Monday, July 22, 2013

A ghazal evening at Saleem Restaurant : the old world charm gone awry...

It was a spoof on ghazals. Mughlai food was the bait and I fell for it.

Any well cooked traditional Indian meal is something I would go out of my way to taste and experience. Add some old world charm and small town feel to it and I feel like I belong there. That is the reason I keep going to purani dill so often. Lucknow is another place where the food is in limelight. Small basic places doing roaring business and the appeal lies in the no nonsense value they provide in terms of taste and quality of food. Staple food I mean. I Have written extensively about a kachori stall in Haridwar, Tunde kababi of Lucknow, Dastrarkhwan of Hazratgunj, Lucknow, Pizzeria of Banaras, Al Jawahar of Purani dilli and Shyam sweets of chowri bazar area. The common factor being, no nonsense eateries where you don't mind sitting in a cramped table and eat loads of food silently. Yes, you just don't have any inclination to do anything else than just eating when you are having such good food served without a single garnish element. The food has a raw appeal in such places.

I found glimpses of such a raw appeal in food at Saleem restaurant, Kailash colony market. A few of us bloggers at CaL Blogger's table were invited for a ghazal evening which is held every Saturday at the restaurant, for special gatherings of friends and invited guests. I actually regretted stepping up the stairs that lead to a dining hall where all the chairs were directed towards a low stage (typical for ghazal singers) and a lady was crooning in a shrill voice. This was after half an hour of navigation through the neighborhood lanes, the place is not marked well on google maps :-(

And yes, this place looks like a small town eatery with fancy walls and lightnings. I have been to many such places when we used to feel like eating out in Dhanbad. A few of them were just outside our campus, serving a confused version of bong and punju hybrids. But that is another story. Saleem's looked like a promising place where you would get a good taste of mughlai (or Delhi Muslim food to be precise) even if the sounds were not too convincing.

The owner of the restaurant Mr. Saleem Qureshi introduced himself and gave company to us throughout with old world hospitality. Plates of kababs and tikkas kept pouring with drinks and we giggled talking to each other, we needed a distraction from that spoof of a ghazal show. Although we were requested to keep quite and 'enjoy' the ghazal in that piercing shrill voice. The male singer was better and we ended up googling ghazals from male singers and sending requests for them. To our horror we found even those ghazals had some female lines and we ended up with more of that shrill voice. I am not being mean, just reporting a ghazal evening where I was invited. Having not much knowledge about ghazal singing, I just rely on aesthetic sounds and meaningful lines of ghazals. I was disappointed. It was more of a wedding pandal orchestra of a small town that you were tortured from a distance during your board exams. Only this time we were better equipped to laugh at the situation. Arvind kept teasing me, Sid Khullar was enjoying the ghazals, Parul seemed to enjoy while her brother Varun was annoyed. Sushmita and her husband were enjoying the excitement in the air.

I wouldn't crib anymore for the bad music. We actually got to listen to a good singer in the end as well, Mr. Naim Khan who was introduced as Ghulam Ali of India. But then the public around him got louder and a bit meaner for a few firang guests (incidentally ladies). I told you I regretted stepping in.

But the place would have been nicer if there was no ghazal, no drinks and no loud guests around. I quite liked the starters (read kababs, tikkas and chicken chilly types tidbits) they were serving throughout, actually for a surprisingly long time as we waited for the mains, we had to return home too. The hospitality from the owners was perfectly old world, generous and genuine, it's another matter that the whole ambiance of the day was putting me off. Was not my taste.

I had one of the best shami kababs, chilly chicken (Indian style), chicken tikka and seekh kababs available in Delhi there. It is evident that the chefs in this little place know the meats well and treat the meats well too. The starters were actually something that I kept looking forward to, and that build up my curiosity for the main course. I was waiting for some nice qorma, nihari and biryani. The main course was served like a small buffet that was hard to maneuver in the cramped space and the dishes were very mediocre. Very nondescript afgani something and shahjehani something, something with mushrooms and peas and some creamy type paneer. A vegetarian pulav and a chicken biryani that was not. Such great kababs and tikkas and such mediocre main dishes, and the buffet was not refilled knowing well that no one would go for seconds.

I understood why there was an unending stream of tikkas and kababs of all types. These starter type dishes are the specialty of Saleem's and I loved them all.

I tried the desserts too, just for the sake of having a traditional whiff of something I so adore. Mung ka halva reeked of refined oil and Phirni was rubbery. And you would know how phirni gets rubbery if you have cooked it ever.

Would I return to this place? No, never.  I felt like I was invited to a wrong party. But I would love to order the tikka, shami kabab and the seekh kababs from this place if I stayed around this locality. It is a nice take away eatery that should be taken advantage of. 


  1. What an evening to remember! You had me in splits with the description. Quite an experience but those starters do sound heavenly!