murg ki Chaanp (Chiken legs marinated with lemon and royal cumin) and Gosht Laccha Kebabs ( Lamp slivers marinated with paththar ke phool and kebab chini)… this time it was difficult to give Sajit an ear as the senses focus relishing the great taste ..as the discussion continues with questions from Eating Chef’s ( Charles, Madhu etc) to the hosting Chef Sajit, conversations was interesting…

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The Main Course was ‘Murgh e Firdaus’ ( A Musafirkhana’s specialty with magical fillings and curry) ‘Gosht Nalli Afghani’ ( Lamp shanks cooked with Saffron) and ‘Dal Makhani’ (fusion of lentils simmered for a minimal of 12 hours with extraordinary palate ) Mutter Makhana Masaledar ( puffed lotus seeds cooked with green peas and spices) on the vegetarian frontier…the extraordinary Gelafi Kulchas were so soft and delicious.

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Sajjt added that the particulars of this cuisine also related well with Unani aspects of the medicinal use of spices and cooking methods with which even with sucha heavy use of meat the digestion is a simple affair, he further added that the medicinal effects of these magical recipes make your stomach lighter rather than heavier meal after meal. The meat and the marinating it surely make it a wonder. With few ‘ingredients’ getting reintroduced due to people liking like that of Peas in the Mutter makhana masaledar, which originally used to use channa-dal instead, he was frank to admit their experiments, we all were enjoying the experience.

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By the time we could give justice to the main course the Gosth Biryani shah Pasand ( Lamb biryani inspired from bawarchikhana of Royals) was served, must mention that the service was attentive, prompt and carried the ‘Aadab’ due to the nobles…

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This was the ‘ecstasy’ time when the ‘Royal Sweets’ like ‘Paneer ka Jalebi’, Tandoori Ananas (made by cooking the caramelized pineapple in tandoor) served with Vanilla Ice Cream…

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It took us quite a while to realize that the other tables are full and Sajit seen engaging with few others as we relished the fantastic dinner which lasted for almost two hours…On a separating note we did spend another good part in the kitchen where these delicacies were and being created..

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Sanjay and his team was keeping our eyes engaged while we repented having to get ‘satisfied’ with the fullness and contentment but our eyes continued to dance on the Noble color-codes steaming out of the kitchen ….

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There are many facts we heard, many aromas experienced and understood, few did help us change our assumptions, beliefs of Mughlai food …

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Keeping a tag on the wrist watch and the place to return again, we burped away back home late night when the Koramangala 80 ft road was almost sleeping while the night was young…

* * *

Umerkot is located at #30, 80 Ft Main Road, ST Bed, Koramangala, Bangalore-34, ph: 2550426 or 41522223/4/5/6.
(From Airport road, while coming from Inner Ring road, take left from Sony World showroom, just after ‘fitness one’ to your left is Umerkot. )
Btw > they do have valet parking and a small paan shop serving ‘maghai’…

22 Comments so far

  1. blr bytes (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

    Dammit. I should have come. Bleddy work.


  2. Sriram (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

    Very well written and the photographs are ‘yummy’ too. Could you please also give an idea about the pricing?


  3. Rajesh (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

    The pricing is moderate a meal for two ‘full stomach’ would be around 600-700 without alcohol.


  4. Mytri (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

    Sigh!! And I am happy and blissful right now. What an excellent write-up. I had no idea that there was anything called “learning dinner”. Now I am looking forward to a dinner there. I do not think I will have the patience to learn :-)

    Fantastic. If that is their range for non-veg I am almost drooling at the veg section. Thanks Rajesh for this really fun and informative write-up. I like the attitude of learning versus showing off our own little knowledge. Great job!


  5. R.A. Levin (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 9:27 am

    Wow!
    (I thought Dal Makhani was Vegetarian.)

    -Robert


  6. Rajesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 9:38 am

    Thanks Mytri, the credit goes to charles for this Initiative. Perhaps there is apossibility that such events will happen more frequently as there are few more who wish to join too!

    Robert, Dal Makhani IS a VEG dish like Mutter Makhana Masaledar. They served us two non veg and two veg dishes…


  7. R.A. Levin (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 10:13 am

    Ahhh! Had some a few months ago and would have been gutted, if it wasn’t veg.
    All that delicious Ghee! I can feel my arteries hardening even more just looking at it. Let ’em harden, I say. Lol! Food that delicious looking is impossible to turn down.
    I would have swimmed the Pacific, to join the MB’ers, had I known this feast was taking place!

    -Robert


  8. Charles Haynes (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 10:17 am

    The prices might go a little higher than that depending. I think we got a bit of a deal, and I subsidized it slightly in the interest of getting things jump started.


  9. Lokesh Shah (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 11:50 am

    The ambiance is great and prices are right. Unfortunately, the food is not so good.


  10. anita (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 11:59 am

    great write-up and photos as usual, rajesh.

    what i liked about the dinner was knowing more about what we were being served. usually when you go to a place, you’re usually busy with conversation (or not) and don’t end up thinking much of the history of the cuisine.

    but this turned out to be an interesting experience, just knowing what went into the different dishes and a little about their background etc. i think we should definitely do this again. and thanks charles for taking the initiative!

    robert: next time you visit, do let us know so we can plan another round in your honour :)


  11. Anon (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

    “Dinning”?? What’s that? Brush up your English, man…!!

    Rs. 600-700 for two is reasonable?? What a waste! Donate the same to a poor family who can spend that money for their month’s grocery…


  12. Rajesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    Thanks Anita.

    Anon, corrected!


  13. R.A. Levin (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

    Thanks, Anita! :)
    I’d probably have to win the lottery, to afford the ticket, unless there’s a container vessel sailing there that could use help in the galley and would let me on as a charity case.

    -Robert


  14. Mahesh (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

    An advertisement for a restaurant which serves one scoop of icecream for 50 bucks and people say its great.
    utter stupidity.


  15. Charles Haynes (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 8:15 pm

    If you can’t taste the difference between fresh handmade ice cream using premium ingredients and industrial mass produced ice cream then it would be stupid to pay 50 Rs for ice cream.

    But for people who can, and who want it available (and the care and attention to detail that kind of food requires) then it only enriches us all. It’s not like other restaurants will disappear, and it sets a standard of comparison.

    I’m not going to eat at The French Laundry every week, every month, or even every year, but having been there I have a better understanding of what is possible. Mostly that affects my own cooking, inspiring me to improve my technique, to use more care in finding and selecting ingredients, and to raise my own cooking to levels I hadn’t realized were possible.

    Food, and cooking, can be more than just a way to fuel your body. It can inspire, it can awe, and in the right hands it can rise to the level of art. It does not have to be a constant scrabbling to get the most calories for your buck.

    It *is* possible to make great food without spending huge amounts of money, but usually the tradeoff is time. Time to learn, time to practice, time to find sources, time to prepare. I don’t have enough time to master all the cuisines I want to try. So I will seek out people who have taken that time, who are masters of their fields, and I will pay them for the time THEY have taken to become masters.

    It’s a form of respect – the workman is worthy of their wage – but it’s also a way to subsidize a craft that I would like to see more of. To equate value with cheapness leads to commodification. I don’t want to see a world full of Pizza Hut, Kaati Zone, Starbucks, and Cafe Coffee Day. Those places have their place, but I also want Imperial Hotel, MTR, chaatwallahs, Grasshopper, The French Laundry, and Umerkot.

    The loss of any of them would diminish the universe of possibilities. I want more options, even options I may not be able to take advantage of, not fewer.


  16. Ravi (unregistered) on May 31st, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

    Charles,
    That was a splendid reply. I’m sorry I could not make it to the dinner. My loss, really!
    Cheers,
    Ravi


  17. Rajesh (unregistered) on June 1st, 2007 @ 8:57 am

    Well said Charles. Looking forward for many such experiences together.


  18. blr bytes (unregistered) on June 1st, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

    Charles,
    You brought an axe to battle a flea!
    But I do agree.

    =)


  19. Raj (unregistered) on June 4th, 2007 @ 10:24 am

    Charles,
    Wow! I never had such a different view about dining… it applies for everything.


  20. Tina (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

    I beg to differ with Anon that shelling out 600-700 for a fine dining experience is a waste, and that the money shud be donated to the poor and such. I am surprised that Rajesh bought this argument! If you want to have a good time, and have the money, why not go ahead rather than languishing in the guilt that so many are going hungry when I am eating out of silver crockery…let’s face the reality, shed our inhibitions at least for once and for all, get rid of this middle class mentality! I for one, enjoyed dining at Sahib Sindh Sultan explicity and believe the money I spend there is worth it. Thanks for the review, might try Umerkot as its pretty close to my abode as well!


  21. Tina (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

    I beg to differ with Anon that shelling out 600-700 for a fine dining experience is a waste, and that the money shud be donated to the poor and such. I am surprised that Rajesh bought this argument! If you want to have a good time, and have the money, why not go ahead rather than languishing in the guilt that so many are going hungry when I am eating out of silver crockery…let’s face the reality, shed our inhibitions at least for once and for all, get rid of this middle class mentality! I for one, enjoyed dining at Sahib Sindh Sultan explicity and believe the money I spend there is worth it. Thanks for the review, might try Umerkot as its pretty close to my abode as well!


  22. rOcKiNgRaVe (unregistered) on June 13th, 2007 @ 10:00 am

    Yes Tina its completely fine to spend 600-700 bucks for a fine dining experience if one has money. But to call it a moderate pricing is rather a matter of contention. Its not at all moderate for me. I can only afford to go there once in a while. And what Anon has said about donating money to the poor is a personal choice and has a good intention. You certainly cant argue on this and call it a middle class mentality. Please weigh your words before you use them.



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